Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Virtual and Real Community

The Jim Joseph Foundation Fellows of the Lookstein Institute
for Jewish Education in the Diaspora at Bar Ilan University,
Ramat Gan, Israel. (l. to r.) Front Row: Howard Blas,
Rachel Meytin, Esther Feldman (Lookstein Center),
Ellen Dietrick, Barry Gruber,Lisa Micley, Joy Wasserman,
Lillian Howard. Back Row: Jonathan Fass, Elana Rivel,
Robyn Faintich, nammie Ichilov, Ira Wise,
Shalom Burger (Lookstein Center), Sid Singer, Eliezer Jones.
I am writing this on an Amtrak train from Boston to Bridgeport, CT. I have just spent two days learning about leadership styles, logic models and evaluation with my chevrah in the Jim Joseph Foundation Fellows (#JJFF)[1]. This was our fourth meeting in the past 13 months. The process of this fellowship has been fascinating. While the learning has varied in quality and content – and is often quite excellent – the most significant piece has been the relationships.

There are 14 fellows.
o       We live in Atlanta, the Bay Area, Boston, Connecticut, Chicago, Florida, Houston, Philadelphia, New York (City and upstate), and Washington D.C.
o       There are seven men and seven women
o       We work for and identify with institutions in the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox movements. Some of us work in cross-denominational settings or communal agencies. A few of us work with national institutions.
o       2 of us run synagogue religious schools, 1 runs an early childhood program. 2 of us are day school heads and one has worked as Day School psychologist. 1 of us works in a JCC and 2 are in community Jewish education agencies. 2 work for a college or university. 1 is runs a summer camp for children with special needs, and 2 of us are with national educational initiatives.
o       We range in age from late 20’s (I think) to late 50’s (I think). We are American, British and Canadian citizens. One of us may also be Israeli, but I forgot to ask.
o       Our education ranges from BA to MA to PhD. Some of us grew up in synagogue religious schools, others went to day school. We have belonged to or worked for most of the Jewish youth movements in North America.

This is diverse a group of educators I can ever remember learning and working with, in terms of educational focus, religious orientation and practice age and experience. And I cannot remember learning more from such a small group of educators since my grad school days. Surely I have had amazing experiences at CAJE and NATE conferences.

And I am hoping to have more and deeper ones with the Community of Practice my NATE colleagues and I are developing: that is one of the purposes of this fellowship – to develop CoP’s with our peers. We have been learning a lot about creating these communities using Web 2.0 technology. And we have explored many different issues: educational, technical and communal ones.

Working with this chevrah has taught us all something very important. Virtual communities need more than technological connections to be communities. They need people to have relationships. And we have concluded that F2F – face to face contact, even a little bit – is essential.

Last week I wrote about how social networking was not THE solution, but was an important took in our bag as Jewish educators. Today I am talking about the corollary for educational professionals. This medium offers us opportunities for connection and consultation that we could not have even imagined ten or twenty years ago. And I am eager for us to use it in better, more robust ways. But I was reminded in Boston as we hugged and said goodbye, that it is the people and the relationships between them that make a community.

If you are and educational professional, there is a good chance that sometime in the next year, you will be invited to join an online community of practice by one of us (or by someone else). I hope you will say yes.

You may be frustrated or intimidated by the technology. Don’t be. Remember that at the other end of that broadband connection is someone just like you. And they are or were put off by the virtuality of the connection. But they, like you, have dedicated themselves to making Jewish learning happen. And you two (or two hundred of you) getting to know one another, share with one another and consult with one another, will help all of our learners be more successful engaged more deeply.

It has been and promises to be a fantastic journey. I hope to see some of you (F2F and online) along the way!


[1] The Jim Joseph Foundation established this online leadership fellowship at the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora at Bar Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. It was designed and is administered by Shalom Burger and Esther Feldman of the Lookstein Center.

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