Before Room613.net, I taught music in schools, a popular guitar program for kids, calligraphy workshops and Hebrew school. I’m also a sofer, and I’ve been writing and checking mezuzahs, tefillin and sifrei Torah for about 18 years. I also run a holistic health practice called the Helix Center for Health & Wellness.
Q: Where do you live?
I currently live in western Massachusetts with my wife and children. We have five kids, and my oldest daughter, who’s about to get married, lives in New York. We moved here from Sharon, MA., where we lived for about 13 years.
Q: When did you start Room613.net, and why?
I started Room613.net about eight years ago. At the time, I’d already been doing some online teaching for adults, and I’d been involved in homeschooling for many years. I believe that Room613.net was kind of an inspiration from Above; one day, I had the idea to combine the online teaching, which I really enjoyed, with homeschooling, and Room613.net was the happy result.
Q: What’s the main aim, or goal, of Room613.net?
To teach Jewish children Torah, without the external pressure of grades, tests, or homework, and to inculcate a real love and joy in their Torah learning. We have fun while really plumbing the depths of Torah. I am consistently amazed at what you can do with kids these ages, and what they are capable of accomplishing in this type of setting.
Q. How many students have passed through your virtual doors, and from what countries?
Hmm, good question. Over the past seven years, I can tell you that it’s been a lot! But it’s hard to say how many exactly, as siblings often come to the classes, too. I guess I would estimate about 125. I have a student at the moment who lives in the Netherlands, and I have had students from Canada, Israel, and other countries, as well as from some pretty remote places in the U.S., where there are either no Jews, or no opportunities for chinuch.
Q. Do you have any funny, memorable or inspiring Room613.net anecdotes you can share?
One I often think about is when I had a brother and sister from Colorado taking classes. Thanks to the webcam, I often see parents walking around in the background during classes. One time this mom stopped as she was walking by her daughter, and she leaned over and kissed her daughter on the head as she was passing by. It was very touching, I will never forget it.
There was also a student who logged into class from the airport, when he was going on vacation, and then again from their vacation house which was on an island somewhere. I’ve had kids log into class while sitting in moving cars and even from Walmart. My students seem to really love our classes!
Sometimes kids will show us, using a webcam, what is going on outside their window. When a student in Denmark starts showing their classmate in New York what’s happening outside, that’s quite exciting.
Q. What’s been some of the highlights of doing Room613.net?
Perhaps the biggest highlight is participating in the Steinsaltz Global Day of Learning, which I’ve done now for several years. When Rabbi Steinsaltz had just finished translating the entire Talmud, his organization offered that he would visit any institution that was participating in his Global Day of Learning program.
I asked the Rav if he’d be willing to ‘visit’ my program, virtually, from the comfort of his office (in Israel). And to my surprise and delight, he took me up on the offer! The Rav joined me live in my virtual classroom, together with more than 100 students. I’ve been reading and studying his works for 25 years, so it was a real honor for me.
Whenever I meet a former Room613.net student in person, as happened a little while ago when some of them relocated to our area and showed up in our shul, that’s also very special.
Q. What’s been some of the biggest difficulties or challenges?
Technology always has its own set of frustrations. When the internet goes out in the middle of class, that can be a challenge. There are also challenges that all teachers have, but I have to deal with some things that are specific to the virtual classroom setting. One nice thing is that any discipline issues are mostly eliminated, or else very easy to deal with.
Probably my biggest challenge is how to make a real, personal connection with a student who won’t use a webcam or mic. It’s hard, but it can be done.
Q. What are your plans for the future?
I have an online learning program for adults, called Mercaz Machshava Tova (the Centre for Positive Thinking), that includes a free Sunday night class, which I hope to keep developing.
Specifically for Room613.net, I currently have another teacher doing Early Childhood classes, and I’m considering offering secular studies, too, as part of an expanded program of studies. I’d like to see Room613.net develop as a more complete, online alternative to Jewish Day Schools.
I’m also collaborating with Jewish Girls Unite!, a popular program run by Nechama Laber (who does Jewish Girls Retreat), which offers weekly classes for girls. We usually have 20 or more girls at each class, and new classes are being offered.
Q. What’s required from a student / family to succeed at home schooling?
I think one needs to be an independent, creative, out-of-the box type of spirit, and not be afraid to go against the grain of what most people are doing. Typically, homeschooling families aren’t afraid to defend their choices and handle some criticism, which means that they’re usually pretty confident about their choices and abilities.
Also, one should be willing to try things that might not be done at a school, to experiment a bit, and to really take advantage of what homeschooling has to offer. Homeschooled kids are usually very creative, a bit quirky, and very bright and insightful.
Even though it’s not a panacea, and some kids are probably better off in school, homeschooling can often be an amazing experience. Also, homeschooling enables parents to broaden their definition of what chinuch actually looks like, and that can also be very beneficial.
Q. How does Room613.net make the homeschooling process easier, better, or more enjoyable?
Part of it is Room613.net’s teaching style. I can really connect with the kids, and they feel that I’m on their side, and that we’re engaged in doing something exciting together.
Also, every year we always have a really great, close-knit group of homeschooled kids, so Room613.net is actually a very social experience. Kids make lots of good friends in our classes, which is very important for homeschoolers.
Q: If you could sum up the ethos of Room613.net in one sentence, what would it be?
To instill a love for G-d, Torah, and the Jewish people, and all of G-d's creation, through Torah study, lishmah.