Chabad goes online to teach emissary kids across the world
Teachers in Israel give classes in Hebrew via Web to Lubavitch children from Shanghai to Larnaca.
Hundreds of children and teachers from all over the world come to this school every morning. After entering the building, they proceed down a long corridor from which girls split into one classroom and boys into another.
A picture of the late Menachem M. Schneerson hangs on the wall and the blackboard is inscribed with the motto "We Want Moshiach Now!"
The teachers and pupils make their way to the classroom without leaving home, seated in front of their computers. Now they must click their user name and password to join the morning prayers, which open the school day at Chabad's Online School. They will spend several hours in this virtual school, taking part in a daring mass-education experiment.
A teacher in Kiryat Malakhi, Kfar Chabad or Migdal Haemek gives a lesson in Hebrew, simultaneously, to classes in Shanghai, Tokyo, Barcelona, Sochi, Ulm, Astana, Talin and Larnaca. The children are all in uniform and the program includes homework, exams, report cards and PTA meetings. A child who misbehaves in class may be punished by the teacher or taken out of the class with one mouse click.
The Online School is intended for the children of Chabad's emissaries who run the movement's centers and Jewish communities in remote corners of the globe, where there is no ultra-Orthodox community, or the community is too small to maintain a school. Until the virtual school was set up, many of the 4,000 emissaries had to school their children at home.
The online Hebrew-language school, which opened four years ago, provides children around the world with the same Jewish education that a child in Crown Heights might receive.
This is one of three online schools operated by Chabad's world emissary office in Brooklyn's international Chabad Lubavitch movement headquarters.
The schools operate in different languages and hours, according to the location and time zone. The largest online school, with some 500 pupils, is for families from the United States. Studies are held in English in American time.
The Hebrew-language school has 200 pupils and all its teachers are in Israel. The smallest school, intended for the Far East, gives lessons in English.
Joining the school requires a personal computer, a fast Internet connection, an Internet camera, micropone and earphones. A family with five or six children, all studying online at the same time, may find this difficult.
"Sometimes the earphones aren't enough," explains Havi Kastel, the principal of the Hebrew school, who runs it from her Rehovot home.
"Sometimes all the pupils in one class sing or pray together, just when another class is looking at a text. If two siblings, one in each class, are sitting next to each other, it could create a disturbance."
The screen is divided into a board the teacher can write on, draw on, show displays or video clips; a video of the teacher or a pupil who has received permission to speak; and a chat box, in which the pupils can type freely during the lesson.
"Most of the pupils have never been to an ordinary school and it seems natural to them to face a computer while attending lessons or a friend's birthday party at the other end of the world," says Kastel.
"These children have no friends and no suitable Chabad school where they live. The school gives them not only studies and knowledge but also the social experience. They live and breathe the school. The best friend of the boy from Japan can be in China or Germany and often they ask to stay in the program after school hours, to do homework together or just to talk," she says.
The children's loneliness increases their motivation to achieve more than they would in an ordinary school, she says.
In an Internet interview held at Lipsker's house pupils spoke excitedly about the school and the feeling of togetherness it gives them.
"You're with Jewish children from your world all the time," says Shalom Baar-Liberson, a Barcelona fourth grader.
"You learn with children from another country, another world, and they're all just like you, the rebbi's's emissaries."