While soaring tuition costs put Jewish day school out of reach for an increasing number of parents and some families seek alternatives to brick-and-mortar schools because they simply want to rethink their children’s education, Boston-area teacher Rabbi Yosef Resnick has taken to the web to address this much-debated communal concern.
Resnick has a master’s degree in education, is a sofer stam (scribe), and is the father of five homeschooled children. About six years ago he created the online Jewish learning program Room613 (www.room613.net), whose name derives from the number of mitzvot in the Torah.
Room613 offers a full range of real-time Judaic studies classes in a virtual classroom.
“One of the goals of Room613 is to explore the depth and beauty of Torah learning, and to cultivate a love of God, Israel, and the Jewish people,” said Resnick.
“I want to make Torah learning available to all Jewish children and to provide a stress-free, nonjudgmental environment where students can learn purely for the sake of learning, and not for the coercion of prizes and grades. The result is that my students love to come to class and learn.”
Raised in what he calls a “secular, nonobservant Jewish family,” Resnick felt what he describes as a certain “spiritual lack” in his life when he reached his mid-20s.
“I felt I was missing, and needed, some type of spiritual path or discipline,” he said.
Inspired by what he calls a series of incidents of hashgacha pratit (divine providence), Resnick embarked on his own path of self-directed Jewish learning, one that began with his reading of Aryeh Kaplan’s book Jewish Meditation and eventually led to him, together with his wife Yael, to study in the mystical Israeli city of Safed.
Resnick said his own journey of self-discovery and study led to his desire to share the gift of Torah with others.
“As Ethics of the Fathers states, the obligation to learn Torah never ends,” he said. “My own learning experience, which is ongoing, has been one of discovery and one of great awe, love, and respect for the Jewish wisdom that has been passed down to us. I want to teach children in a way that reaches their hearts and minds without any feeling of negativity or judgment – just the pure joy of learning Torah.”
In a “flash of inspiration,” Resnick said he decided to “combine Jewish education, online education, and homeschooling.”
“I was involved in all of these things separately, and it just made sense to bring them together to benefit other families,” he added.
Room613’s classes include Chumash, halacha, Jewish holiday observance, and Jewish thought. There is also a free online “davening circle,” where all Jewish children are invited to join together for morning prayers.
While the program’s virtual classroom is where the formal classes take place, the Room613 website offers a different service – an “online community” featuring articles, blogs, discussion forums for parents and kids, and a growing collection of original curriculum materials that can be downloaded for free.
“The Room613 website is an online community that welcomes all Jewish families, particularly those who homeschool, but it’s really for anyone who wants to discuss educating their children and connect with other families about Jewish education,” Resnick explained.
When Resnick began developing Room613 six years ago, online learning was still a relatively new concept, especially in the Jewish world.
“Room613 was really the first fully developed program of its kind,” Resnick said. “There are a few others now offering programs approximating what I am doing, but usually they are very expensive, and often geared toward a learning level that is closer to that of an afterschool program than a comprehensive curriculum. I have made a point of keeping my program extremely affordable, and the depth of learning I offer is unmatched in other programs.”