Usually on Sunday mornings, Jenna and Suzy Venit rush out of the house and head over to the JKidz Hebrew school at Chabad-Lubavitch of Delaware.

Last Sunday, however, as schools, synagogues and other buildings closed down because of concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, the girls went to Hebrew school without leaving home. Instead, the 5-year-old and 10-year old logged on to join an online virtual Hebrew school created by CKids, the Chabad Children’s Club.

The online program, which includes songs, skits and quizzes, this week focused on the story of Exodus.

“I kind of found it a little more fun because you could do it at the comfort of where you are, and you didn’t have to get up and go out of the house,” said Suzy, adding that the videos were “funny.” She especially liked the scene where Pharaoh had to use Google.

“The girls were very engaged and giggling and laughing,” observed their mother, Francine Venit. “Suzy was doing the quiz, and I could hear her shouting out answers. I was elated that she was so excited.”

According to CKids director Rabbi Zalman Loewenthal, tens of thousands of childrens participated in the virtual classes—there were two different ones offered for grades kindergarten through second grade, and then third grade through sixth grade—and more than 2,000 emailed responses to the online quiz. The kids came from the United States, Canada, England and elsewhere.

It was a solid turnout considering the decision to create the online program was made quickly late last week as schools worldwide began closing.

“All the Hebrew schools were shut down, so we knew that we had to keep Torah learning going; it should never stop,” Loewenthal told Chabad.org. “Thank G‑d, we were able to launch a virtual online Hebrew school with amazing teachers, and children from all around the world have been watching it. We’re going to be doing one every week—for at least the next three weeks and teaching about Passover in an educational and entertaining way.”

Suzy Venit, 10, was shouting out the answers to the quizzes, says her mother.
Suzy Venit, 10, was shouting out the answers to the quizzes, says her mother.

‘It Was Seamless for People’

Also taking part in the CKids Hebrew school was 10-year-old Simon Seesengood of Pennsylvania, who normally attends class at Chabad of Berks County in Reading. According to his father, Rob Seesengood, Simon “watched the videos, and did the interactive game parts and prayers. He liked it a lot and enjoyed it. He had fun with it.”

Seesengood, who works at a local college and has spent the last two weeks arranging virtual learning for his own students, was particularly impressed by the speed with which Chabad arranged the program.

“What really impressed me from a design perspective is that it was seamless for people,” he said. “There was online content right from his class and user-friendly technology.”

Some Hebrew schools, including the one in Reading, Pa., combined the online component with personalized classwork. Chana Lipsker, who co-directs the Berks County center with her husband, Rabbi Yosef Lipsker, called each student on the phone and worked individually with them on their Hebrew-reading skills. She also got immediate feedback from parents.

“It was exciting,” she said. “The kids were doing something for Hebrew school, but they were home. Parents were involved; they were watching. I got such cute feedback—like pictures of the children watching the program while drinking hot cocoa or in the pajamas.”

“CKids is unbelievable,” continued Lipsker. “It really has been an amazing thing for me, feeling like we are part of this network, and it’s amazing so many people banded together to make that happen.”