by Suzanne Pollak
Another entry has been added to the ever-increasing list of Hebrew-learning programs for young children in the greater Washington DC area.
MoEd, which in Hebrew means appointed time, is an after-school program designed to teach youngsters Hebrew while keeping the working parent in mind. The name is also an abbreviation for More Education.
The Jewish Afterschool Community, as it bills itself, is for children in kindergarten through fifth grade and will operate from the end of the school day until 6:30 p.m. It also will be open on days when area schools are closed for holidays or teacher in-service days.
It will operate out of rented space at Ohr Kodesh Congregation in Chevy Chase during the afternoons. When morning classes are needed, the program will be based out of Tifereth Israel Congregation.
The idea arose from a small group of parents who wanted their children in public school but didn't think a couple hours a week of synagogue-based classes were enough. They combined their concerns with their need, as working parents, for after-school child care, explained one of MoEd's founder and current board president Elizabeth Weber Handwerker.
"MoEd is for working parents like us. We need after-school care so why not do Jewish education?" she thought. "What if you were using it for something that was fun and good for Jewish education?" Handwerker imagined.
She then busily went about studying similar programs throughout the country to see what made them successful. As a 2012 ConnectGens Fellow, she worked out the details with special help from her ConnectGen mentor, Shulamith Elster, former headmaster at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School and former executive director of the Partnership for Jewish Life and Learning.
Right from the start, her goal was to create a fun program without the intensity of a school setting where children would learn to speak Hebrew, she explained.
When she thinks about the proposed after-school program, Handwerker envisions little children playing with sticks in the dirt, writing out the new Hebrew words they just learned. She also sees children launching their boats at nearby Rock Creek Park while talking about baby Moses being placed in the river or the parting of the Red Sea.
"Our greatest strength as a daily program will be the teaching of Hebrew," she stressed. "They will be using all these words of Torah while playing naturally."
Handwerker, who has a Ph.D. in economics from the University of California in Berkley, said the children will be playing outside "with a teacher speaking Hebrew" as often as possible.
Meanwhile, the children will be counting and learning the date in Hebrew. They also will be singing, playing with friends and doing the homework that was assigned from their formal schooling.
Orna Eldor-Gerling, who lived in Israel for many years, was just hired as MoEd's founding executive director. She has a bachelor's degree from Tel Aviv University, a teaching certificate from an Israeli academy and a certificate in nonprofit management from Georgetown University.
When she heard about the job opening, Gerling said she was intrigued both as a job for herself and as a place to send her children.
"It's ingenuous. It's so simple. It's so right. This is a place where they are getting it altogether," she said. "The kids get to play with other Jewish kids. They will be in a larger Jewish community."
Both Gerling and Handwerker, who each will have a child attending MoEd, believe that the children are at a great age, both in terms of their curiosity and their ability to learn a new language.
When announcing the hiring, Handwerker wrote Gerling is "a native speaker of Hebrew. She has two decades of experience teaching and overseeing informal educational programs for children and young adults."
Handwerker said there is a place in MoEd for the child who attends Jewish day school as well as those who have little or no formal Jewish education.
"We see ourselves as a party, an ally. We do not see ourselves as competition" for any other Jewish programs, she noted.
Children can attend a minimum of two days to a maximum of five days per week. Costs range from $3,200 a year for the two-day experience to $6,600 for the full week program. There will be buses to bring the students from nearby schools to Ohr Kodesh. They expect to have 30 children in the 2012-13 school year and work their way up to a high of 60 students per school year in future years.
The program has been endorsed by the Partnership for Jewish Life and Learning and has received start-up grants from the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and The Morningstar Foundation.
For information and to enroll, go to moedcommunity.org.