Monthly Archives: September 2011

News Flash! A Collaborative Model in the Jewish Community

Circle Design
A tightly knit collaborative circle. Image by matley0

I’m by nature an optimistic  person (I’m a Jewish educator, after all). But, there’s no doubt that when I consider the topics I’ve written about the outlook seems a little gloomy, and the word ‘kvetch’ comes to mind.

The process of change seems to tug along slower than a cruiser trying to glide through oil.  

Even though I tell myself that what I’ve observed and written about is true  and some would say it’s in the best interest of the Jewish community for me to point these things out, the overall vista is more than gray. “Kvetch” is still the word stubbornly sticking around.    

Since the month before Rosh HaShanah is a time of introspection, I decided to get back to my optimistic core and write about a program that works as a model of collaboration on behalf of Jewish teens. 

I recently spent time during our evening program with over 45 students in 11th and 12th grade who are making an incredibly serious commitment to the Jewish community.  They are amazing, many will be our future leaders, and I owe it to them to talk about what they’re doing. 

In partnership with the URJ, local synagogues, and a Jewish community high school, Jewish teens participate in a win-win situation. 

Students work in their synagogues one day a week as classroom aides, and attend a second day (YES, a second day) taking classes which complement their experience and add to their repertoire of teaching techniques. 

In the final year of the program, students take a freshman college course in Foundations of Education (child development, multiple intelligences, classroom dynamics, lesson planning…) plus a college level Bible course.  

“Training Students to Become Jewish Educators”  is an article I co-wrote which is relevant here and outlines only some of the benefits of the Education course.

In this arrangement, synagogues get the benefit of classroom assistants who are role models for their school, but not only as paid staff, but as students who are making a continued commitment to their own Jewish education

Working to make this program successful are local Reform Jewish Educators, Rabbis of the reform synagogues, administrators and educators at the Jewish community high school, plus parents who encourage and support their teens in the program.  When I think about this program, the word optimistic fills the space in my mind, as the word kvetch silently skulks off stage.


When Parents Say: “Jewish Education On The Side, Please”

Title page to Locke's Some Thoughts Concerning...

Image via Wikipedia

Some parents are guilty of treating Jewish education like a side dish, something that will never star as the main course and won’t be terribly missed if not around either.

So often choices surrounding Jewish education seem like an afterthought, a rush job, something that’s done while in the middle of doing something else that’s way more important.

Basically, it is chosen as an option only if things work out. Otherwise, well, it’s not really a priority. Pretty harsh, huh?

How can I say such a thing? Just listen to my experience these past few weeks and judge for yourself.  The type of phone calls I’ve received illustrate this, and there were actually more calls than I’m describing.  I am open to hearing from you what your experiences have been.

One parent wanted to discuss her daughter’s enrollment during a prolonged red light.

Another parent called to ask about our program for his daughter, but he was about to board an airplane: “Okay, will rows……..” blared in the background as we were trying to discuss the different course options she’d take.

Another parent happened to breeze by the office at 6:15pm with questions that had to be answered right then because she was already late to go somewhere.

Another parent dropped by with his son to sign him up but could only spend 5 minutes on figuring out what program would be the right fit because he had a pressing work matter to attend to.  Yet  another asked her child to fill out the online application, and was in shock when it required a parent’s sign off (before we went paperless, it amazed me how many students completed the applications themselves).

People are sure busy and I understand the pressure to get so many things done.  Plus, I am appreciative that we’re even part of the rush-job-life these people are juggling. I really am.  I just wonder about the none-too-subtle messages that are given to teens when in general, their Jewish education is treated this way.

So here’s the recommendation: despite every activity that competes with commitments to Jewish education, involvement in Jewish learning is an important goal that is part of life’s meal, not a side dish. (This of course excludes those who have opted for the day school entrée).

Let’s not settle for being that low on the priority list. We want your teen to be part of our program, because we know there is value in participating.

Whatever commitments your family makes, place the proper value on the Jewish education part. Kids quickly get the message that it’s just not all that important to you from your actions, which counts much more than you think.


“(any name here)……A Synagogue You Can Believe In”

Sinagogue from Brasov, Romania

Image via Wikipedia

I kid you not.  The headline is exactly what the large billboard sign posted on the edge of the synagogue’s property said, proclaiming that I can now believe in a building. 

If I hadn’t been driving, I would have taken a picture.  Was I the only one experiencing the message as spiritually arrogant?  

Obviously, someone went through a lot of trouble to make that sign, and it probably had to pass several committees for approval. Who knows, maybe there was even a zoning issue or two involved. The billboard must have been the result of a well conceived membership campaign.

What happened? When did we lose sight of belief and instead become enamored with the impermanent: social halls, cushy chairs, plush carpeting and the oh so many naming opportunities?

A  friend of mine told me that she went to a membership orientation night, and after waiting 40 minutes past the start time, members were taken on a TOUR of the building!  No preliminary niceties or ice breakers, no interactive exercises, no discussion of what members find  meaningful in a synagogue experience.  Yet, amazingly, she joined.

If you’re thinking right about now “what does this have to do with Jewish teens?”  the topic is not as far off as you might think.  Teens get that we talk about connectedness, but aren’t really doing it in our sacred spaces. 

I’m not suggesting that we pray outside, in the cold, without shelter.  And I’m not, G-d forbid,  intimating that we not gather together.  What I’m saying is let’s not forget the reason that we built these things  in the first place: to become a community before G-d. Everything we do, every interaction we have, should stem from that one purpose.


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