With her CyberSem Jewish education service, Chavi Goldberg has taken religious women’s empowerment online.
“I saw that boys can get smicha [ordination] online but girls can’t go to seminary online, so I set out to change that,” the Toronto-based educator said.
Goldberg was in Los Angeles on Nov. 16 to meet with parents and students of YULA Girls High School to discuss her online seminary for young women — the first and only seminary of its kind. CyberSem, which officially launched in 2014, enables Jewish women of all ages and backgrounds to continue their Jewish education via online courses.
Goldberg said the idea came about when she was undertaking her doctorate in distance education and realized that online learning in many schools was part of student course requirements in everything from nursing and medicine to engineering and accounting. So, why not Jewish education for women?
CyberSem features everything from Jewish history to Tanakh and Gemara.
CyberSem features everything from Jewish history to Tanakh and Gemara. There currently are 10 courses on offer — including practical courses on Shabbat, family purity and kashrut laws — that run for 12 weeks at a time and cost $350. The next semester begins Jan.1.
Goldberg said she’s particularly excited about a course currently in development based on the Jewish day school curriculum at elementary schools.
“There are many women who send their children to day school but they themselves didn’t attend day school,” Goldberg said. “When their children start learning Humash, the mothers have no way to help them.”
Another course offered focuses on the women in the Bible, not from the Torah but from the Prophets and Writings, who many people don’t know about.
There are a variety of women she thinks could benefit from the online seminary’s offerings, including young women who have attended seminary in Israel between high school and college.
“The girls come back from their seminary [in Israel] and they look at their mothers and their fathers and their old principals and say, ‘Now what do you have available for me?’ And it’s basically blank stares,” said Goldberg, whose own daughter currently attends a seminary in Israel.
“I’m there for the girl who has finished her Israel-based seminary and I’m there for when she comes home,” she said. “I’m also there for the girl who isn’t going to go to seminary.”
And the reasons a young woman might not be going to seminary could be anything from financial constraints to the fact that they’re working or going to a secular college or university, Goldberg said. “CyberSem is an opportunity for them to continue their Jewish subjects, and they can gain transfer credits toward their degrees.”
Goldberg is excited that CyberSem will help women to move forward in their careers while also keeping up their Torah learning.
“As this gains traction, it’s going to make a difference in people’s lives,” she said, “because their learning will continue on a continually sophisticated level.”
She also spoke about how the courses enable women to connect with their Jewish ancestry, which will help them navigate the world of the 21st century.
“The content is structured so that the girls are delving into additional texts and they’re delving into themselves in relation to the people they’re learning about,” she said. “The women were the same as we are. We need to be able to look at them and be inspired by the role models that they are for us. And that they’re not old fogies; they are like women of all times. We share that feminism with common goals and aspirations. That relevance is in all our courses.”
Goldberg hopes her recent visit to the West Coast will help more women of all ages to continue their Jewish educations.
“I’m sure there are many girls who are past seminary stage who would appreciate taking classes on Jewish subjects,” she said. “It helps keep them connected to the Jewish world.”