Thursday, December 31, 2009

A New Civil Year

I am in a very strange place and time right now. It is Thursday, December 31 at 7:00 p.m. I am in Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, waiting to board a plane scheduled to depart at 11:40 p.m. I will literally be in the air for the arrival of the New Year as it is welcomed from Jerusalem to somewhere in the Pacific. I am really missing the start of 2010. As my friend Leslie Coff's son would say: "Epic Fail."

The metaphors are almost overwhelming - at least as I sit alone in a airport with my cafe hafuch (gadol, chazak v'im dal shuman) - at the gateway to Eretz Yisrael. So please excus
e a little sleep-deprived maudlin musing on the eve of the new year...

I am in the air between two realities, two homes. Audrey and I have had more serious conversations about the place Israel holds in our hearts and lives than at any
time since the year we lived here. We celebrated our first wedding anniversary (that's me in front of the new Katy's - the new iteration of the restaurant where we celebrated that anniversary) in Jerusalem, during my first year of graduate school. It was an amazing time, even though Israel was in the second year of the first intifada. (Looking back, it was the mildest of conflicts in the last two decades, but it did not seem so at the time.)

The old arab-built house at the corner of Oliphant and Alcalay was were we became a family. Living on our own, far from either of our families or friends, we found a new way together. By the time we returned to the states (and headed out to the frontiers of Los Angeles) we had established our own rhythm as married people tend to do. We had gone from being you and me to being us. The smell of the jasmine bush in front of our Jerusalem home is still one of the strongest and most meaningful olfactory memories I have - right up there with Grandma Honey's latkes and Mom's London Broil (among many other choice dishes). I walked over to the old house after Shabbat last week - the hotel (Prima Royale, restored and very nice) is only three short blocks away - and picked some flowering Jasmine from the massive bush to bring home to Audrey (this is the fourth time I have brought some back).

Last spring, our oldest son spent a semester at Kibbutz Tzuba, outside Jerusalem with the Eisendrath International Exchange. It was some of the best money we ever spent. He had an amazing time, and we were just waiting for him to say "Let's go." I think we might have. He did come back committed and in love with Israel, but like us not ready pull the ripcord. He did write about it for his Confirmation last June.

Another up in the air aspect is New Year's Eve. In Israel it is referred to as Sylvester. For many years it was a non-issue in Israel, except in places where the rabbinate threatened (and followed through) to remove the Kashrut certification of any restaurant or hotel that held a Sylvester celebration. The Balashon blog explains why. In Tel Aviv tonight there are lots of events in restaurants that do not have Kosher certification. And I am told that Rabin Square is set up for several bands to perform. But it is not a big deal here. At all.

As I sit in the airport (boarding soon) with my Jim Joseph Fellowship friends, Harper and Audrey are getting ready to go to our friends' house. For the last ten years or so, we have spent New Year's eve with two other families, starting with dinner, and continuing through dinner on New Year's Day, when we celebrate Ethan's birthday. New Year's Rockin' Eve, chocolate martinis, board games, videos, lots of cooking and hanging out. It is fabulous. I am sad to miss it tonight. It is a seriously meaningful celebration for our families, although not celebrated with seiousness. It is strange not to be there.

So this rambles a bit. That happens when you are up in the air. I was excited to come to Israel eleven days ago. I was sad to leave my family. I am excited to go home and be with them in the morning. I am sad to leave Israel. Unlike every other time I have left Israel, I already know when I am coming back, as the fellowship returns to Bar Ilan next December.

My heart is in the east, and I in the uttermost west--
How can I find savor in food? How shall it be sweet to me?
How shall I render my vows and my bonds, while yet
Zion lieth beneath the fetter of Edom, and I in Arab chains?
A light thing would it seem to me to leave all the good things of Spain --
Seeing how precious in mine eyes to behold the dust of the desolate sanctuary.

Yehuda Halevi, writing in Spain c. 1141

Yeah, Yehuda. I get it.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Leading Like Lenny (or Riccardo, Richard, Herbert or Carlos)?

I am currently sitting in a classroom in the Jim Joseph Building on the Bar Ilan University campus in Ramat Gan. The beautiful new building is the new home of the school of education and the Lookstein Institute for Jewish Education in the Diaspora and the Jim Joseph Foundation Fellows Program. I have the honor of being chosen to be one of the fellows. What follows is a summary of an amazing session we had yesterday with Itay Talgam, an orchestra conductor who taught us about leadership written by my fellow fellow, nammie Ichilov:

Today was a great first day! Besides having an afternoon of listening to some great classical music, led by some of the world's best conductors, Itay Talgam (pictured above) presented on Leadership as Vision & Values through the multiple conducting styles of the various conductors.

Itay, who also served as an Assistant Conductor to Leonard Bernstein, shared with the group the importance of leading from a place of "higher consciousness" (known as "Transcendence" in Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs) which is actually beyond Maslow's original highest level of "Self-Actualization."

The whole afternoon really allowed the 11 of us (unfortunately 3 fellows were delayed because of the storm that hit the northeast on Saturday night) the opportunity to do some of our own critical thinking and self-reflection to see where we fall in the variety of leadership examples, as well as which leadership would work best in our respective Jewish educational arenas.

And if all of this was not enough, in the morning we were all invited to work on a Google Wave together to better understand how this Web 2.0 application can be used down the road...when this comes out for Beta testing this will change the way we currently communicate through instant messaging, etc. This is REAL TIME communication online?!?!

Anyway, that should be it for now, so have a great day, and stay tuned for Day 3 when we visit the Bar Kochba Caves (made of "mysterious limestone formations in the southern region of Israel. It was here that the Jews took refuge from the Romans, who persecuted them. In the year 132 C.E., the Jews planned and began their revolt against the repressive regime [from these caves].")

Thanks nammie!

A transcript of Itay's presentation is here:

Lead like the great conductors - Itay Talgam

The magical moment, the magical moment of conducting. Which is, you go on to a stage. There is an orchestra sitting. They are all, you know, warming up and doing stuff. And I go on the podium. You know, this little office of the conductor. Or rather a cubicle, an open-space cubicle, with a lot of space. And in front of all that noise, You do a very small gesture. Something like this, not very pomp, not very sophisticated, this. And suddenly, out of the chaos, order. Noise becomes music.

And this is fantastic. And it's so tempting to think that it's all about me. (Laughter) All those great people here, virtuosos, they make noise, they need me to do that. Not really. If it were that, I would just save you the talk, and teach you the gesture. So you could go out to the world and do this thing in whatever company or whatever you want, and you have perfect harmony. It doesn't work. Let's look at the first video. I hope you'll think it's a good example of harmony. And then speak a little bit about how it comes about.


Was that nice? So that was a sort of a success. Now, who should we thank for the success? I mean, obviously the orchestra musicians playing beautifully, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. They don't often even look at the conductor. Then you have the clapping audience, yeah, actually taking part in doing the music. You know Viennese audiences usually don't interfere with the music. This is the closest to an Oriental bellydancing feast that you will ever get in Vienna. (Laughter)

Unlike, for example Israel, where audiences cough all the time. You know, Arthur Rubinstein, the pianist, used to say that, "Anywhere in the world, people that have the flu, they go to the doctor. In Tel Aviv they come to my concerts." (Laughter) So that's a sort of a tradition. But Viennese audiences do not do that. Here they go out of their regular, just to be part of that, to become part of the orchestra, and that's great. You know, audiences like you, yeah, make the event.

But what about the conductor? What can you say the conductor was doing, actually? Um, he was happy. And I often show this to senior management. People get annoyed. "You come to work. How come you're so happy?" Something must be wrong there, yeah? But he's spreading happiness. And I think the happiness, the important thing is this happiness does not come from only his own story, and his joy of the music. The joy is about enabling other people's stories to be heard at the same time.

You have the story of the orchestra as a professional body. You have the story of the audience as a community. Yeah. You have the stories of the individuals in the orchestra and in the audience. And then you have other stories, unseen. People who build this wonderful concert hall. People who made those Stradivarius, Amati, all those beautiful instruments. And all those stories are being heard at the same time. This is the true experience of a live concert. That's a reason to go out of home. Yeah? And not all conductors do just that. Let's see somebody else, a great conductor, Riccardo Muti, please.


Yeah, that was very short. But you could see it's a completely different figure. Right? He's awesome. He's so commanding. Yeah? So clear. Maybe a little bit over-clear. Can we have a little demonstration? Would you be my orchestra for a second? Can you sing, please, the first note of Don Giovanni? You have to sing "Aaaaaah," and I'll stop you. Okay? Ready?

Audience: ♫ Aaaaaaah ... ♫

Itay Talgam: Come on, with me. If you do it without me I feel even more redundant than I already feel. So please, wait for the conductor. Now look at me. "Aaaaaah," and I stop you. Let's go.

Audience: ♫ ... Aaaaaaaah ... ♫ (Laughter)

Itay Talgam: So we'll have a little chat later. (Laughter) But ... There is a vacancy for a ... But -- (Laughter) -- you could see that you could stop an orchestra with a finger. Now what does Riccardo Muti do? He does something like this ... (Laughter) And then -- sort of -- (Laughter) So not only the instruction is clear, but also the sanction, what will happen if you don't do what I tell you. (Laughter) So, does it work? Yes, it works -- to a certain point.

When Muti is asked, "Why do you conduct like this?" He says, "I'm responsible." Responsible in front of him. No he doesn't really mean Him. He means Mozart, which is -- (Laughter) -- like a third seat from the center. (Laughter) So he says, "If I'm -- (Applause) If I'm responsible for Mozart, this is going to be the only story to be told. It's Mozart as I, Riccardo Muti, understand it."

And you know what happened to Muti? Three years ago he got a letter signed by all 700 employees of La Scala, musical employees, I mean the musicians, saying, "You're a great conductor. We don't want to work with you. Please resign." (Laughter) "Why? Because you don't let us develop. You're using us as instruments, not as partners. And our joy of music, etc. etc. ..." So he had to resign. Isn't that nice? (Laughter) He's a nice guy. He's a really nice guy. Well, can you do it with less control, or with a different kind of control? Let's look at the next conductor, Richard Strauss.


I'm afraid you'll get the feeling that I really picked on him because he's old. It's not true. When he was a young man, of about 30, he wrote what he called "The Ten Commandments for Conductors." The first one was: If you sweat by the end of the concert it means that you must have done something wrong. That's the first one. The fourth one you'll like better. It says: Never look at the trombones -- it only encourages them. (Laughter)

So, the whole idea is really to let it happen by itself. Do not interfere. But how does it happen? Did you see him turning pages in the score? Now, either he is senile, and doesn't remember his own music, because he wrote the music. Or he is actually transferring a very strong message to them, saying, "Come on guys. You have to play by the book. So it's not about my story. It's not about your story. It's only the execution of the written music, no interpretation." Interpretation is the real story of the performer. So, no, he doesn't want that. That's a different kind of control. Let's see another super-conductor, a German super-conductor, Herbert von Karajan, please.


What's different? Did you see the eyes? Closed. Did you see the hands? Did you see this kind of movement? Let me conduct you. Twice. Once like a Muti, and you'll -- (Claps) -- clap, just once. And then like Karajan. Let's see what happens. Okay? Like Muti. You ready? Because Muti ... (Laughter) Okay? Ready? Let's do it.

Audience: (Claps)

Itay Talgam: Hmm ... again.

Audience: (Claps)

Itay Talgam: Good. Now like a Karajan. Since you're already trained, let me concentrate, close my eyes. Come, come.

Audience: (Claps) (Laughter)

Itay Talgam: Why not together? (Laughter) Because you didn't know when to play. Now I can tell you, even the Berlin Philharmonic doesn't know when to play. (Laughter) But I'll tell you how they do it. No cynicism. This is a German orchestra, yes? They look at Karajan. And then they look at each other. (Laughter) "Do you understand what this guy wants?" And after doing that, they really look at each other, and the first players of the orchestra lead the whole ensemble in playing together.

And when Karajan is asked about it He actually says, "Yes, the worst damage I can do to my orchestra is to give them a clear instruction. Because that would prevent the ensemble, the listening to each other that is needed for an orchestra." Now that's great. What about the eyes? Why are the eyes closed? There is a wonderful story about Karajan conducting in London. And he cues in a flute player like this. The guy has no idea what to do. (Laughter) "Maestro, with all due respect, when should I start?" What do you think Karajan's reply was? When should I start? Oh yeah. He says, "You start when you can't stand it anymore." (Laughter)

Meaning that you know you have no authority to change anything. It's my music. The real music is only in Karajan's head. And you have to guess my mind. So you are under tremendous pressure because I don't give you instruction, and yet, you have to guess my mind. So it's a different kind of, a very spiritual but yet, very firm control. Can we do it in another way? Of course we can. Let's go back to the first conductor we've seen: Carlos Kleiber, his name. Next video please.


(Laughter) Yeah. Well, it is different. But isn't that controlling in the same way? No it's not. Because he is not telling them what to do. When he does this, it's not, "Take your Stradivarius and like Jimi Hendrix, smash it on the floor." It's not that. He says, "This is the gesture of the music. I'm opening a space for you to put in another layer of interpretation." That is another story.

But how does it really work together if it doesn't give them instructions? It's like being on a rollercoaster. Yeah? You're not really given any instructions. But the forces of the process itself keep you in place. That's what he does. The interesting thing is of course the rollercoaster does not really exist. It's not a physical thing. It's in the players heads.

And that's what make them into partners. You have the plan in your head. You know what to do, even though Kleiber is not conducting you. But here and there and that. You know what to do. And you become a partner building the rollercoaster, yeah, with sound, as you actually take the ride. This is very exciting for those players. They do need to go to a sanatorium for two weeks, later. (Laughter) It is very tiring. Yeah? But it's the best music making, like this.

But of course it's not only about motivation and giving them a lot of physical energy. You also have to be very professional. And look again at this, Kleiber. Can we have the next video, quickly? You'll see what happens when there is a mistake.

(Music) Again you see the beautiful body language. (Music) And now there is a trumpet player who does something not exactly the way it should be done. Go along with the video. Look. See, second time for the same player. (Laughter) And now the third time for the same player. (Laughter) "Wait for me after the concert. I have a short notice to give you." You know, when it's needed, the authority is there. It's very important. But authority is not enough to make people your partners.

Let's see the next video please. See what happens here. You might be surprised having seen Kleiber as such a hyperactive guy. He's conducting Mozart. (Music) The whole orchestra is playing. (Music) Now something else. (Music) See? He is there 100 percent, but not commanding, not telling what to do. Rather enjoying what the soloist is doing. (Music)

Another solo now. See what you can pick up from this. (Music) Look at the eyes. Okay. You see that? First of all, it's a kind of a compliment we all like to get. It's not feedback. It's an "Mmmm ..." Yeah, it comes from here. So that's a good thing. And the second thing is it's about actually being in control, but in a very special way. When Kleiber does -- did you see the eyes, going from here? (Singing) You know what happens? Gravitation is no more.

Kleiber not only creates a process, but also creates the conditions in the world in which this process takes place. So again, the oboe player is completely autonomous and therefore happy and proud of his work, and creative and all of that. And the level in which Kleiber is in control is in a different level. So control is no longer a zero-sum game. You have this control. You have this control. And all you put together, in partnership, brings about the best music. So Kleiber is about process. Kleiber is about conditions in the world.

But you need to have process and content to create the meaning. Lenny Bernstein, my own personal maestro since he was a great teacher, Lenny Bernstein always started from the meaning. Look at this please.


Do you remember the face of Muti, at the beginning? Well he had a wonderful expression, but only one. (Laughter) Did you see Lenny's face? You know why? Because the meaning of the music is pain. And you're playing a painful sound. And you look at Lenny and he's suffering. But not in a way that you want to stop. It's suffering, like, enjoying himself in a Jewish way, as they say. (Laughter) But you can see the music on his face. You can see the baton left his hand. No more baton. Now it's about you, the player, telling the story. Now it's a reversed thing. You're telling the story. And you're telling the story. And even briefly, you become the storyteller to which the community, the whole community, listens to. And Bernstein enables that. Isn't that wonderful?

Now, if you are doing all the things we talked about, together, and maybe some others, you can get to this wonderful point of doing without doing. And for the last video, I think this is simply the best title. My friend Peter says, "If you love something, give it away." So, please.



Friday, December 11, 2009

Information Literacy…Authentic Conversation..Globalize Curriculum…

This is from the Langwitches Blog of November 28th, 2009, one of the many wonderful resources I have discovered (like Columbus discovered the Indians, these resources were already there, just wondering when I would bother to board my caravel and bump into them!)

In this video presented by Mobile Learning Institute:

Alan November tours his hometown of Marblehead, MA and comments on the historical global vision of his community. Alan challenges us to think about the emerging role of “student as contributor” and to globalize our curriculum by linking students with authentic audiences from around the world. (For more, read Alan’s article, Students as Contributors: The Digital Learning Farm.

Find more videos like this on NL Connect

This description caught my attention and I started playing the 13 minute video clip. The following thoughts from November resonated with me deeply as I watched and listened:

…[We need to ] convince schools, that we have to globalize the curriculum. We ought to have authentic conversation across the curriculum with people around the world over the Internet. Sadly, most schools use the Internet only to get information. People learn by having conversations and testing each other and trying to figure this out together. We are social beings. Engage kids socially across the web….

Authentic conversation with people from around the world… That is what I keep in my mind as the following project is evolving as a collaboration between myself, sixth grade students, their Social Studies and Hebrew teachers.

Students are participating in a Jewish History Fair. Their topic is “Jewish Communities Around the World.

In the old days...

In the old days... / CC BY 2.0

In the old days… students would have been given a specific topic, sent home, to the computer lab or the library to “look up” information. They would then have to write a report, print out images, glue them on a backboard and “present” that to parents and visitors at the History Fair.

In the 21st Century...

In the 21st Century... / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

In the 21st century, we need to be looking for and addressing something more…

Information Literacy:

  • Online sites and books are still valid information sources, but are they enough to engage students and give them “authentic” sources?
  • Being able to get, evaluate and work with information from a variety of sources, such as books, almanacs, blogs, wikis, video, audio, interviews, etc.

Networking Literacy:

  • Learn about accessing a network of people who can contribute information from their own experiences, on location and customized (personalized) to our own criteria, not the one a publisher or author chose?

Communication skills:

  • being able to interview through a variety of media and communication methods and be familiar with their distinct etiquette.
    • face to face
    • e-mail
    • twitter
    • facebook
    • video conferencing (Skype)
    • texting
    • telephone
  • being able to present the information obtained through a variety a media (video, images, audio)

The topic is “Jewish Communities Around the World”… what better way to allow authentic research to take place than go directly to those communities around the world…this is when it comes in handy to have a network of willing and able people literally AROUND THE WORLD! I was off to send a twitter alert to my PLN.

Cry for Help to my PLN

Cry for Help to my PLN

I received instantly responses. We will have Jews born or currently residing in different countries/continents being interviewed by our students. At this point we have Jews from 12 countries and seven continents who have agreed to be interviewed (Canada, USA, Costa Rica, Mexico, Argentina, Denmark, England, Scotland, South Africa, Israel, China, Australia) plus two people stationed (currently or in the past) in the Antarctica.

Here is the initial e-mail, describing the project, sent out to these contacts:

The 6th graders at the Martin J Gottlieb Day School in Jacksonville, Florida/USA are starting to research for a Jewish History Fair. They will be looking at different Jewish communities around the world.
Students will research with books and via the internet to develop questions that they want to ask Jews who are living on different countries and continents. We want them to interview with /through different media. Some interviews will be face to face here in town, but we would also like to give them the opportunity to conduct interviews via skype, email and twitter in order to strengthen information and media literacy.
One of our main objectives is for students to see commonalities among different communities.

Would you be interested in participating and willing to be interviewed? We would send questions ahead of time, if the interview is conducted via Skype or twitter? This won’t happen until close to the beginning of December.
Please get in contact with me, so I can answer any questions that you might have.

Thank you so much in advance!

After I received confirmation of their willingness to participate as an interviewee, they were then asked to send us a short biography:

We are continuing to work and prepare with our students for the Jewish History Fair: Jewish Communities Around the World. Thank you for agreeing to participate as an Interviewee.
As students are formulating interview questions, they would benefit from having a short biography from you, describing your background and involvement as a Jew in the country you were born in or are currently residing.
The bio only has to be a few short sentence to give our students just a little background.

Our projected time line to work with the students is as follows:

  1. Introduction to project
  2. Introduction to different media, students will be interviewing. Talk about required etiquette of different media…differences…similarities…
  3. Student introduced to biographies of interviewees
  4. Assign Students an interviewee/country/continent
  5. Students will research background information that will help them form an notion of the community interviewee has grown up/is residing
  6. Students will develop questions for the interviewees that will be send ahead of time
  7. Setting up up date and medium of interview to be conducted
  8. Students will interview
  9. Students will connect the information gathered to create their own understanding of Jewish communities, especially commonalities, around the world.
  10. Students decide in what shape and form their will demonstrate what they learned.
  11. Students will produce final product to be displayed with globe and History Fair.

I am getting very excited to observe students and their research outcome as the actual interviews are being conducted. I wonder what media students will prefer and get the most out of? I wonder if certain student personalities/learning styles will naturally gravitate towards one or another media?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

And Now, For Something Completely Different...

So like many of you, I just received an e-mail from Cherie Koller-Fox, one of the founders of CAJE, an old friend and the "facilitator" of NewCAJE, which was officially unveiled this afternoon. I am feeling a bit like Tevye considering each of his daughters' requests: "On the one hand...but on the other hand..."

Since my first conference in DeKalb, IL in 1986(?) CAJE was home. It was where I learned to teach with the big kids (literally, the leadership was riddled with people who had been my camp counselors, youth group advisors, religious school teachers and the authors of the textbooks we had in Sunday school). It was where I got to meet new people from all over the world - like Rafi Zarum and Sybil Sheridan, Ed Feinstein and Amichai Lau-Lavie - who were teaching in ways that were new and exciting. And where people whose teaching and story-telling skills would come and learn with me in my sessions as I developed more confidence, and built me up by giving me praise and constructive criticism.

It was for many of those years, the only place where I knew I would be having Shabbat dinner with a mixed salad of Jews: Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative, Israeli Secular, Chabad, Renewal, Humanistic, Sephardic Orthodox, Young Israel, Labor, Likud, hetero, GLBT, confirmed bachelor, day school, congregational, camping, agency, early childhood, musician, actor, storyteller, cybergeek, teenager, college kid, grandparent and everything in between. My wife was usually happy to see me go to CAJE, because she saw how it recharged me and how it energized the teachers in my school.

When the CAJE-isphere bubble burst, I was not the only one who was sad. I was also not the only one who began to to think - and some said - that we may have stayed at the same party too long. Peter Eckstein tried mightily to steer the St. Louis conference in a new direction that would speak to the needs of the new generation. The founders of CAJE created the paradigm ex nihilo when many of them were in their twenties. They were my camp counselors. I am now 48 years old (and Peter a little older). When those of us on the pre-planning task force were brought together by Peter it was to try and reshape the paradigm to begin to meet the needs of those now the age the founders had been. To renew and redefine.

It was a noble effort, but after more than three decades, CAJE had become a huge institution. My teacher Sam Joseph of HUC in Cincinnati often compares large synagogues to Nimitz class aircraft carriers. (That's the USS Nimitz at left) Nimitz class ships are the largest in the world.

They measure 1,092 feet (2/10 of a mile) long, are powered by two nuclear reactors, carry a crew of 3,200 plus the Air Wing (pilots and support crew) which has 2,480 people and as many as 85 aircraft of varying types. At full speed they can travel at 30 knots (about 35 mph) - which when you consider they displace 112 tons of water at full load, is a lot of metal moving really fast - a Nimitz class ship takes SEVEN nautical miles to turn 90 degrees. Large institutions like big synagogues - and CAJE - are not able to turn on a dime!

After the bubble burst, and while much of the hand wringing was done, a conversation began. Cherie Koller-Fox and many others began talking on the CAJE Net, a Ning site begun before the final conference. And Josh Mason-Barkin and Danny Kochavi started a Google group. There was a lot of interaction in both places which included a lot of the same people.

There emerged a group of vatikim - CAJE veterans - of various ages who wanted to fix the financial disaster and rebuild CAJE in the image of the original. Others, many younger, felt that it would be better to create something as new and different as CAJE had been in the 60's. Some wanted to act quickly, others wanted to wait. I participated in some of those discussions. Some became a little heated, but I believe all were B'shem Shamayim - for the sake of heaven (and Jewish Education).

A Beta version of the NewCAJE (or a nostolgic nod to old CAJE, depending on your perspective) was put together as the MANAJE
conference this past August. People who attended speak glowingly of it. So now NewCAJE has been unveiled. Part of me wants to go home and is eager for NewCAJE to be, in the words of David Byrne: "Same as it ever was." But mostly I am hoping that younger voices will jump into the breach that Cherie and some of our vatikim have opened and help to shape it into what we will need to take us forward.

NewCAJE is no longer a Nimitz class organization. That is scary. It has little in the way of money or infrastructure. It is also wonderful. If the twentySomthings and thirtySomethings will step up and teach something to the rest of us, NewCAJE is now stripped down and nimble enough weave through the traffic of this Brave New (and often digital) world. It is ready to become something new while remembering the lessons and traditions of what came before.

Joel Grishaver taught us all that the "True Story of Chanukah" had five different endings. Each ending told the story in a way that made sure the new genereation would understand AND embrace it. NewCAJE gives us the chance to do that again! NewCAJE needs to be more new than CAJE. I believe we can make it happen, if we all work (and argue) together. I hope we all step up.

Friday, November 20, 2009

My friend Josh Mason-Barkin is at it again. His ideas on how to move forward with Rabbi Yoffie's call for using technology as a tool to take synagogues to the next level was published by Jew Point 0 - a fabulous blog on Jewish life and technology, by Darim Online.

The Reform Movement Should Make the Most of this Moment
2009 November 19
by Joshua Mason-Barkin

As far as Rabbi Eric Yoffie is concerned, Reform congregations need to get with the program, technologically speaking, and they need to do so now. At the recent URJ Biennial in Toronto, the movement’s head delivered his annual sermon and used the opportunity to encourage every congregation to think seriously about harnessing the power of the internet to enhance their communities:

"[T]he web – potentially at least – empowers our members and democratizes our synagogues. The synagogue is the grassroots address of the Jewish world, and the web gives us an instrument to involve and include Jews as never before. Are our synagogues doing great things in this area? Absolutely. Are we making the most of this potential? Not even close."
Yoffie’s challenge to congregations is to be applauded. Too many synagogues and Jewish schools have an attitude towards tech that’s generations (a relative term, I know) behind their congregants and students who all have Facebook accounts, use Twitter, and are never more than an arm’s length from their Blackberries and iPhones. But the movement’s approach to addressing this issue — an organized program to train lay leaders to create and maintain congregational blogs — is only a first step. The Reform movement has an incredible opportunity on its hands, a chance to take the next steps and to get a lot more serious about using technology to build and strengthen communities.

Four suggestions for maximizing this moment:

  • Congregations should form committees (or task forces) to develop thoughtful strategies for using technology to increase the efficacy of communication. Rabbi Yoffie is right that blogs are a great way for synagogue members to connect online. But there are lots of other technologies — social networking, microblogging, podcasting, mass texting — that also might be useful to synagogues. And there are those congregations for whom blogging might not be the best fit. Every synagogue should gather their most technologically savvy members (and some socially savvy “connectors”, if we’re going to take Malcolm Gladwell’s advice) to make these sort of decisions for the community. Should the temple have a Facebook page, and if so what kinds of things should be posted there? If the synagogue has a Twitter account, who should be charged with maintaining it? And how often should they tweet? The URJ could be indispensible in providing consultants and experts to help congregations get on this path.

  • Technology can help Reform congregations do an even better job of running organizations that live up to the highest values of the movement. Imagine if a synagogue lived up to its commitment to environmentalism by going totally paper-free. The synagogue staff uses Google Docs to collaborate on projects. Rabbis project Temple announcements (and other administrivia) up on a screen during services so that programs don’t need to be printed every week. Instead of spending lots of paper and money on a newsletter, members receive a monthly email newsletter, as well as frequent updates on Facebook and Twitter. Lots of congregations are using all these technologies, and they’re preventing lots of paper waste in the process. The Union can support congregations new to these technologies by teaching professionals to use these tools, empowering congregants with tech skills to be leaders in their communities, and by pairing temples at the beginning of this journey with those who’ve already found success.

  • Technology is an important part of the future of Jewish education. I’m not talking about educational video games. I’m talking about using tools to help learners connect deeply to Jewish text, about helping schools better communicate with parents, about using inexpensive video conferencing to bring diverse teachers to isolated Jewish communities. Education is a central part of a synagogue’s mission, and we need to be asking new questions about how learning is changing. How can we utilize new technologies like Google Wave, Twitter, and YouTube to allow for collaborative (hevruta for the new generation!) learning? How can the internet help us engage (and empower!) parents and families in new ways? How can we use technology to open up the world of Jewish education to better integrate the arts, science, and communication?

    Thirty years ago, innovative Jewish educators were using
    filmstrips, slideshows, and video to bring Torah to life. Now, equally innovative educators are using Flash animation, social media, and hypertextuality to accomplish those same goals. The URJ should nurture and support these sorts of projects and help to bring those tools to congregations and their learners.

  • Technology is an excellent opportunity for collaboration. In the few days before the URJ Biennial, a group of educators gathered for a pre-conference symposium on Jewish identity. One of the teachers at that gathering was Professor Ari Kelman who shared research that suggests that the current generation of young, involved Jews (many of whom are “digital natives,” if you don’t mind sweeping generalizations) are redefining affiliation by resisting joining a single organization, and rather participating in lots of diverse parts of Jewish life. For these Jews, no single institution is the center of Jewish life.

    Institutions that pay attention to thinkers like Kelman realize that successful Jewish organizations of the future will be marked by cooperation and collaboration. They also know that efficient and financially responsible Jewish organizations are the ones that don’t insist on re-inventing the wheel but rather seek out partner organizations with different types of expertise. To truly move forward to empower member congregations to embrace a 21st-Century social-media-savvy technologically-engaged existence, the Union should seek out organizations, educators, clergy, innovators, experts, academics and thinkers who can help congregations do their best work.

    Perfect example:
    Darim Online has lots of experience helping Jewish organizations effectively utilize social media technology (including blogs!), and that expertise could really help (and in fact already is helping) Reform congregations look at new ways of communicating. Instead of trying to invent their own wheel, the URJ should seek out partners who’ve already invented pretty good wheels.

Let’s be clear: The Reform movement is taking unprecedented steps forward. Rabbi Yoffie’s sermon and the related URJ initiatives launched this week mark the first time a major movement is encouraging and supporting member congregations to take this trend seriously. This is an important moment, and it would be a shame to waste it.

Josh Mason-Barkin, director of school services at Torah Aura Productions, is a member of a Reform congregation and a graduate of HUC-JIR. He blogs at You can find his twitter feed at He frequently contributes to a conversation about Jewish Education in the 21st century on Twitter under the hashtag #jed21

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Students, please turn your cell phones...on!

Two weeks ago I was telling my wife and my faculty that we were only a year or two away from asking our students to turn ON their phones at the start of class. This article was pointed out by several people on twitter, and it turns out I have no sense of timing. It was written by Rabbi Karen G. Reiss Medwed and was posted on the Hebrew College Blog.

Hebrew College Blog
Why My Students Were Texting in Class…and Learning
Posted by Guest Blogger on Mon, Nov 09, 2009 @ 12:32 PM

Picture this: You walk into a Prozdor classroom of ninth graders and see them all texting on their cell phones while the teacher is writing on the board. "So sad," you think, "another case of teaching gone bad." In fact, I was the teacher (filling in as a substitute), and I was encouraging the students to text during an introductory class about mitzvot. How did I come to design a class using text messaging as my active learning experience? And why do I think this was a successful and effective class?

In designing my lesson plan, my hope, as a constructivist educator, was to create an active learning experience that would engage the students by using tools that were familiar and comfortable for them. At first my plan was to play a game, something like "Mitzvah Jeopardy." But I needed something different, something new, which would push my boundaries as an educator. Answering a text on my phone in the midst of my planning, I found my inspiration: text messaging in class as a tool for collaborative learning.

"How many mitzvot are there? Let's text a sister, a friend, Dad, as many ‘lifelines' as we want." My students eagerly clicked on their cells, and the numbers started coming in. "Do we have to fulfill all the mitzvot?" A quick yes/no text poll of everyone sparked an engaged conversation about the different understandings of commandment as obligation.

Comments from our lifelines punctuated our conversations: "My mom thinks that the mitzvot we fulfill are about making our lives feel more connected to other people." "My dad thinks we can't do mitzvot that have to do with the Temple." One friend remembered that there was "something about Israel" and how that changed which mitzvot we do. Our conversations became multidirectional--we were conversing around our text and around our texting, and we were conversing with one another and with our lifelines, who were conversing with us and with their texts (at least one parent was on Google and another on Wikipedia).

The students loved this lesson. They loved using their phones, but more than that, they loved the learning. Our classroom discussion was rich, full of personal connections and probing questions. While I have no empirical evidence that it was the medium that provided this depth, as a teacher, I had the clear sense that the conversation was informed by the medium. The explicit and implicit integrated curriculum brought it all together. An added benefit was that parents loved this lesson. It provided a rare window into their kids' experience at Prozdor without having that awkward car conversation: How was class? Fine. What did you learn?


It is time for Jewish education to engage 21st century technology, to connect with our students using the media that are such an integral part of their daily lives. This is an educational imperative for formal as well as complementary Jewish education, and it is a valuable pedagogy for experiential education, as well. Texting is only the beginning. Distance learning courses, wiki building for Jewish teen education, YouTube instructional videos, Twitter for Jewish education, fantasy world gaming meets the Bible--all this and more are the next steps in today's Jewish educational teen curriculum.

As for me, I can't wait to hear from you--how are you using technology in your Jewish educational venue? I want to know before I have to substitute for my next absent teacher.

--Karen Reiss Medwed

Rabbi Karen G. Reiss Medwed, PhD, is Assistant Professor of Jewish Education at Hebrew College, where she is Dean of Faculty of Prozdor, Director of the EdD in Jewish Education Leadership and Coordinator for the Pardes Educators Program. This spring she will be teaching a distance learning course at Hebrew College, Theory and Practice of Jewish Education, where she will explore theories such as constructivist education, and practices such as collaborative education and technology in Jewish educational venues.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Can "Open Source" Teach Us How to Change The Game?

This posting about PresenTense paints an interesting picture of how we might reimagine the work of synagogues, centers and agencies in the Jewish Community. They are changing the rules of engagement to fit the needs of a new age. I got it from, but they got it from author Debra Askenase's blog, Community Organizer 2.0. She tweets as @askdebra.

Where is The Open Source Organization?
Posted by Debra Askanase November 5, 2009

Almost a year ago, I wrote a blog post entitled “The Non-Profit Quarterly Report.” In this post, I argued that nonprofit organizations should offer online quarterly reports, and mimic the transparency exemplified by Jonathan Schwartz’ online quarterly reports. (Jonathan is the CEO of Sun Microsystems.) John Maeda, President of the Rhode Island School of Design and social media advocate, argues that “in many cases complete clarity should be a leader’s goal rather than complete transparency.”

If you combine the concepts of organizational clarity with transparency and inclusionary decision making, then you create a new type of organization:

The Open Source Organization

One organization has stepped up to the plate to show us how it’s done: PresenTense Group.

The PresenTense Group calls itself an “open source organization.” Co-founder Ariel Beery defines an Open Source Organization as one that “enables all members to add to it, change it, modify it and improve it. Everyone benefits from the intellectual property of the organization’s members. The whole point is to make it as collaborative and idea-generated as possible.”
In mid-September, I received this email asking me to participate in a discussion of what PresenTense should be concerned about in the coming year:
There were three ways to participate in the discussion: I could have walked down the street to the Tagging Party, viewed the Party live via webcam, or clicked on the link and “tagged” the key ideas that I care about. This is an example one of the most inclusionary processes I can imagine, as well as superior utilization of technology for stakeholder inclusion and engagement.
This is just one example of how PresenTense adheres to its open source philosophy. Here are others:

All projects begin with an open call for a steering committee. For example, an idea for a magazine section about “philanthropy and the Jewish world” grew into a new steering committee. Steering committees solicit information and input from others.

Every aspect of programming is open sourced: each issue of PresenTense magazine, the PresenTense Institute, and the speakers.

The yearly workplan itself is open sourced via PresenTense networks. PresenTense uses the input to create a general plan, asks for comments, and incorporates comments into the final workplan.

PresenTense plans to offer further transparency by posting quarterly staff reports online, and asking for feedback and comments.

Technology is critical to being as inclusionary as possible when sharing and soliciting information. Whenever possible, PresenTense utilizes technology to include stakeholders. All educational seminars are “live tweeted,” and most are filmed and streamed live. According to Beery, “the main challenge is figuring out the the information technology issues related to open collaboration.”

And what arose from the Tagging Party and discussion? These ideas were fed into its blueprint for the year to come, which is available for viewing online here. You can also read an article about their commitment to being an Open Source Organization here.

Transparency + Clarity + Inclusionary Decision-Making =
The Open Source Organization

When will nonprofits become open-sourced? What is the critical technology needed for open participation? What is preventing nonprofits from moving towards and open source organization? In the spirit of this post, I’m looking forward to your comments and a discussion of this concept – and incorporating your ideas back into the blog post!

Further food for thought:
Asking Questions about Transparency
Leaders Should Strive for Clarity, Not Just Transparency

Debra Askanase has 20 years of experience working in nonprofit organizations, from Community Organizer to Executive Director. She is the founder and lead consultant at Community Organizer 2.0, a social media strategy firm for non-profit organizations and businesses. She blogs about the intersection of social media, nonprofits, and technology at Debra is an occasional contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.

image courtesy of ExtraFunky

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Serious Approaches to Learning

My friend Josh Mason-Barkin gives a great review of the new Coen Brothers' film A Serious Man from the perspective of a Jewish Educator. I found one section particularly relevant given my experience this week with the Jim Joseph Foundation Fellows and my previous post. Read Josh's whole review at (Full disclosure-Torah Aura Productions publishes some of my work from time to time, and is owned by people I consider to be part of my family. That doesn't make them wrong!)

Jewish schools need to strategically and thoughtfully integrate technological tools into their classrooms, and publishers need to create materials that are congruent with these efforts. For the past several years, Jewish educational publishers (ourselves at Torah Aura included) have been trying to offer computerized tools that are basically digitized (or computer-gameified) versions of textbooks. Furthermore, publishers have seen educational technology as the next frontier in publishing, a new way to make a buck by selling software that claims to make Jewish learning “exciting.” That’s the wrong attitude. Instead of trying to use software to answer the same old questions (“How do I get kids to properly decode Hebrew?”), we need to be asking a new set of questions.

How can we utilize new technologies like Google Wave, twitter, and YouTube to allow for collaborative (hevruta for the new generation!) learning? How can computers help us to maximize our financial resources? How can the internet help us engage (and empower!) parents and families in new ways? How can we use technology to open up the world of Jewish education to better integrate the arts, science, and communication?

Lots of smart people are thinking about these issues, and we (both publishers and our customers, Jewish schools) need to listen. A bureau executive told me recently that Jewish education is miles behind secular education in these fields. That must change, and we as publishers must be leaders, not followers. We need to help teachers and students think about using tomorrow’s technologies, not provide them with hokey and simplistic “educational” games or digitized flashcards for iPhones.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

In sunny California, tweeting and surfing (web, not waves)...

So I am sitting in a room at the Brandeis Bardin Institute in Simi Valley California. The weather has been in the 80's for two days. I am over the jet lag. I and 13 other Jewish educators are the Jim Joseph Foundation Fellows - Leading Educators Online at our first f2f (face to face) retreat with the staff of the Lookstein Institute for Jewish Education in the Diaspora at Bar Ilan University in Ramat Gan.

The program goals are to:
  • Identify, direct and empower Fellows to develop and lead online collaborative communities in their professional fields.
  • Provide leading edge professional development to outstanding Jewish educators from formal (e.g. supplementary, congregational, and day schools) and informal Jewish education settings (e.g. camps, youth groups, community centers).
  • Advance new ways of learning and working together to bring about qualitative changes in the way Jewish educators work with others as they learn.
  • Guide Jewish education to the forefront of 21st century education.
What does that mean? We have had a few months of intense, threaded conversations in a Google Group about creating a Community of Practice (CoP), and spent much of the last 36 hours exploring how to become one. We have learned from one another about how we have used various Web 2.0 applications in our work as educators. And we have told stories.

This is the early stage of what promises to be an amazing journey into the Next Level. I will share as often as seems relevant. In the right hand column of this Blog I have added a section called Next Level 2.0. It is a list of Web 2.0 applications that might help all of us take Jewish Learning and our own professional growth to the next level. Most of the apps listed were suggested by the fellows, and we all thank Barry Gruber for compiling the first iteration of the list. The current version (as of this posting - it will grow) reflects that first compilation and places I have learned about this week in California.

OMG. Twitter??!!??
I tried twitter a few months ago, noodling around trying to see what it might do. Yesterday, Esther Feldman from the Lookstein Center told us all to sign up and log in. Many already had been tweeting. My previous impression (and I said as much) of Twitter was that it was a slick way of having People Magazine open all the time. I remember Kevin Spacey Tweeting on the air while he was on Letterman. Ridiculous.

Then we all began tweeting among ourselves. During presentations. It seems a bit like passing notes. Rude even. But the content of the tweets actually enhanced the conversation once we got used to it. We were tweeting our thoughts while listening. Not everyone got a chance to speek aloud, but we all had an opportunity to express ourselves to one another about what was happening. And we were creating a record of the learning at the same time. I had twitter live on the left side of my screen and Word on the right for note taking.

We went a little viral. Lisa Colton of Darim Online follows the tweets of one of the fellows. So she began to follow our conversation. (You can do that because we were attaching a hashtag that identifies the conversation thread!) She began to comment with us and share the conversation with those who follow her. At the moment that is 561 people.

Ellen Dietrick, one of the fellows, is the director of the Synagogue Early Childhood Program at Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville, Virginia. She is way ahead of the curve on all of this stuff. She has put a netbook in every classroom. Her teachers take some time everyday to post a very brief (4 -5 sentence) update about the happenings in their room and a photo (they digital cameras, too) to the schools Blog on Blogger.

Only those who are invited may see the blog (sorry, I do not issue the invites) to protect the privacy of the children and their families. But the parents (and grandparents who might live far away) can get a glimpse into their child's day and even ask their children better questions than "what did you learn/do in school today?" They can ask about the art project or the challah they baked! Every class posts each day. Wow.

And Twitter? Forget about it! Teachers will hand Ellen a note at random points in the day. A tweet can only be 140 characters, so it is very short. It says something specific about something wonderful that just happened. Ellen tweets it from a Twitter account that only the parents can follow (security again!). They might have their twitter feed tied to their phone or Blackberry. It might appear in a window on their iGoogle desktop or as an e-mail. The point is that they will get a nudge and a note moments after the event. I haven't spoken to any of the parents in Charlottesville, but I bet they love it! Did I mention she does school registration and sign ups for activities online using Google Docs? And that's only some of the work of one of the fellows.

So I have totally changed my mind about twitter. I don't think anyone wants to hear what I am ordering for lunch. Bit it is a pretty cool way to have a brief conversation, share a resource or create a backchannel for making meaning of something we are experiencing.

My twitter name is @IraJWise. What's yours?

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Words DON'T Know The Way -- You Have To Take Them There!

Eric Schor and Eliot Shapiro are two guys I have known since I was a boy. We all grew up at the same synagogue and camp. Today they are the principals of EMS Communications, a company that trains people to be effective speakers. The describe their mission as being "to rid the world of boring presentations, one speaker at a time." This posting is their cutting edge analysis of the presentations of the Olympic City bid teams form Chicago and Rio de Janero. I have learned a lot about my teaching from their analysis. Unfortunately, when I posted it to my Facebook page, some of my FB friends focused on the polititcs of President Obama getting involved. They miss the point of my posting it. The Next Level learning here is about how we present ourselves, and therefore the Jewish people. This is from their monthly speaker's digest which you can receive by e-mail. The original and the subscription form can be found on their web site:

Less than two weeks ago, the attention of many Americans—and others around the world— turned to Copenhagen, Denmark, where the International Olympic Committee met to choose the host city for the 2016 Summer Olympics. We were initially surprised that Chicago’s bid ended faster than the Chicago Cubs last two playoff runs, but when we watched the presentation delivered by the Chicago team, we saw a presentation which failed to capture the excitement of our city. Read on while we share our perspective on this missed opportunity of Olympic proportions, and how Rio truly SOLD IT!


Chi-town Lands with a Thud

Like many of our neighbors, we were blown away when we learned that Chicago was the first city to be eliminated in the quest to host the 2016 Summer Olympics. How could our fair city compare so poorly with the others that were competing for the honor?

Then, we watched the Chicago team’s presentation, in which a group of leaders of the Chicago 2016 Olympic Bid Committee paraded in front of the IOC in Copenhagen to show why Chicago should be the host city, with Michelle and Barack Obama anchoring the hour-long relay.
Watch the Chicago 2016 presentation by clicking here.

We can’t explain exactly why Chicago ultimately failed in its bid to secure the nomination, but we can say that the speakers representing our team delivered a flat, stale, lifeless presentation. It was punctuated by repetitive video footage that sought to portray the human side of the city, but didn’t effectively capture Chicago’s uniqueness.

Several times during Chicago’s presentation, speakers referred to the city as a ‘fun’ place to hold the summer Olympics. But there was little evidence that anyone on the team was actually HAVING fun. They came across as intense, tight, and stiff, and not very well qualified to pull off that theme.

We were led to believe that our presenters were well rehearsed and well trained, but as a group they didn’t move, didn’t smile, and didn’t look enthusiastic:

IOC member Anita DeFrantz, batting leadoff, seemed proud, but her effort to portray Chicago as fun was less enjoyable than snow in October.

USOC president Lawrence Probst looked serious and even worried, with the same stern expression plastered on his face throughout.

Committee chair Pat Ryan, a former Fortune 500 CEO, relied on repetitive, unnatural looking gestures, appearing way too serious along the way. He almost smiled--once. He concluded his remarks by saying “Our people are warm and welcoming, and best of all, you’ll have a lot of fun.” Yet he delivered the line in a way that looked as if he had just come from a root canal.

Mayor Richard Daley, while appearing more comfortable than we usually see him, repeatedly used the phrase “your games.” (We heard it five times.) While he probably meant it to sound respectful, it came off as alienating.

By the time the Obamas came in to close the deal, there was little for them to save.

Here are some other observations:

Can you say “unnatural?” It was clear that Chicago’s presenters were coached. (Not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s one thing to BE coached, and another to LOOK coached.) They brought similar styles that emphasized short phrases, frequent pauses, practiced gestures, and volume turned on high. But because they didn’t vary that volume, and relied on those practiced gestures, they looked uncomfortable, unnatural and—unfortunately—unbelievable. It was painful to watch.

Where was Michael? Showcasing past champions, Brazil brought Pele, a worldwide soccer icon, along with other young, energetic athletes. Chicago showed the headstone at the grave of Jesse Owens, and the not-quite-household name Bob "I'd like to buy a vowel" Ctvrtlik, an IOC member who won a gold medal for Volleyball. We needed more splash.

Too much hedging. Listening to the Chicago presentation, we heard Mayor Daley use messages such as “we want to be” and “if you award us” instead of “we WILL be” and “by awarding us.” Ryan fell into the same trap when he said “Chicago would be the right partner” instead of…Anybody? Anybody? That’s right—"Chicago WILL be the right partner.”

Had we seen this presentation before learning of the decision, we wouldn’t have been very surprised about the final outcome.


Rio Rocks It!

Compared to the Chicago 2016 team, the group of presenters from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil came out expressive and passionate, which was probably hard considering that they weren’t speaking in their native language. The high energy, facial expressions and body language of their speakers more than overcame their difficulties pronouncing English words as they showed off Brazil’s beauty, culture and plan to host the Olympic Games.

Presentations really DO make a difference. In this case, Rio delivered a better presentation across the board. Setting the stage, Carlos Nuzman, the president of Rio 2016, was charming and engaging. He opened effectively and he ended convincingly, saying “Today, Rio stands ready to serve the Olympic movement and start a new journey of celebration, discovery and transformation.” His smile and his manner showed both confidence and humility, not an easy thing to do. He really SOLD his message!

One way Rio 2016 out-presented the Chicagoans was through visual aids. One graphic in particular was tremendously effective: a world map, dotted with locations of all the previous host cities, emphasized that Europe and North America had hosted dozens of Olympic games, while South America hadn’t hosted any. It was a simple image which made a compelling point.

In addition, the video footage brought by the Rio team did a much better job of capturing the flavor of their city. They relied on great graphics to show how the Olympic venues would fit into their city. And they successfully showed off the city’s breathtaking combination of mountains and ocean.

Another thing we noticed, although it may seem small: the presenters from Rio introduced themselves to their audience, which we thought was a nice touch. It helped them establish rapport and engage their listeners.

Hosting the Olympic Games provides a big stage, and there was a lot at stake at these meetings in Copenhagen. Many Chicagoans, like us, were excited about the prospect of bringing the Games here. But while our presenters TOLD people why Chicago WOULD be a great host, Brazil’s team SHOWED people why Rio DESERVED to win the bid. They were selling it, we were telling it.

Bummer. We were looking forward to 2016.

Here are links to Rio’s presentation, broken up into five segments. Be sure to watch Part 1 and Part 5 to see a Carlos Nuzman’s memorable opening and emphatic ending.

Rio Part 1

Rio Part 2

Rio Part 3

Rio Part 4

Rio Part 5


Presenting as a Team: Tough to do Well

It’s so hard to present effectively as a team. How does one assign tasks to the right people, handle transitions, or build on previous performers?

With awkward moments between speakers (do we hug, shake hands, kiss or what?), the Chicago presentation demonstrated the challenge of team presentations. It’s clear that they wanted to give different officials the honor of speaking on behalf of the team, and they probably needed to make sure they didn’t leave people out.

But they brought up too many speakers—and not enough effective ones. It added to the stiffness.

That’s a frequent problem with team presentations. When you choose speakers in order to honor them, instead of choosing ones who will make your presentation stronger, then you’re diluting your message. And the logistics of the transitions require more choreography than most teams plan for.

That’s why we say: less is more.

Do you and your colleagues present to clients as a team? When it’s your time to go for the gold with a team presentation, don’t go in without a strategy. For expert coaching designed to put your speakers on top of the podium, give EMS a call!

For more insights into delivering team presentations, click here to read our June 2003 Digest, which focused exclusively on that topic.


Pass it on!

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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

What Should We Be Teaching Our Children?

Shalom Berger of the Lookstein Institute asked me to respond to a posting to the LookJed list by Richard D. Solomon based on his reading of Understanding by Design from my perspective as a congregational educator. Richard and I are cross posting the discussion and I hope it will include other responses as well. If you have a comment, please make it below and I will share it with Richard.

Richard D. Solomon's original posting on LookJed:

Dear Rabbi Berger,

According to *Wiggins and McTighe (1998) in order to decide what (Judaic) knowledge should be taught in school, the following three categories or priorities of knowledge should be determined:

First priority: Knowledge that is enduring, essential information that students must know.

Second priority: Knowledge that is important, but not essential for students to know.

Third priority: Knowledge with which students should be familiar.

A graphic organizer of the three different types of knowledge appears at right (originally in Richard’s blog post

I believe that it is the responsibility of the Jewish Professional Learning Community to determine what is enduring Jewish knowledge, important Jewish knowledge, and knowledge with which an educated Jewish person should be familiar. So as we begin a new year, here are a few questions that Lookjed educators may wish to ponder.

1. What is enduring Jewish knowledge from your perspective?

2. Where specifically can a mentor or a teacher find enduring Jewish knowledge?

3. Is all Jewish knowledge enduring?

4. What is "not enduring" Jewish knowledge?

Shavuah tov,

Richard Richard D. Solomon, Ph.D.

* Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (1998). Understanding by Design. Alexandria, VA. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

My response:

Richard D. Solomon asks four intriguing questions based on his reading of Understanding by Design by Wiggins and McTighe. I think he is on point in how he phrased the questions. In trying to address them, one risks falling into the trap of E.D. Hirsch, author of the “What Every … Grader Should Know” series. It is very easy to list specific content goals, lean back and congratulate oneself on a job well done. We all know (I hope) that such lists only scratch the surface of essential learning.

That caveat given, what about his questions?

Eight years ago, the Reform Movement began to publish its CHAI Curriculum. It is constructed around the organizing principles of Understanding by Design (UbD). I refer readers interested in their process to begin with Torah At The Center[1] which introduced the concept to Reform educators. Additionally there is a web page for the curriculum at which has a great deal of information about the curriculum and how it adapts UbD.

1. What is enduring Jewish knowledge from your perspective?

To address Richard’s question, I look at the two central goals I have for my school (a congregation-based “complementary” school, where children attend for 1.5 – 3 hours per week, depending on their grade):

We seek to help families raise children to become functionally literate adult Jews – that is, Jews who can walk into a synagogue, camp, committee meeting, community center or communal organization or any other Jewish milieu and feel like a sabra, not an oleh. Given our time constraints, will they be able to lead traditional or conservative style davening as shlichei tzibbur? No. Will they know how to pray, what they are praying and what it means to them? Yes. And they will know what they don’t know, and how to go about learning what they don’t know if that is of interest to them.

We seek to help families raise children who have a strong sense of Jewish identity, identification with the Jewish people and Eretz Yisrael and who feel that being Jewish is central to who they are. The test is when they grow up—will raising Jewish children be a priority for them enough to say to a potential spouse: “You may be ambivalent about raising children who have a strong Jewish identity and connection to God, but I am not. If that doesn’t work for you, maybe we should see other people.”

So what is enduring Jewish knowledge from my perspective? Enduring knowledge is whatever makes me – the learner – come back for more.

For me personally, history is a huge draw. I once visited the JTS library and archives as part of a CAJE conference chavaya, and was allowed to touch some of the Geniza fragments Solomon Schechter had studied, and hold in my hands a Lucite encased letter written by Rambam’s scribe Baruch and signed by Rambam’s own hand, inviting various Jewish communities to contribute to a campaign to ransom the Jews of Jerusalem during the third crusade. I still get chills when I recall it. For me it is travelling in Eretz Yisrael with a knowledgeable moreh derekh and learning about what happened in the spot where I am standing. For me it is the experience of being a camper, counselor, unit head and faculty member at our Reform Jewish summer camps—and in this case it is not a single datum or concept, but the whole gestalt of the experience, which speaks to all of my learning modalities.

I see our role as educators as helping our teachers get to know each of our students well enough to learn which understandings will be enduring for them and then designing the learning to meet them where they are. As I often imagine John Dewey[2] saying (I am a bit free with his words): we cannot bring the child kicking and screaming to the curriculum. We have to bring the curriculum to him. I do believe there are commonplaces that every Jew should learn about: Hebrew language and literature; the land, people and state of Israel; times and seasons; the Jewish life cycle; Torah and texts; history; God/theology; comparative Judaism and comparative religion; Mitzvot and Midot; Kedushah and Tefillah. The extent to which we focus on each is determined by the community and deeper focus may be indicated by learner needs and interest.

2. Where specifically can a mentor or a teacher find enduring Jewish knowledge?

Find yourself a teacher; get yourself a friend[3]. I am not sure I can improve on Pirkei Avot on this one. I have served as a mentor in the Leadership Institute for Congregational School Educators at HUC-JIR/JTS for the past five years. The mentors and the fellow have learned at the feet of some outstanding teachers focusing on leadership, pedagogy and Jewish learning. There are resources in most communities and on line. At the end of the day, I have learned much from all of them, but more I have learned from my fellow mentors as we have processed the work we do with one another and discussed our needs as professionals. And from the fellows, our students, I have learned most of all. Hmmm. Seem to be falling back to Avot yet again…speaking of enduring understandings[4]!

I think ultimately your question is not where can we find enduring Jewish knowledge, but how can we make knowledge enduring for our students. Again we have to look at context. In my school, a lengthy exploration of Kashrut does not make educational sense until students reach adolescence. When they begin experimenting with what they imagine their adult life to be, they are ripe for a conversation about eating deliberately. This is the time when many choose to be vegetarians—at least for a while—in response to their reaction to where meat comes from and their compassion for living beings.

This is an ideal time to talk about how Kashrut takes the same approach to eating deliberately and bringing the idea of God, mitzvot and holiness to the table as valid rationales for decision making. In a community where Halakhah is a core value, Kashrut makes sense much earlier, because the conversation is about how as much as about why, if not more so. Those children return to Kosher homes, while most of mine do not.

To make it enduring then, requires more strategy and forethought than just putting the “most enduring stuff” out there for them.

3. Is all Jewish knowledge enduring?

I will not belabor my previous point. I believe it can be, depending on the needs of the individual and the community. On the other hand, the teachings of the Karaites seems to have limited appeal and applicability for many today. I wish I had been taught about the halakhah of war and the idea of Just War when I was a young teen during the days of Viet Nam. I was grateful to be able to bring teachers to my school who were well versed in it during the current war in Iraq.

Back to Avot: Ben Bag Bag[5] said that everything is in it (the Torah). It is our job to make it enduring. Will I spend a lot of time on the laws of sacrifice in a post-Bayit world? No, but it is worth teaching about sacrifice from an historical perspective and to connect forms of worship from then to the present day. In another part of our community, I will see great disagreement, with colleagues who believe that it is all Torah and all valuable and central to understanding everything else. They are not wrong for their schools. I am not wrong for mine.

At the end of the day, I believe all Jewish knowledge is valuable, but given the constraints of time, interest and attention span, we need to start in places that make learners want more, and then drill down and give them as much as they can take. Not a very UbD approach, and I suspect not exactly what you are looking to hear, but there it is.

4. What is "not enduring" Jewish knowledge?

Again I turn to Pirkei Avot: Any conversation that is for the sake of heaven endures. Any that is not does not endure[6]. So long as we as educators and communal leaders strive to disagree like Hillel and Shammai, who struggled from different perspectives to help their community find the right way to confront a changing world, so should we. When find ourselves becoming like Korach and his company, trumpeting “the right way” or “THE enduring understanding” we get into trouble. And Korach ended up with much worse than a bad reputation.

I look forward to reading other responses and perspectives.

Moadim l’simcha!


[1] Torah At The Center, Special Edition, Volume 5, No. 2 • Winter 2001 • Choref 5762.
[2] My Pedagogic Creed, by John Dewey, School Journal vol. 54 (January 1897), pp. 77-80.
[3] Pirkei Avot 1:6
[4] Actually Ta’anit 7a, but referred to in Kravitz and Olitzky’s Pirke Avot: A Modern Commentary on Jewish Ethics, URJ Press, 1993, page 102.
[5] Pirkei Avot 5:22
[6] Pirkei Avot 5:17