This fall, some 100 teenagers are expected to register as Yeshiva University non-matriculated students in a ground-breaking course on the tenets of Judaism. In conjunction with CTeen, Chabad’s Teen Network, the two-credit pilot course will cover topics of history and faith over 14 classes.
For many years, CTeen chapters struggled to attract a broad student base to their Torah classes, says director Rabbi Shimon Rivkin. Some teens, focused as they are on accruing university credits during high school, have been less inclined because the study programs don’t contribute to those goals. “Now we are offering Torah and Judaism for college credits,” exults Rivkin. “It’s a win-win.”
Yeshiva University agrees. “One avenue of teaching is through a classroom at a school,” states Rabbi Dr. Yosef Kalinsky, the school’s Dean of Men’s Undergraduate Torah Studies Program. “Through this innovative track, we can expand our interactive classrooms to the world to any place where there is a Chabad chapter and teacher.
“YU and Chabad come to this from the same place,” continues Kalinsky. “We both want to educate Jewish people and bring them closer to G-d. Making learning incentivized is another way to bring more people around the table.”
The fall semester explores the commandments between man and G-d, including such basics as Shabbat, kosher, and tefillin. Rabbi Lawrence Hajioff, of YU and Stern College, sourced the material and constructed well-rounded lessons in Hebrew and English. He expects individual teachers to supplement with hands-on, personalized additions. Before the course went live to students, Hajioff also created instructive YouTube videos of simulated classes for the teachers. “I have been teaching the beginning track at YU and Stern College for 20 years,” he shares. “I know the questions and discussions that will arise.”
Though the class was initially going to be presented online, its creators changed course. Attendance now makes up 30 percent of the grade with a midterm and final rounding out the mark. “We live in an online world,” explains Hajioff, “but we want students to have a personal connection with their teacher for a more powerful experience. Each class leaves a lot of room for questions and debate. The one thing I expect of the teachers, though, is to cover all the material. This is not fluff.”
Several chapters have begun the course already, and 20 cities will participate this fall. “We have reached families we otherwise would never encounter,” says Rivkin.
Rabbi Yosef Orenstein of Valley Chabad in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey is excited to roll out CTeen U to 10 students this week. The teen demographic, he says, has often been the most difficult one for many Chabad representatives to connect with. This course makes the connection that much easier, and more meaningful. “Our goal is not to just provide the information, but to make it relevant for each teen. Judaism should be a part of their lives, to live with and live by.”