Welcome to The Jewish Educator - NewCAJE's journal of Jewish Education. Here you'll find summaries of the articles, links to the full PDF's, and - most importantly - a chance to comment on what you read.
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HOW DO WE EFFECTIVELY INTEGRATE EDUCATION INTO JEWISH SERVICE PROGRAMS?
Volunteer service has become an integral part of Jewish life. In the past decade, Jewish service-learning programs have proliferated, offering opportunities for Jews to volunteer in their communities at home and around the world. Synagogues and Jewish community centers across the country are organizing volunteer days for members and a new generation of students is engaging in service projects as part of their b’nai mitzvah preparation.
A growing body of research on Jewish service-learning indicates that service programs can provide impactful service to communities in need. They also have the potential to instill a long-term commitment to social activism in volunteers. However, these outcomes are achievable only if service programs integrate a strong educational foundation. Without education, we risk sending volunteers to serve who are unprepared; unaware of the cultural, socioeconomic, and political contexts in which they work; unsuccessful; and, in the end, disillusioned by the experience.
CHALLENGES TO IMPLEMENTING EFFECTIVE EXPERIENTIAL EDUCATION
Experiential education / learning (EE) is not new. It has been a part of American Jewish education for decades. Years before EE entered the lexicon of Jewish education with the publication of Bernard Riesman’s The Jewish Experiential Book: The Quest for Jewish Identity,1 Jewish schools offered field trips, model seders, sukkah programs and weekend Shabbaton retreats. Over the past three years, however, EE has been become increasingly popular, the newest “new initiative” in American Jewish education. EE programs and professional positions are popping up across the country. And many Jewish educators are discovering that it is far more difficult to implement experiential education than they had anticipated.
As the Director of Experiential Learning at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles (and a Jewish experiential educator for 30 years), I worked with Jewish schools and camps across the United States to develop EE programs and to train their staffs in the best practices of EE. Rarely have I found that implementing any kind of new curriculum is easy — and experiential education is no exception.
Dorothy C. Herman
CREATING SUCCESSFUL CHANGE
Making changes in an established institution is challenging, especially when you are the new Education Director. I had worked at one synagogue as a madrikha (community leader or counselor), teacher, department head, and finally education director. When I changed positions to a new school in a different city, I experienced culture shock. There was no curriculum, written or stated. The teachers could teach whatever they chose. The pay scale was not competitive with neighboring schools. The school budget had not been increased and was inadequate for the number of students. Unused new textbooks were stored in a closet.
Religious School shared space with Early Childhood, and bulletin boards and cabinets were not made available to the Religious School. Classroom management was a big issue with middle and high school students. There was much to be done.
A CALL FOR MAPS OF SPIRITUAL GROWTH IN JUDAISM
Two explorers arrive on the shore of a country where neither has ever travelled. They both set off on their own into this new and wondrous land with the earnest hope to traverse it and find their way to the far shore. Each senses, however, just how many tangled paths, unhelpful diversions, and potential obstacles await. All the same, there is one crucial difference between them that will undoubtedly impact their prospects: the first traveler has a map while the second traveler does not. On whose success would you bet? Even if this second traveler has an excellent sense of direction and stops frequently for guidance along the way, the lack of a “big picture” and overall trajectory provided by a map would clearly be a significant impediment, quite possibly preventing this explorer from arriving at his or her goal.
As a Jew who is committed to ongoing spiritual growth, I relate to this second explorer within the Jewish tradition. Like that traveler I have plenty of drive, a decent sense of direction when it comes to feeling my way into the spiritual core of Jewish practices, and I’ve definitely gotten much advice along the way. Yet in all my years as a student of Judaism, while I’ve heard increasingly more people talk about spirituality, I have encountered very little material that could rightfully be considered a “map” of the territory of spiritual growth—which isn’t to say that such maps don’t exist.
SEEKING PEOPLE & PURPOSE
In addition to providing a high-quality Jewish educational experience for our students currently enrolled in a religious school, congregational educators also are tasked with recruiting new students to fill our classrooms. The trend towards being unaffiliated has synagogues scrambling to attract new members. While synagogues are an important – and the most common – entry point to Judaism, the questions I ask an educator are these: are each of these members truly Jewishly involved (beyond their checkbooks)? And what can we be doing to ensure that our students retain this involvement into adulthood?
Growing up in an area with a small Jewish population, I often heard the expression, “You cannot become a Jew by osmosis.” If this is true, then simply becoming a member of a congregation does not make you (and keep you) Jewish. I believe that the deeper issue is not recruitment, but engagement. It is what Ron Wolfson of Synagogue 3000 referred to as “connectedness.” Once a person makes the commitment to become a member of a synagogue, are they spiritually fulfilled? Are they becoming part of a kehillah kedoshah (holy community)? Are they finding a meaningful way to contribute to the congregation? If the answer to these questions is “no,” then their tie to the Jewish community may be tenuous at best.
How I Accidentally Became A Jewish Historian: The Imperative for Teaching American Jewish History
Like many recent college grads, I left my undergraduate program head held high, diploma in hand, and ready to go out into the world and make my mark. After a brief stint as an outdoor educator, I made the bold move to leave my job and headed back home for a brief stint of what I like to call “funemployment.” As my hunt for a new job began, I had to confront some complicated questions such as “What do I want to do? Who do I want to be? How can I accomplish my goals?” And, in the not-so-tactful words of a close friend, “What real skills do I actually have?”
After much bubbling and churning, I decided my teaching experience and background in educational policy made me well suited for several different career tracks, but I had one rule for myself: I wasn’t going to work for “The Jews.” After being raised in Habonim Dror, being active in my synagogue, and attending Brandeis University, I felt I could make a bigger impact if I looked beyond the community I had always been a part of. The Jewish context of my work didn’t seem as important to me anymore, and, in fact, I felt it may have been holding me back.
Lawrence Mark Lesser
JEWISH PI DAY: MAKING A SECULAR SUBJECT MORE JEWISH…AND MORE ENGAGING
I was blessed with the opportunity to integrate Judaism and mathematics when I took a leave of absence from a university mathematics education position to upgrade my experiential base with full-time pre-collegiate teaching experience – working two years as mathematics department chair and teacher at Emery High, a new pluralistic Jewish community high school in Houston.
To make my teaching more meaningful and motivational for my students (and for myself), I sought, compiled, created, and implemented connections to Judaism with a range of students for varied classes and assemblies, and I described those efforts in a 2006 article1 that appears still to be the most comprehensive overview of areas of Jewish mathematics for classroom use. The current paper is intended to supplement, not supplant, my 2006 paper in the Journal of Mathematics and Culture.