Summer challenges occupy students at Ohr Kodesh


It’s Sunday morning when the assignments come in. You have five days to complete various tasks: cooking a traditional Jewish dish, reciting the names of the five books of the Torah in both Hebrew and English from memory or learning to sing the Israeli national anthem. These were some of the assignments children performed as part of Ohr Kodesh Congregation’s Summer Challenge Program.

Because so many kids were staying home over the summer, due to the pandemic, the Conservative synagogue in Chevy Chase launched the program to engage its religious school’s students. About 60 kids signed on and were sent challenges each week for eight weeks.

“When school ended at the end of May, our kids were completely, quote unquote, Zoomed out,” said Leah Miller, assistant director of young family education and programming. “And they were tired of looking at screens. They wanted to get outside, have fun, and we wanted to honor that and to be able to give them a summer that they will remember. So we came up with this challenge.”

Miller said the color war concept, in which people divide into teams and compete in challenges, served as her inspiration. Students received the challenges by email on Sunday and had until 3 p.m. on Friday to finish. Activities included a mix of outdoor activities, virtual classes and tasks to complete with parents. Students submitted proof of completion online to the app Flipgrid.

As a reward for each completed task, children’s names were entered into a raffle to win prizes, like a digital camera, a one-on-one customized art class and a pizza party with friends. Everyone who participated in at least two weeks’ worth of challenges received a free T-shirt.

Barbara Libbin’s fourth and fifth graders participated. The Silver Spring resident said her children enjoyed the tasks and the program helped to keep them busy.

“Well, there are not as many choices this summer for activities for kids,” Libbin said. “And so the kids wanted to have other activities to do. So that was why we
encouraged [them] to participate.”

Alexandra Hayward’s fifth-grade daughter, Adanma, also participated. One task was to write a note to frontline workers, thanking them for their service. But Adanma wanted to do something for the neighborhood letter carrier instead. So mother and daughter wrote a note, cleaned their mailbox and put out a cooler filled with bottled water and a bag of chocolate.

“And he was so touched,” Hayward said of the letter carrier’s reaction. “He literally had tears coming down his face.”

Every day since, the two have made sure there is a bottle of water in the cooler. They’re laying off the chocolate, as the letter carrier said he’s on a diet.

Another challenge the two did was to bake challah.

“I grew up with my mom and grandma making bread all the time. It sort of slipped away,” Hayward said. “And it was a way to reconnect [my daughter] with my past.”

“It meant a lot to her,” Hayward continued. “So now, we absolutely vowed that at least once a month, we are going to make a challah.”

Miller said there were noticeable improvements in students’ Hebrew and reading skills after taking part in the challenges. She said she’d like to implement some of the program’s challenges in future events.

“I would love for this to continue in the future in some manner,” Miller said. “And hopefully, cross our fingers, that we’re able to be together in person.”

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