Hillel Day School sixth-graders start their day with a soulful exercise.
Hillel Day School sixth-graders start their day with a soulful exercise.

Implementing soulful education.

Gabriella Burman
Special to the Jewish News

A new “soulful” approach to Jewish text study is helping Hillel Day School students develop strategies for mindfulness at just the right time, as the world continues to move at a fast pace and mental health challenges are on the rise among youth nationwide.

“We know that social-emotional health informs general health and that it relates to one’s ability to learn,” said Hillel Rabbi David Fain. “Now more than ever, kids need to learn how to be more mindful, how to balance the mind and the soul. We spend a lot of our day focused on the mind, but we get more bang for that buck when we balance it with the soul.”

The approach, developed by Ayeka’s Soulful Education program for Judaic Studies, puts prayer into a larger context, giving students the opportunity, for example, to create an interactive siddur with their own commentary, or to reflect on the Amidah and what it means to them or, when they study forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and foremothers Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel, to consider which three and four people in their own lives they would choose as influential figures.

It even figures into homeroom activities in the morning, such as when students toss around a koosh ball. “The person who holds the ball talks about how they’re feeling,” said sixth-grader Ezra Lupovitch. “It’s a way to check in with yourself for the day.”

Today’s students want tradition and spirituality to relate to their world.

“Ayeka helps to make tefillah personal,” Fain said. “Each day, students check in with their own spirituality, asking themselves the same question God asks of us, ‘Where are you?’ Understanding what’s going on internally can help a student set him or herself up for success for the day.”

Founded in 2006 in Israel, Ayeka: Center for Soulful Education gives teachers the pedagogical tools to engage students’ deeper Jewish and spiritual identities while teaching Torah of all forms. Its mission is to provide teachers and individual learners with tools to breathe life into Jewish text study and enable a personally relevant, meaningful and life-impacting experience.

Clara Gaba, a veteran Judaic studies teacher at Hillel who is helping to lead efforts to infuse Ayeka into the curriculum, particularly loves the way its approach affords today’s busy students the opportunity to “privately analyze the words and ideas of these 3,000-year-old holy texts and connect to our tradition. As Rabbi Aryeh Ben David, the founder of Ayeka says, ‘If you haven’t reflected on your learning, you haven’t studied.’”

The Ayeka methodology is the next step in Hillel’s evolution to incorporate best aspects of modern educational thought and practice, said Saul A. Rube, dean of Judaic studies, and is “potentially transformative for today’s students so that it makes a positive difference in their lives.”

Two Ayeka “Soulful Parenting” programs with educator Dasee Berkowitz are open to the community on Wednesday, Nov. 14, at 7 p.m. and on Thursday, Nov. 15, at 8:15 a.m. at Hillel Day School in Farmington Hills. Free. RSVP to pruda@hillelday.org.


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