Jewish women of all backgrounds and ages have an opportunity to continue — or start — their religious education without leaving home.
Launched in October by Chavi Goldberg of Toronto, CyberSem is an online women’s program geared toward those seeking to further their Jewish education.
“I realized that a person could do almost anything online except go to seminary,” Goldberg said. “There was a gap in women’s Jewish education, and I wanted to close that gap.”
She spent 12 years developing the program, including the time she needed to complete her doctorate in instructional technology and distance learning.
CyberSem — short for seminary, the traditional, yearlong, immersive Jewish education program for girls after high school — offers about a half-dozen classes and has more in development. It also has as several trained instructors and the oversight of rabbis to ensure the coursework adheres to certain halachic guidelines.
Class topics span the practical and religious, from Torah textual study and Shabbat to kosher laws and ritual family purity to better communication skills.
“Everything taught through CyberSem can be immediately put into practice in our daily lives,” Goldberg said.
“When thinking about my own Jewish life and how busy I was raising a family, working, going to synagogue and so on, I realized that it wasn’t easy to squeeze Jewish learning into my life,” said Goldberg, who did not grow up religiously observant but began learning as a teenager. “By providing online classes, our students could learn and study when it was convenient for them.”
No prior Jewish knowledge or education is necessary.
“It’s the desire to learn and not the background that’s important,” she said, adding that “extra help” is built into the system for those who may need it.
In general, online learning is self-regulated.
“We are giving our teachers the skills to keep the students on track and recognize when someone may be slipping through the cracks,” said Goldberg, who became familiar with the process during her graduate work.
Because online classes are more independent, they require certain skills to make it to the end. Those skills, beyond the actual education, are also useful, she said.
“Life skills are bumped up as well,” Goldberg said. “We offer women a new lease on life and the confidence to be successful.”
The only school that offers credit for the online seminary’s courses is Touro College. But organizers are working with other schools to form partnerships.
“I just want to give women the opportunity to learn. If they can get credit for it, great,” Goldberg said. “It’s positive for their self-esteem and for their Yiddishkeit.”
Enrollment has begun for classes starting in January. One-time classes are $25 and are accessible for a year. The average eight-week course is $350.