A great need, indeed – “vocational Yeshivos” are the talk of parents and educators these days.
What is “vocational”, anyways?
How is that implemented, practically?
And how to avoid it from becoming “vacational”?
Panama’s Shluchim, Yakov and Hana Poliwoda, seem to have come up with the answers to these questions.
Originally arriving to Panama in 2012, the Shluchim were involved in Jewish schools and education in Panama City. From school management, regular school and online school, to Niglah, Chassiduss and secular studies, the Poliwoda’s saw the whole spectrum of education – its strengths and weaknesses.
In 2016, they moved on Shlichus to a town in the Panamanian Highlands, just a forty minute flight from the capital, to attend Jewish American expats, counted to be close to one hundred. Coming in contact with a totally different age group, the Poliwoda’s learned the value of adults in their retirement age reinventing themselves and finding expression to their new calling. Surrounded by magnificent nature and home to the bread basket of the country, Boquete is a center of creativity, where lawyers become bakers, real estate agents turn into coffee producers and diversity sets the tone of a vibrant international community, all striving to find their uniqueness and express it.
“This” says rabbi Poliwoda, “is what we felt our own teenagers need. From the very first few months of our arrival, we realized the potential in our Makom Shlichus, and ever since strived to make it available for the young ones, who most need it. Panama is a safe place, with a vibrant Jewish community and is considered the hub of the Americas. Boquete, in particular, is secluded from city life and offers extraordinary opportunities in the Chinuch field.”
For the last three years, the Poliwoda’s have hosted six summer and winter camps, gaining know-how in organization, programming and finances – always aiming to establish a full year experience.
Describing the Yeshivah, and what sets it apart, rabbi Poliwoda says:
“We understand that every student is unique in his qualities, skills and talents. As such, they each have different needs. We strive to attend those needs and allow the student to explore his inner value and unique worth, to become a proactive Mentch and Jew.
“We also understand that students need to master skills and knowledge in an orderly fashion: having solid foundations and only then, building upon them. However, excellence in scholarship will not be compromised by our appreciation of each student’s uniqueness, nor vice-versa.
“We seek to create an environment where each student has a real input and makes a difference, helping others and contributing to the Yeshivah. We strive to make students feel that the Yeshivah is their own, by actively participating and involving themselves with many of its aspects.
“Using vocational workshops, students will bring the products of their efforts and use them in the Yeshivah. At the same time, they will learn with and visit members of the Jewish community in Boquete – giving them a further sense of mission and purpose.”
The Poliwodas have organized a four branched program including: Torah studies, optional secular studies, vocational workshops and trips.
“Our Yeshivah will include the study of Chassidus, Gemoro and Halachah – focusing on providing students with the tools to learn on their own,” says rabbi Poliwoda, who will serve as Rosh Yeshiva, and will be assisted by 2 bochurim Shluchim. “Besides focusing on learning tools, relevant sections of each subject will be selected to impart meaningful content.
The program is being organized with the support and coaching of rabbi Yitzchok Lerman, a renowned Mechanech and education consultant. The curriculum will include an emphasis on Chumash, Rambam and Gemoro as they relate to the Taryag Mitzvos.
“On another note,” rabbi Poliwoda says, “we understand the needs of certain bochurim, and as such, our Yeshivah will provide top secular education, using on-site teachers and a USA online program (Melamed Academy) that allows students to earn their High School degrees.
“At the same time, our Yeshivah will incorporate in its daily curriculum, vocational workshops where students will learn other crafts and reap palpable benefits from their work, contributing to their own personal growth, and the Yeshivah as a whole. Some of these include: vegetable farming, artisan bread making, coffee processing, wood and stone sculpting, art and clay, biology hands-on experiences with seismology, bees, butterflies and plants.
“Connecting with nature is part of our program,” says rabbi Poliwoda. “As such, we will offer 3 types of trip experiences: Level 1: Weekly hikes every Sunday morning. Level 2: Zip Lining, Water Rafting and Pacific Island Hopping will be offered as intermediate value trips that students will earn. Level 3: A visit to Bocas del Toro and Panama City will be the highlight trips, also earned by students.
“Students will be evaluated on a daily basis, and will be awarded points,” concludes rabbi Poliwoda. “According to these, the group and individual students will merit to participate in trips level 2 and 3. Credits will be based on: punctuality, participation, proactivity, cleanliness, organization and responsibility.”
The Poliwodas are aiming to start the Yeshivah program right after Tishrei 5780 and have opened their registration process. They are also looking to hire two Shluchim for the program. You may email them to [email protected] for more information.