The center's first busy season is upon them, and despite COVID-19, they're ready.
As she has every year for the past 35, Susan Goldfarb is spending the first weeks of the new year welcoming students into classes, sneaking into a few when she can and working hard to make sure things run smoothly. However, she’s now doing it at Temple Beth Israel with the Education Center at Temple Beth Israel rather than at the Longboat Key Education Center at the Centre Shops. The move for the Key institution happened last summer, and Goldfarb is finding her footing in the new place after a light fall semester.
One thing she’s unfortunately taken with her in the new setup is covid. As the omicron surge has gotten bigger, classes have gotten smaller. A few have gotten canceled due to low signups, but about two-thirds are still on, Goldfarb said.
“All the planning in the world comes crumbling down and you have to put it all together in a new way that will make everybody happy and serve their needs and wants, and there’s a lot of needs and wants,” Goldfarb said. “People are yearning to come back in person, even though omicron has come to make us frustrated and crazy and afraid, but people still want to get out and away from their laptops.”
So once again, Goldfarb has adapted. There are a few teachers who aren’t comfortable with teaching in-person at the moment, so thanks to her tech team she’s been able to set up a webinar-type experience, in which the teacher is projected for the class participants who came in-person. Students must wear masks and the classrooms are set up to allow for social distancing. The social hall of the temple really opens up class options and makes it possible to still have a large class size safely, which wasn’t possible at the Centre Shops.
“We’re going on with life,” Goldfarb said. “We’re trying hard to embrace what’s available to us, and the people that do show up are very enthusiastic and happy to be here. … The facility is so much larger than what we had at the Centre Shops. One of the rooms is smaller, but the other big one where we have most of our lectures and everything is twice the size.”
The fall semester is typically light, so Goldfarb is looking forward to a much busier schedule for the school. The hits, including chair yoga with Emme Shapiro and Gus Mollasis and Kathie Moon’s movie classes have returned, and a few short classes have already wrapped up. But during season, new classes start nearly every week, and there are several every day. One of Goldfarb’s favorite classes, "For the Love of Your Dog," has returned. As a dog lover herself, Goldfarb tries to sit in on that class.
“There's more to loving your dogs than feeding them and walking them,” Goldfarb said. “There's leadership, and there's a loving discipline, and there's a healthy lifestyle for the dog, and what kind of exercise and what kind of food and what kind of talk you can give the dog that the dog will eventually respond to, because they have a vocabulary dogs, you know, of at least a few 100 words. So it's a wonderful little group size. I always get excited about that.
Many of the classes are one or two-time seminars focused on the arts. There will be two nights of jazz with Kid Dutch, a New Orleans jazz artist who was popular at the old Education Center of Longboat Key, along with an introduction to Jewish theater and a Jewish film festival. and she’s looking forward to a poetry festival scheduled for Jan. 27.
“I know not everybody understands poetry or likes it even, but these poets come and they really entertain you,” Goldfarb said. “You don't have to be a poetry lover to come to a poetry reading with the live poets, because you can ask them questions and many of them have humorous, insightful, powerful poetry to recite.”
Most classes will have smaller enrollment than in the days before the pandemic, but Goldfarb knows that building back will be slow. At the temple, with enthusiastic students returning and a dedicated staff around her, she believes it will stay steady.
“We're all working together to make it happen, because we know that the best way to do it is to be a cooperative team and to be happy that we all have each other doing things that make the temple a great place to be,” Goldfarb said. “I have a great support system in (executive director) Isaac (Azerad) and Vice President Allen Goldfarb … I think after another month that this, we're gonna have it down pretty good and we're going to all be very, very secure in what we're doing and happy with how it's happening.”
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