From NJ olim, high-tech help for schools
A former Highland Park resident has created an on-line learning program in use in more than 20 Jewish day schools and high schools across the United States.
At a time when schools are cutting back on programs and staff due to financial and logistical issues, the program is offering a range of on-line classes, including Mandarin, Latin, sign language, AP statistics, chemistry, and the history of rock and roll.
Called Bonim B’Yachad (“Building Together”), the program was developed by Aryeh Eisenberg, who moved to Israel five years ago. The classes are taught via conferencing technology by professional educators located in Israel, many of them immigrants.
“There’s a wealth of educational talent living in Israel, some of whom I knew from schools in the States before they made aliya,” said Eisenberg, who worked as an educational technologist for Hillel Yeshiva in Ocean Township, where he set up a school-wide technology program in 2001, and Ma’ayanot High School for Girls in Teaneck. “We always try to help out new olim whenever we can because we were all in the same position.”
Its clients included Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, and community schools.
New Jersey schools that participate in the program include Ilan High School in Deal, Rabbi Pesach Ramon Yeshiva in Edison, Jewish Educational Center in Elizabeth, and Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck.
Bonim B’Yachad creates affordable, customized classes to meet each school’s specific needs, said Eisenberg.
Bonim B’Yahad also helps students connect in a meaningful way to Israel and enables former North American teachers living in Israel to find work in their profession, he said. There are currently 18 teachers on the staff.
“Because of language and certification issues, many teachers decide not to teach in Israel,” Eisenberg said. “Despite the teacher shortage here, a lot of good teachers have trouble with the bureaucratic process of getting certified in Israel, and many of them become customer service reps or tech writers instead of working in the field they love.”
Eisenberg himself worked in the Israeli high-tech sector until he launched Bonim B’Yachad in 2012. The program now has about 25 schools in its roster, with students ranging from grades five-12.
Bonim B’Yachad is an offshoot of a mental health conferencing technology enterprise that was founded in Baltimore by his father, Howard Eisenberg.
Rabbi Ami Neuman, assistant principal of the JEC in Elizabeth, told NJJN that Bonim B’Yachad enables the school to offer a wide variety of courses it would otherwise not be able to offer because of scheduling and personnel limitations.
“It is an exceptional program led by true professionals. Our school has a strong connection to Israel, and our relationship with Bonim B’Yachad strengthens that bond,” Neuman said. “During times of distress in Israel, our students feel that pressure more closely as their teachers, quite literally, are under fire. We are very happy with our relationship with Bonim B’Yachad, and hope to continue for many years.”
One of the organization’s most requested instructors is another former Highland Park resident, Bonim B’Yachad’s director of education, Avi Mandelbaum. He and Eisenberg both attended Congregation Ahavas Achim, where Mandelbaum was youth director and Eisenberg was a board member.
“I really enjoy the camaraderie and the connection I have with my Bonim B’Yachad students,” said Mandelbaum, who teaches chemistry, environmental sciences, pre-calculus, and the history of rock and roll, among other topics.
Mandelbaum says he is committed to instructing his students above and beyond the basic curriculum. “It is my responsibility to give my students a better understanding of the world we live in. For example, on Yom HaZikaron (Israel Remembrance Day), I show students video footage of the entire country coming to a standstill when the siren is sounded in honor of those who have died.”
During the Israel-Gaza conflict this summer, Bonim B’Yachad offered sessions for both parents and students to talk about the war.
Both Mandelbaum and Eisenberg have hosted former students from New Jersey at their homes in Israel. Eisenberg and his family live in Modi’in, and the Mandelbaum family lives in Moreshet in northern Israel.
“Israel plays a central role in our programming. We teach a special elective class called Israel Science and Invention,” Eisenberg said. “A lot of the technology we use every day and many of the scientific discoveries related to our classes were developed in Israel.”
RPRY middle school principal Hennie Deutsch said Bonim B’Yachad courses have enriched its curriculum and helped further its goal of bringing the arts to the school.
“Students enjoy exploring digital photography, music, Spanish, French, cultural history, and more,” Deutsch said. “At the same time they gain valuable technology skills by successfully connecting to and interacting with a live, on-line session. It has opened up 21st-century learning for them in an engaging, innovative, and meaningful manner.”