by Emilia Diamant
One of the reasons I was so inspired at NewCAJE last year was the Young Professional (YP) post-conference. In a room with Cherie Koller-Fox, Yavilah McCoy, Joanna Ware, and others, we discussed the barriers that keep people from congregational life. Being an educator at a Reform synagogue in Raleigh, NC, has put me square in the middle of what we were all saying we didn’t want — heterogeneity and stagnancy with no movement toward meeting the Jews of tomorrow where they are. Through the conversation that afternoon I came to the realization that no matter where my career path takes me, Jewish education will be a part of it. That being said, the Jewish education models of the past (Sunday School, learning Hebrew through memorization and books) do not seem as important to me as our world changes. If we, the 20- and 30-somethings, are shifting away from what we knew as students, it’s time for Jewish education to evolve alongside us.
I am not suggesting we throw out what we’ve been doing, but rather we look to our constituents and see what might be worth changing. There are a few principles I feel our model of Jewish education should be based on:
- Inclusion—of all types of people, families, ability levels, education. If we are not actively inclusive and finding ways to celebrate difference, we are irrelevant.
- Tradition—there’s a reason we’ve been doing things this way for so long. Something about it resonates, whether it is the way we sing Aleinu or how we teach the Alef Bet. Many of my YP counterparts feel that tradition is stifling, but rather I suggest we find ways to make the traditions of our ancestors work for us.
- Exploration of Space—it’s time to move out of synagogues and out of JCCs. It’s time to find people where they are and explore Judaism there, together. Whether it’s in an art gallery, a yoga class, or a bookstore, it would behoove Jewish educators to find a way to meet people, physically, where they are.