Thursday, November 8, 2012

A MANIFESTO OF JEWISH EDUCATION

My friend and colleague, Shalom Berger, is the director of e-communities at the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora at Bar Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. He distributes a wonderful listserv called LookJed. While it primarily serves day school educators, I have found it to be a great source of ideas, resources and information in the years I have been receiving it. Recently he posted this piece by Aryeh ben David. I has really made me think. A lot. I would love to hear your thoughts!

Ira



Aryeh ben David
We’ve hit a wall in our delivery of Jewish Education. We have made great strides in teaching basic Jewish literacy – in explaining Jewish texts, educating the mind, and disseminating information. Jewish educators have excelled at this during the last 25 years.

But preserving the past will not get us to a better future.

The time has come for the next phase of Jewish Education: Personalizing Jewish wisdom. Bringing Jewish wisdom into our hearts and into our lives. We need to allow Jewish wisdom to make us better Jews and transform us into our best selves. We need to allow it to be the force for hearing the unique calling each of us have – in our daily behavior and in the big issues in our lives. This is the key to our future.

25 years ago Jewish knowledge was restricted to a tiny fraternity of rabbis and scholars. The role of Rabbis and educators was to create a literate people. Today, we have witnessed an explosion of access to Jewish information and texts: Israel study programs, Limmud programs, vast online resources, Melton Mini-Schools and adult education classes. People joke about consulting Rabbi Google. Just about everything has been translated. The battle for disseminating and acquiring information about Judaism is over. We have won. We know how to preserve the wisdom of our past. We have succeeded in teaching people to hear other people’s voices: the voices of tradition, the rabbis, and the commentators. The voices of the past.

Educators have become so expert in delivering the voices of the past that they often never discover their own voice. They are a megaphone for what was, and are often afraid to move out of this comfort zone. We’ve become stuck in the success of our scholarship and pedagogy and the question is often – “who knows more voices of the past?”

But today we need more.

Today – it’s not about information – it’s about transformation.

Today – it’s not about knowledge – it’s about wisdom.

Today – our educational goal should be not only to preserve our voices of the past, but to enable and encourage our own authentic voices to be heard and to enable personal and spiritual growth.

Today – most importantly, it’s about the future.

Today, we must ask:
  • How can we use the explosion of information to teach for transformation?
  • How can we bring this mass of Jewish wisdom into our hearts and lives?
  • How can Jewish education enable us to become better, kinder, more compassionate, idealistic, and authentic Jews?
  • How can we use the voices from the past to create a different and better future?

We need not forego our past successes, but we must wake up to the need for a different model of Jewish education. The Jewish world, like the general world, has evolved drastically over the last 25 years.

We must understand that education for transformation is a wholly different paradigm than education for information.

I contend that the goal of religious education should not only be to know how to continue the tradition, but essentially - in light of the tradition, how can we help our children find and clarify the unique voice of their souls?

A Rabbi recently told me that this approach is completely treif. He said: “Personal authenticity is just the code word for the yetzer hara and self-indulgence.”

I beg to disagree. This is not a narcissistic indulgence. We did not create our uniqueness – God did. We did not create the singular mandate our soul was given to better this world – God did. God gave us particular qualities and a unique life-mission in this world.

It is heresy to not listen to the voice of the soul that God gave us. It is heresy not to clarify our God-given unique purpose in this world.

And while we – parents, teachers, rabbis, professionals – try to educate our children with the wisdom of our tradition and experience, there is only one voice which can truly help them achieve this goal of fulfilling their God-given uniqueness and purpose in this world. There is only one voice which truly knows them – and it is the voice of their own soul.

I recently visited four elite high schools in the US. Devoted teachers and talented students. I asked the students: “Where in high school do you have an opportunity to personally explore your own unique spiritual path? When do you have the opportunity to listen to your own voice?” The vast majority of them answered clearly and emphatically: “Nowhere. Zero opportunity. We always have to listen. No one is listening to us. No one gives us the opportunity to listen to ourselves. It’s as if they are afraid of it.”

Our past improvements in Jewish education were necessary to preserve Jewish continuity. Now, we must move ahead and make the improvements necessary to create a vibrant Jewish future.

If we want to become a Holy nation, a light unto other nations, then continuity is not enough. Information alone will not transform us into our better selves. To fulfill our destiny and centuries of dreams, we must find the resolve and courage to open the door to the next level of Jewish education…and then walk boldly in.

Aryeh Ben David is the Founder and Director of Ayeka: Center for Soulful Education. Ayeka developed a unique educational approach and curriculum to enable adults to personalize Jewish wisdom and enhance their lives. www.ayeka.org.il

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