Tuesday, September 11, 2012

URJ Virtual Symposium on Jewish Education Day 2: The Future is Today

Here is the second posting from the RJ Blog Virtual Symposium on Jewish Education written by Robin Eisenberg. She is a synagogue educator in Boca Raton, FL and a past president of NATE, the National Association of Temple Educators. Please remember to comment on the RJ Blogsite, so that the conversation is shared by all!

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The Future is Today
by Robin Eisenberg
Dr. Charles Edelsberg’s recent blog post begins with a statement about his being “wary of invitations to predict the future.” My sense is that much that is addressed in his post is not about the future: It is now! The points raised here can be heard in our congregational committee and staff meetings, as well as in parking lots and coffee shops.

The recurring theme of Dr. Edelsberg’s post calls for those of us who are educational leaders, dedicated congregational leaders, and members of Reform congregations to radically adjust our mindset. He highlights the need to pay attention to individuals who are seeking personal meaning. In my world, I immediately jump to the logistics of how to facilitate helping our members to find personal meaning.

We must keep in mind that our congregants comprise multiple identities, all working at the same time, sometimes in concert and sometimes in opposition. Our traditional congregational school system needs to be reinvented for some, while others are happy with the current structure because it works for them. We continually attempt to remove, or at least lower the barriers to give our congregants the opportunity to discover their own personal meaning. We must look at a reallocation of both financial resources and personnel, in order to create a variety of models to address today’s realities.

One of the challenges I face is ensuring personal relevance to learners of all ages while creating and nourishing opportunities for relationships to develop – not just the global relationships, but getting to know the people who live down the street. I constantly strive to strike a balance between these two key goals. We are faced with demands to accommodate a variety of schedules, learning styles, and interests. At the same time, we must make our programs relevant, challenging, and worthwhile. And if we haven’t established personal connections with others, their experience is not nearly as fulfilling.

In order to address the issues of personal relevance and individual needs we have created new learning models. We now offer a menu of learning options for children in two locations 10 miles apart. They include:
  1. A one-day option (Sunday 9:30 am-1:30pm)
  2. A traditional two-day program (Sunday plus a midweek day)
  3. Individual plans (using technology with staff support)
  4. A combination of classes/options to gain credit while incorporating Jewish activities in daily life
  5. A combination of classes/retreats for post-b’nai mitzvah students
The classrooms on our Beck Family Campus are equipped with SMART boards, and our teachers are encouraged to bring the world into their classrooms by using the web and the many other resources available. Our b’nai mitzvah program encourages families to customize their service by planning a mitzvah project that the child is passionate about. For adults, we offer a variety of standard classes, in addition to targeted learning opportunities for doctors and lawyers that has been quite successful.

Our goal is to provide multiple entry points for congregants and potential congregants of all ages. Our menu of learning options starts to address the need for individualization and relevance, but it remains a challenge to figure out how to ensure the development of significant personal relationships. We have widened our options outside the classroom with retreats and expanded youth activities, and are now considering broadening our adult interest groups from our current Knit and Nosh with a biking group and dinner club.

When all is said and done, I agree with most of Dr. Edelsberg’s points. Where I take issue is that I believe the future is today!

Robin Eisenberg, RJE, is the Director of Jewish Learning and Living at Temple Beth El in Boca Raton, FL.

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