by Rena Udkoff
as seen in “The Jewish Home L.A.”
On August 11, a groundbreaking seminar by the Menachem Education Foundation (MEF), co-hosted by Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy and Emek Hebrew Academy, presented the Zekelman Standards to West Coast educators for the first time. With nearly three dozen educators from eight schools in attendance, the event, “Unlocking the Chumash,” was the first major inroad that presented standards for teaching Judaic studies in the mainstream Orthodox communities of the US and abroad.
Dedicated to raising the bar in Jewish education, MEF introduced The Zekelman Standards for Judaic Studies to provide a concise, clearly articulated description of what students should know and be able to do at any specific stage of their educational journey. The standards were recently completed to include grades 1-8. Rabbi Avrohom Wagshul, of Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy, learned about the Zekelman Standards from a Jewish news website and was immediately “struck by what a fantastic idea it was.”
Wagshul, who has taught Judaics for 9 years, had come across the concept of national standards while teaching general studies. He recognized that it would be a useful tool for teaching Torah subjects and he reached out to MEF to learn more about this project. When he heard about a New York seminar introducing this program, he took the initiative to bring a similar event to Los Angeles. The day-long seminar was presented by Cheder Menachem principal Rabbi Mendy Greenbaum.
Alan Zekelman is the philanthropist behind the Zekelman Standards for Chumash. “The need for standards in Judaic subjects was a long time coming,” he explained. “In today’s world we have expectations about scholarship that include measurement, repeatability, and commonality, and that’s what standards are all about. These educational tools have been present for years in the secular educational community. Why shouldn’t they be available in the Jewish world? There is nothing more important to Jewish learning than the study of Torah and with standards, we can make sure that everyone is getting everything they can out of the experience.”
“Standards are key to any learning community,” explained Rabbi Greenbaum. “Without distinct goals, lessons can become a blur of material to be covered instead of what they should be: teaching the skills needed for students to obtain mastery and become passionate, independent Chumash learners.”
The workshop was met with much enthusiasm from the participating educators, who described the program as containing “a wealth of information.” “There was a lot of interest in the ideas that were presented,” said Wagshul,”and teachers were very excited to implement what they learned.”
MEF is currently counting down to its new website launch, which will provide a home for the Zekelman Standards for Judaic Studies program, as well as accompanying resources. MEF plans to build a community of educators that use the program. Ultimately, the project aims to enable a new generation of Jewish students to find joy and success in their Chumash learning, and give them the keys to unlock their heritage.