Traffic was oddly heavy down a short stretch of South Green Road in Beachwood the evening of May 27, where car after car turned into the Hebrew Academy of Cleveland’s Beatrice J. Stone Yavne High School for Girls.
Music emanated from the school’s parking lot, where a snaking trail of cars pumping air conditioning slowly weaved around the perimeter. Laughing boys poked their heads out of sun roofs or windows, and rabbis enthusiastically waved and danced to each passersby.
COVID-19 had deprived Hebrew Academy’s traditional in-class methods of teaching and seeing students, but it wouldn’t take away its celebration of Shavuot. The school created a drive-by Shavuot party for its elementary boys, where they could briefly chat with the teachers they hadn’t seen for months, and enjoy the holiday with a snack box – all without leaving their cars to maintain physical distancing.
More than 400 students, including boys who attend other schools, came to the event.
“The purpose of today’s event is to give kids – even in these challenging times – a sense of joy and enthusiasm for learning, for the holidays and for life,” said Rabbi Simcha Dessler, the school’s educational director. “These kids will remember this compassion and this opportunity for the rest of their lives.”
Cars entered the parking lot and were instructed to follow the leader along the exterior, where teachers were waiting to greet their students. Despite the heat waves permeating from the sun-baked ground, the school’s staff danced to the music provided by deejays AY Nakdimen and Shmuel Yaavok Mann.
After reaching the end of the line, boys received their boxes filled with snacks like a Torah-decorated cookie, chocolate milk and bag of chips. Inside the box was also a poem expressing how much the school’s staff missed its students.
To Aliza Koyfman, a Beachwood resident who attends Kehillas B’nai Torah in Beachwood, there was no question she and her two sons, who missed their teachers at the academy, would come to the event.
“Look how awesome (the academy’s staff) is – they’re all standing out here in the awful heat, waving to their kids and giving them treats,” Koyfman said. “The dedication and the love they feel for each of these kids is just unparalleled. This is definitely a little different, but this is very special because there hasn’t been any break in the routine despite what we’re all going through. The music, the enthusiasm, it just shows us how much they really care about us. It’s really getting us into the mood for the holiday.”
The Koyfman brothers, sixth grader Naftali and fifth grader Nachi, agreed while it was a little different than their usual in-class Shavuot celebration, they liked how this year’s party got them out of the house, listening to music and seeing their beloved teachers.
The Shavuot celebration gave Brocha Weinberg, whose children attend the academy, a rush of emotion seeing the hardworking staff.
“It brought tears to my eyes seeing the rabbis there greeting their students,” said Weinberg, a University Heights resident. “To see how much hard work has gone into this by these teachers, and watch them dancing and singing with the kids, it’s just so, so unbelievable.”
COVID-19 had taken away so much from the Hebrew Academy, but on May 27, Shavuot was not another.
“If everything was normal, (Shavuot) would have been incorporated in the curriculum in the classroom within the confines of bricks and mortar,” Dessler said. “But we don’t have that luxury. Therefore, such celebrations and opportunities are clearly making a huge investment as we impact the lives of these children.”