SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — Every year, the fourth-grade religious school students at Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel in South Orange participate in “My Family Story,” an international Jewish heritage program sponsored by the Museum of the Jewish People of Beit Hatfutsot in Tel Aviv, Israel. The program is designed to connect students to their families’ personal stories and the broader story of the Jewish people. One of TSTI’s students, Alex Nasberg-Abrams, 10, of Maplewood, is a finalist in this year’s competition.
Alex’s project, about his great-great-grandfather’s escape from Poland in 1913, will be exhibited in the museum among the final entries from around the world. Although finalists traditionally travel to Israel for the exhibit opening, this year Alex was part of a virtual ceremony from the museum on June 10, at which the grand prize winner was announced.
Alex turned the necessity imposed by the pandemic lockdown into creative invention, using technology to help tell his family’s story. His grandmother, who lives in Florida, was filmed narrating the story via video on a computer as Alex depicted the events with Lego models. The result was a virtual presentation that bridged distances and generations.
“This year’s project presented challenges for our students, since the religious school was taken completely online in March, but we had the tools in place to support them in completing their projects at home,” TSTI Education Director Mindy Schreff said. “Alex was able to reframe his original plan and use technology to help his grandmother participate and create an engaging presentation.”
Alex said, “I heard the story from my grandma about her grandfather’s escape and, since then, I’ve always had an interest in it. I learned that he swam across a river at night, tricked guards at a checkpoint about his identification papers, reunited with his family and eventually got to America. I’m happy for myself about being a finalist but also happy for my grandma for doing the story with me.”
Alex’s parents, Susan Nasberg-Abrams and Jason Abrams, have been members of TSTI since 2014, and are understandably proud of their son’s ingenuity and accomplishment. Alex attended the TSTI preschool and has attended religious school there since kindergarten. His older brother, Samuel, who became bar mitzvah at TSTI last year, implemented the technology, helping Alex become the third student to represent TSTI in Israel since the religious school began doing “My Family Story” eight years ago.
Nasberg-Abrams has served for several years on the religious school board and will join the temple’s executive board in September. She noted that the virtual learning environment presented unforeseen opportunities for connections in new ways.
“I loved how three generations of our family were able to work on this project together, even though we were physically apart,” she said. “This project was a wonderful way for my kids to learn about their family history, and it even sparked my mother’s desire to record additional family stories. We are so grateful for this opportunity to participate.”