Education Entrepreneur Suggests Shooting for the Moon on Tu B’Shvat

Written by Kol HaBirah Staff on . Posted in Community News

On Jan. 17, the Jewish Student Satellite Initiative (JeSSI) is offering a free webinar for Jewish educators and clergy on combining the subject of the upcoming lunar eclipse and Tu B’Shvat for a unique seasonal lesson plan. JeSSI is a hybrid Judaic and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education project, started by Ted Avraham of Rockville, Maryland, to address post-bat/bar mitzvah attrition from Jewish engagement with an interdisciplinary approach to Jewish learning.

Observing a lunar eclipse does not require special equipment, and it will be visible in the DC area between 9:44 p.m. Jan. 20 and 1:46 a.m. Jan. 21. This will coincide with the Tu B’Shvat holiday, celebrated as “Rosh Hashanah for the trees.”

“The eclipse will be visible in the entire continental United States, and in relatively comfortable hours — the fact the MLK day is the next day helps,” Avraham said. “Having such a celestial phenomenon on Tu B’Shvat could offer an opportunity for clergy and Jewish educators to anchor the seldom-celebrated holiday in the memory of many.”

The webinar will be tailored for clergy and educators across the spectrum of Jewish affiliation, Avraham said. Avraham and Shari Asplund, former education and communications manager for NASA’s Discovery and New Frontiers Programs, will share research on and strategies for integrating STEM and art (commonly referred to as STEAM) into the Jewish-ed learning space. Asplund will join the webinar from southern California.

Avraham describes himself as an “education entrepreneur.” He previously led school-wide space science programs in Israel, spanning age groups from kindergarten to 10th grade. In the U.S., he was admitted to NASA’s prestigious Solar Systems Ambassadors outreach program, and also developed and led a science-enrichment program for the Israeli American Council’s DC branch.

JeSSI's main partner is the Bender JCC in Rockville, Maryland, but B'nai Israel Congregation has been supportive as well and JeSSI seeks to partner with additional major players as well as communities across denominations. "We also seek volunteers of all ages and backgrounds who wish to address teen attrition from Jewish engagement," said Avraham.

"For instance, our successful summer pilot allowed teenagers from Montgomery and Howard County in Maryland to engage online in Jewish values, visit a NASA facility, and launch a small payload to the edge of space through collaboration with a local university. Future programs will offer more such opportunities."

One of JeSSI’s long-term goals is to offer teens the opportunity to collaboratively assemble, launch, and operate a real satellite, said Avraham. “Until then, we try to foster relationships with DC, Maryland, and Virginia communities while bringing together Jewish and science education.”