Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Winning Giving Tuesday (or If I Had $45,000,000,000!)

Attention Warriors defending Christmas - you may want to put down your red Starbucks cups and watch some commercials from Best Buy. Those ads tell you that when you give Tech, you get love and "Win the Holidays." Ugh.

Now it turns out that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan have won "Giving Tuesday" with some seriously audacious generosity. According to the New York Times:

The Zuckerbergs Giveth Away Their Facebook Fortune Many billionaires turned to philanthropy late in their lives. In Silicon Valley, some are turning to it much earlier. The most prominent example of that trend happened on Tuesday when Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook co-founder and chief executive, said he and his wife, Priscilla Chan, plan to give away 99 percent of their Facebook shares - currently valued at $45 billion - for charitable purposes. The couple made their announcement in an open letter to their newborn daughter, Max.
Now there are several directions we could take this. We could examine how this does or does not fit the patterns being discerned about Millenials. Let's not. We could explore the outrageously out of sync wealth that has sprouted in Silicon Valley, Silicon Alley (Boston) and Silicon Wadi (Israel) and how the new billionaires are handling it. Pass. We could focus on the new philanthropy of those billionaires such as the Giving Pledge, an effort set up in 2010 by Bill and Melinda Gates, or Warren Buffet's approach to fellow billionaires urging them to give away their money. I like it, but not today.

Instead, I would like to invite friends and colleagues to consider your answer to the question:

If you had $45,000,000,000 to donate for charitable purposes, how would you distribute it? What kinds of causes would you support? Would you give it directly to an individual in need? Would you give it to organizations?

Giving tzedakah is both an everyday mitzvah and an every holiday mitzvah. So after you have thought about what you would do with $45 Billion, make like Samuel J. Jackson and ask "What's in YOUR wallet?" Figure out how you can take an amount that is realistic for you - not Zuckerbergesque - and direct your own tzedakah to one or more of the recipients you thought of!

Happy Chanukah and Happy Giving Every Day.

The announcement that Mark Zuckerberg and his wife would give away billions of dollars drew hundreds of responses from New York Times readers about the causes they'd support Here is a link to what they had to say: If Readers Had $45 Billion to Donate, This Is What They Would Support

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Refugees From War Aren’t the Enemy

From the New York Times Editorial Board November 18, 2015. Well said!

Credit: Jordan Awan

The House is expected to vote Thursday on H.R. 4038, the American Security Against Foreign Enemies (SAFE) Act of 2015, which Republican sponsors say “would put in place the most robust national-security vetting process in history” for refugees, one that would “do everything possible to prevent terrorists from reaching our shores.” 
Conceived partly in response to the Paris attacks, the bill seeks to “pause” admission of Syrian and Iraqi refugees. Though there are real fears of terrorism, this measure represents election-year pandering to the xenophobia that rears up when threats from abroad arise. People who know these issues — law enforcement and intelligence professionals, immigration officials and humanitarian groups — say that this wrongheaded proposal simply would not protect Americans from “foreign enemies.”

One of the bill’s chief sponsors, Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, chairman of the House committee overseeing the Department of Homeland Security, surely knows how federal protocols for admitting refugees work. Yet the bill disregards the complicated current process, which already requires that applicants’ histories, family origins, and law enforcement and past travel and immigration records be vetted by national security, intelligence, law enforcement and consular officials. This process can take 18 months to two years for each person.

Among other hurdles, the measure would require that the secretary of homeland security, the director of the F.B.I. and the director of national intelligence personally certify that every refugee from Syria and Iraq seeking resettlement here is not a threat. That’s a lot of women, children, and old people.

Moreover, this bill ignores most of what the United States has learned, since 9/11 and before, of how potential terrorists actually reach these shores: such individuals more often already live here, or they come via illegal means. Unlike the refugees in Europe, those seeking resettlement in the United States must apply from abroad. They don’t arrive until formally admitted, and about half of those seeking refugee status are approved. Continue reading the main story

So far, half of the Syrian refugees accepted into the United States, officials say, have been children, and another quarter are over 60 years old. Roughly half are female, and many of those applying from abroad are multigenerational families, often with the primary breadwinner missing. About 2 percent are single males of combat age.

Given these facts, it is fair to say that the people who will be denied resettlement by this bill would be the victims of war, people who have been tortured and threatened by the same jihadists the United States now battles. They are families, they are old people and they are children, who might be given a chance for an education and a future. Continue reading the main story

This is a frightening time for Europe, and for the United States. Should this bill reach his desk, President Obama is more than likely to veto it because it has little to do with fighting global terror. It is sad that this proposal has been described as a first chance for the new speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, to cooperate with the Senate. This bill doesn’t reflect who Americans are, and congressional leaders should have the good sense to realize that.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

#JewishPurpose: An Open Invitation to Participate

This was posted this morning on eJewishPhilanthropy. Consider this cross posting to be me adding my signature. And it will fit in with my Jewish Educational Theory of Everything, I think!

Let's talk!


Since the release of the Pew study in 2013, there has been much hand-wringing in the Jewish community, with some calling this, again, a time of crisis. There is fear of increasing rates of assimilation and growing disaffiliation from traditional institutions. This was especially apparent in the recent statement, Strategic Directions for Jewish Life: A Call to Action, signed by many respected colleagues.

We do not accept this doom and gloom picture of a dying Jewish community, and we think the analysis and recommendations in the document are too limited. As leaders of Jewish social justice initiatives, we see instead an incredibly exciting moment in Jewish life, in which Jews of all generations are experimenting with new modes of practice, diving into learning, creating new Jewish cultural expressions, and drawing on Jewish wisdom and our Jewish traditions to inspire engagement with the world. Rather than mourning the changes in modes of affiliation, we should celebrate this moment and determine how the many different parts of our community might respond expansively and creatively. We want more new voices at the table and more ideas for next steps to be shared.

Pew reports that 56% of Jews say that being Jewish means working for justice. We take this statistic as an opportunity for the organized Jewish community to take on new powerful work for justice, with the involvement or leadership of our groups and our partners. This statistic is also a challenge to many in our ranks who are not doing justice work, or not doing it Jewishly, to act for justice in ways that are connected to the richness of Jewish tradition.

Integrating Judaism with social justice is not a gimmick – it’s a true, authentic way of being Jewish that is both rooted in our texts and traditions, and in the American Jewish experience. Over time, thousands (perhaps millions?) of Jews have acted for justice out of their Jewish values, history, and tradition. It is exciting that in the past 30 years this has become more visible and an entire field is being built around an explicitly Jewish perspective on pursuing justice. That field and those who populate it deserve a central place at this table as we debate aspects of our future.

But there is more. We who are doing this work know that we don’t have all the answers. We know that it is a core principle of social justice that the answers to the most pressing collective challenges have to come from the grassroots, from those most affected by what is and those looking the hardest for what could be. We, as Jewish social justice leaders, know that even perfect solutions to collective challenges often fail if they don’t feel connected to the community affected by those challenges.

So, we are hoping this letter launches this conversation into a broader sphere. We want to know what you – Jews inside and outside of Jewish institutions – think. What is your dream for a dynamic, exciting Jewish community? What do you find in the 21st century Jewish community that speaks to your interests? Where does it let you down? What are you doing outside the Jewish community that you would like to see become part of what the community offers?

During Chanukah, join us for a communal conversation on social media using #jewishpurpose responding to these questions.

This is an invitation to all of you and to the broad circles of people we suspect you can help us engage. We want people who are engaged in Jewish life, people who are occasional participants, and people who watch from the sidelines. We want those who are social justice activists and those who are quiet sympathizers; those who bemoan the state of the world and haven’t figured out what to do about it; those who work in the community and those who don’t; and we definitely want and need people of every generation.

See you online!

Abby J. Leibman, President & CEO, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger
Abby Levine, Exective Director, the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable
Adam Berman, Executive Director, Urban Adamah
Alex Weissman, President, Reconstructionist Student Association
Aliza Levine, Organizer for UNITE HERE New England Joint Board
Amram Altzman, Keshet Leader, Co-founder of the Sexuality, Identity, and Society Club at Ramaz High School, and Blogger for New Voices Magazine
Andy Levin, President, Lean and Green Michigan
April N. Baskin, Union for Reform Judaism
Chava Shervington, President, Jewish Multiracial Network
Cheryl Cook, Executive Director, Avodah
Daniel Sokatch, CEO, New Israel Fund
David Eisner, President & CEO, Repair the World
David Krantz, President of Aytzim: Ecological Judaism
Davida Ginsberg, Moishe Kavod House President
Debbie Goldstein, Carolina Jews for Justice
Dove Kent, Executive Director, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice
Emilia Diaimant, Executive Director, The Jeremiah Project
Esther-Ann Asch, Advocacy Committee Member at Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York and Former Vice President of Jewish and Community Affairs at FEGS
Fair Trade Judaica
Habonim Dror North America
Idit Klein, Executive Director, Keshet
Jacob Feinspan, Executive Director, Jews United for Justice
Jenna Weinberg, Board Member, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger
Jewish Labor Committee Western Region
Joy Sisisky, Executive Director, the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York
Judy Levey, Executive Director, Jewish Council on Urban Affairs
Karla Van Praag, Executive Director, JOIN for Justice
Kathryn Macías – Moishe Kavod House leader
Lee Sherman, President & CEO, Association of Jewish Family & Children’s Agencies
Leo Ferguson, Leadership Development and Communications Organizer, JFREJ
Nancy Kaufman, CEO, National Council of Jewish Women
Philadelphia Jewish Labor Committee
Rabbi Alana Alpert, Director, Detroit Jews for Justice
Rabbi Barbara Penzner, co-chair, New England Jewish Labor Committee
Rabbi Capers C. Funnye, Board Chair, JCUA
Rabbi Elizabeth Richman, Program Director and Rabbi in Residence, Jews United for Justice
Rabbi Jennie Rosenn, Vice President for Community Engagement, HIAS
Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Executive Director, T’ruah
Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and Senior Vice President, Union for Reform Judaism
Rebecca Ennen, Jews United for Justice
Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
Rita Freedman, Acting Executive Director, Jewish Labor Committee
Robert Bank, Executive Vice President, American Jewish World Service
Ruth W. Messinger, President, American Jewish World Service
Sheila Decter, Executive Director, JALSA
Stosh Cotler, CEO, Bend the Arc
Tamar Ghidalia, Board Member, Jewish Community Action
Uri L’Tzedek
Vic Rosenthal, Executive Director, Jewish Community Action
Workmen’s Circle
Yavilah McCoy, Bend the Arc Leader and CEO of VISIONS Inc.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Ken Gordon: My Daughter and Design Thinking: Have Either Really Come of Age?

Ken Gordon is half of the genius that brought us JEDLAB. (If JEDLAB means nothing to you, then go there now. Come back here later. Ken is a lot of things. And he has served our people in a number of ways. And I love the way he sees the world. Rabbi Laurence Kushner once wrote a book called Invisible Lines of Connection. Ken sees them as if they were painted in neon colors. And he has proven remarkably adept at helping others see them and use them to connect to more and more people especially in Jewish education. His main job is now in the world of business consulting, but even before he got there he was like me - a bit of a design thinking junkie. This article was posted on his company Continuum's blog in August. I loved it, then lost the link. Yesterday I found it again. I think it is every bit as important today as it was in August. Check it out. I love the way he synthesizes the Bat Mitzvah with the real world. It is a wonderful example of making Judaism relavant. (Hello, Millenials?) And go to Continuum's site to read more of Ken's work and that of his colleagues. It can teach us Jewish educators a lot.

by Ken Gordon

I have a 13-year-old daughter. Shoshi. She stands as tall as my wife Lisa, speaks Hebrew with a gorgeous Israeli accent, and knows more Torah than both her parents combined. As I type this, she’s studying hard to become a bat mitzvah. This phrase means, literally, “daughter of commandment.” When she officially becomes a bat mitzvah this winter, tradition says she will be responsible for fulfilling the roles and responsibilities of a Jewish adult.

I tell you all this because when I hear the phrase “design thinking comes of age,” which is the cover story of the current issue of Harvard Business Review, I think of Shoshi. I think of what it means, what it really means, for design thinking to come of age.

The official, optimistic line goes like this: In 2015, design thinking has become a fully responsible player in business, one that’s as equally important as, say, digital or branding. It is no longer a merely interesting concept in which a company might or might not dabble. We tell ourselves that design thinking is now an integrated element of many organizations—such as, say, Intuit—and we expect it not to loosen up their approach to problem solving, but to produce serious business results.


But then I think of my actual 13-year-old kid. Do I truly expect Shoshi, who neither drives nor votes nor dates nor earns money nor pays taxes, to become a fully responsible adult after the ceremony is over? I don’t. Truth is, neither my expectations nor our community’s will require her to be a real adult right now. More adult, yes, but not fully. This has a lot to do with the fact that we are secular Jews, and thus don’t literally follow the 613 mitzvot—but it’s also a realization that my kid, like most kids in our society, isn’t anywhere near proper adulthood at 13.

In a similar way, we may also be overestimating the level of maturity of design thinking in the business world. Advocates like to believe design thinking now occupies an ergonomically correct seat at the grownups’ table… but, it still has a ways to grow.

Which isn’t to say that there hasn’t been progress. John Maeda’s recent report about the importance of design to tech companies is significant—between 2011 and 2015, nine creative firms have been acquired in #designintech M&A. That’s nine out of thousands of design shops, of various sizes and capabilities.

At Continuum, we’ve seen some serious interest from companies in developing their innovation capability, and that seems a significant shift. Maybe the CEO of the future will be a designer-in-chief, but that moment, if we’re honest, still seems off in the distance.

So what do we do to slide design thinking down the maturity curve?

We can encourage those firms that have expressed an interest in design thinking to explore the concept more deeply. At Continuum, this means using the content we publish, as well as the conversations in which we engage, as a means of educating the interested.

We teach the notion that design thinking requires sincere cultural commitment to work. It isn’t just that one’s CEO cares about the design: the entire org must do so. Design-centricity isn’t just about hiring designers or attending workshops: it’s about adopting a certain mindset and approach for all business issues.

We must demonstrate that design thinking takes time and patience. Design thinking is a long-term process that involves much prototyping, testing, refining, tinkering to a serious degree. This takes time (it can’t be rushed) and won’t necessarily provide instant returns. Your org has to understand that design thinking unfolds in time, and might have to learn to develop a strong will to wait.
We insist that design thinking must drive business results, which means an emphasis on implementation.

Our current moment is about drawing a baseline. Design thinking is becoming self-conscious, and that’s a good thing: but it’s not the same thing as maturity. Once we know where we truly are, in the present moment, then we can design a more sophisticated future for design thinking. And that’s cause for celebration—one that won’t even involve a caterer.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Maybe We’re Looking At the Wrong Pew

I first met Rabbi Gordy Fuller at a CAJE conference a lifetime ago. He was this really tall guy from Texas with a beard whose smile just made you want to be his friend. Our friendship was a once a year thing as we would find a few minutes to hang out while listening to music at a conference or attending the same sessions once in a while. I always enjoyed our time together. And he is a really smart fellow. This piece ran on eJewishPhilanthropy over the weekend. It is terrific. I think. What about you?

Maybe We’re Looking At the Wrong Pew

By Rabbi Gordy Fuller

In both the articles and the reactions to the recently published Statement on Jewish Vitality, the conversation has been centered around the now two-year old Pew Research Center’s “Portrait of American Judaism.” But I wonder if we are all focusing on the wrong Pew study as we plan for Jewish America’s future. I found their recent Religious Landscape Study, particularly the chapter on religious switching, to be more telling.

The thrust of the study is that, not surprisingly, most Americans take a “cafeteria” approach to religious choices, going through the line of entrees, perhaps sampling many, and then finally choosing their favorite. It also showed that an incredibly high percentage of Americans are now in a different faith tradition than the one in which they were raised (34 – 42%, depending on how one defines the change, i.e. to include or not someone who is in one Protestant mainline tradition and then joins another).

What does this say about Judaism’s future if we are not even on the menu of options for 120,000,000 or so Americans who are hungering for something more in their spiritual lives? Might we not be doing more for our Jewish future, as well as for the future morality and potential redemption of the world, if we were to put our best offerings in that cafeteria line instead of waiting for others to knock on our door (at least three times, no doubt)?

I know I am not the first, but I want to add my voice to those who have called for more active Jewish outreach to non-Jews and to overtly seek more converts to Judaism. And I don’t only mean for those who might currently find themselves in a relationship with a member of the Tribe. If we have such a wonderful heritage and such a rich, moral tradition, why not seek others to share it with? I’m purposely avoiding the “P” word, but I’m confident that we Jews could find a moral, ethical, and dignified way to bring our message to the Gentile world.

Last week we read the story of Avraham Avinu, and how he left Haran for the promised land “with all the souls he had made.” Genesis Rabbah tells us that this refers to all those whom he converted to belief in the One True God. If Avraham had not converted all those souls, who would have helped start the Jewish people? If we don’t seek to bring more non-Jews into our peoplehood, what will the future hold for us, and our world? And in the words of Hillel, “If not now, when?”

Rabbi Gordy Fuller is the spiritual leader of congregation Shirat Hanefesh in North Chevy Chase, MD.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Muggles and Wizards for Peace!

Yesterday, Britain's Guardian Newspaper published something that has been missing. Common sense. This letter was signed by dozens of artists, authors, musicians and other dignitaries in Great Britain to respond to their colleagues who chose to boycott Israel. 
Somewhere around the publication of the fourth or fifth volume of the Harry Potter series, I became convinced that J.K. Rowling deserved a Nobel Prize. And before you argue that fantasy fiction written for the pre-teen set cannot truly be deemed literature, let me make the case. What piece of "literature" has gotten so many people of any age to become avid readers? (Ok, perhaps Roth or Nabokov got those looking for racy images to turn off their TV's back in the day.)

I can still remember being at camp several summers in a row on the day when 300+ boxes from Amazon or Barnes and Noble showed up with the newest release. The whole camp got a little bit quiet for a few days as the kids devoured it as quickly as they could. And then I noticed that for many, the required summer reading books, which had been buried behind their socks or towels, made an appearance. With this letter, I am thinking the Peace Prize is looking even better. Of course, she one of many who signed. Thank God.

In February 2015 you published a letter from UK artists announcing their intention to culturally boycott Israel. We do not believe cultural boycotts are acceptable or that the letter you published accurately represents opinion in the cultural world in the UK.

Therefore we are writing to declare our support for the launch and aims of Culture for Coexistence – an independent UK network representing a cross-section from the cultural world.

We will be seeking to inform and encourage dialogue about Israel and the Palestinians in the wider cultural and creative community. While we may not all share the same views on the policies of the Israeli government, we all share a desire for peaceful coexistence.

JK Rowling

JK Rowling is one of the signatories
to Culture for Coexistence’s

plea not to boycott Israel.
Photograph: David Cheskin/PA
Cultural boycotts singling out Israel are divisive and discriminatory, and will not further peace. Open dialogue and interaction promote greater understanding and mutual acceptance, and it is through such understanding and acceptance that movement can be made towards a resolution of the conflict.

Ultimately we all believe in a two-state solution so that the national self-determination of both peoples is realised, with the state of Israel and a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security.

Cultural engagement builds bridges, nurtures freedom and positive movement for change. We wholly endorse encouraging such a powerful tool for change rather than boycotting its use.

Naomi Alderman          Shay Alkalay               Bennett Arron           Jonathan Aycliffe    
Daniel Battsek              John Battsek                Guto Bebb MP          Gina Bellman
Michael Berg                Josh Berger                  Bob Blackman MP   Neil Blair                  
Iwona Blazwick            Elli Bobrovizki            Gabi Bobrovizki        Melvyn Bragg          
David Burrowes MP    Teresa Cahill                Colin Callender         Simon Chinn
Danny Cohen                Frank Cohen                Prof Susan Collins    Wendy Cope
Loraine da Costa          Marcus Davey              Oliver Dowden MP   Daniel Easterman
Ruth Dudley Edwards Michael Dugher MP   Brian Elias                  Yigal Elstein
Allie Esiri                      Michael Etherton        Moris Farhi MBE      Niall Ferguson
Stanley Fink                  Larry Finlay               Amanda Foreman       Michael Foster
Andrew Franklin          Nick Fraser                 Mike Freer MP           Julian Friedman
Sonia Friedman            Jonny Geller                Adèle Geras                David Glick
Taryn Gold                   Amanda Goldman       Richard Goldstein      Michael Grade
Maurice Gran              Linda Grant                 Miriam Gross             Tom Gross
Stephen Grosz             Peter & Martine Halban                                   Jan Harlan
Ronald Harwood         Noreena Hertz              John Heyman             Lilian Hochhauser
Tom Holland                John Howell MP          Judy Ironside              David Japp
Andrea Jenkyns MP   Zygi Kamasa                Jack Kirkland             Evgeny Kissin
Michael Kuhn             David Kustow               Norman Lebrecht       Sam Leifer
Teddy Leifer                Camilla Lewis               David Levy                 John Levy
Maureen Lipman        Andrew Macdonald      Hilary Mantel            Stephen Margolis
Dan Marks                  Laurence Marks            Denis MacEoin          Charlotte Mendelson
Yael Mer                      Ivan Moscovich             Maajid Nawaz            Anthony Newman
Gavin Newman           Hayley Newstead           Paula Noble                Tracy-Ann Oberman
Matthew Offord MP  Cosh Omar                    Martin Paisner            Robin Pauley
Leo Pearlman              Daniel Peltz                   Andrew Percy MP      Eric Pickles MP
Stuart Polak                Monica Porter               Gail Rebuck                Charlie Redmayne
Andrew Roberts          JK Rowling                   Paul Ruddock             Prof Carol Rumens
Marc Samuelson          Charles Robert Saumarez Smith                    Prof Robert Saxton
Joanna Scanlan            Kenny Schachter          Simon Schama           Simon Sebag Montefiore
Francesca Segal            Anthony Seldon           Rick Senat                  Zaab Sethna
Jonathan Shalit            Bernard Shapero         David Shelley             Clive Sinclair
Daniel Silver                 Lucy Silver                   Dan Silverston           Chloe Smith MP
Karen Smith                 Mark Smith                  Prof Ashley Solomon
Claire Speller               Rob Suss                       George Szirtes            Paul Trijbits
Kevin Tsjiuhara           Gabe Turner                Moni Varma               Rebecca Wallersteiner
Minette Walters            Zoë Wanamaker         Angela Watkinson MP
George Weidenfeld       Fay Weldon                 Heather Wheeler MP
Robert Winston            Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg          

David Young                 Toby Young

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Let's Play Two! (Wait till next year!)

Rats. I missed a few days of blogging while I was in Chicago for the ARJE leadership meetings. Today's post is not truly about Jewish Education. It is about Baseball. And the Cubs. Which is all about faith. Which brings me back to Jewish education. 

A chidush: When Ernie Banks (look him up if you don't know him) would be told "Hey Ernie! It's a beautiful day for a ball game!" He would respond "Let's play two!" For many years, I have used that when teaching about the Yotzer Or/Ma'ariv Aravim prayers - which praise God for creating our universe. After all, what higher praise for creation is there than by appreciating a beautiful day by doing something we love outside - like playing two games of baseball. I was fortunate enough to share my version with Ernie when we were stranded together in the Omaha airport in the winter of 1986-7. His response to me was "Yeah! You get it."

My friend, congregant and fellow ex-pat Chicagoan, Marcy Shinbaum, sent me a link to a wonderful article about the season on Facebook: An Ode from a Cubs Fan by Julie Haddon. It is extraordinary and is what nearly everyone of us is feeling today, following the Cubbies being swept by the Mets (read enemy). 

Below is my response on Facebook and manifesto. I may use it to teach Modim Anachnu Lach - the prayer of Thanksgiving.

Thanks Marcy Shinbaum for sharing. You get it. The author gets it. I still feel it was a privilege and bucket list level highlight that I was able to sit in the front row of the upper deck in right field for game 3 Tuesday night. When we got killed. Again. I will treasure the Post Season Cubs hat I bought and the W cloth they gave me when I came in Gate D. The money was well spent. I can still taste the celery salt on the Polish that I washed down with an Old Style.

As I walked up the ramp to my first ever night game at Wrigley (even I have to admit the lights are a good thing), my throat tightened and my eyes watered. I was back in the bleachers with Arnie Krause. I was in the boxes with Grampa Leo and Uncle Stan. (Turns out my cousin Rusty was only three sections away with his son, but we didn't know it!). I was in the Omaha airport in 1986 talking with Ernie Banks while we were both waiting for a plane that was late coming in from Minneapolis to take us home to Chicago.

Yeah, we're cursed. Maybe. But we had an amazing year. By July we are used to looking at the Bears' prospects. Tomorrow I will take a look and see what the roster looks like, since I have not let my sports-vision wander past the corner of Clark and Addison.

Thank you Theo. Thank you Joe. And thank all of you on the 25 and 40 man rosters and all of the trainers, coaches, spouses, ticket sellers and takers and especially all of the vendors. Thank you Gary Pressy for all the music and Wayne Messmer for the Star Spangled Banner Tuesday night. (Strange how few people sang along. I felt like I was singing a duet with you!) Thank you Audrey for pushing me to go to the game. And thank you Rachel for the airport lifts and the ride to the El.

We are used to hanging our heads when we say our end of the season mantra. I look at our team and the contracts and the year we just finished - with the THIRD best record in baseball.

My head is high and I am happy when I say "Wait till next year."

It's going to be awesome!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Israel’s Latest Terror Wave: The Global Reform Movement Responds

For personal reasons (health of a family member - all is fine now, thanks), I have not yet commented on what is happening in Israel. I have only begun to reach out to friends in Israel to see how they are doing (if they have not already shared on Facebook. I feel awful. And I am outraged at the woefully inadequate and barely accurate coverage in most of the American media, both liberal and conservative. I am not sure I am ready to respond yet - too busy trying to come up with ways to talk about this with middle schoolers (suggestions are welcome!). For now, I want to share the response of the Reform Movement. This is posted on RJblog, the Reform Movement's Blog.

A rash of stabbings and other terror attacks on Israeli citizens have increased alarmingly over the past few days.

The World Union for Progressive Judaism, proudly headquartered in Jerusalem, condemns these acts. The cruelty of those who attack innocent civilians and children on their way home from school seems to know no limit.

The WUPJ mourns with the families and loved ones of the victims of these latest terrorist attacks.

During dark times like these, there is a powerful urge to hate and to inflict collective punishment on “the other.” However, we cannot let extremists set the agenda for the rest of us. There will only be peace once the fundamentalists no longer perpetuate this cycle of hate.

The worldwide Reform Movement continues to pray for an end to the violent acts, meant to plant fear in the hearts of every Israeli citizen.

These acts will not deter us from our efforts to strengthen the Jewish people and the State of Israel. We must not allow fear to rule us.

Later this week the WUPJ international leadership will gather in Jerusalem to express solidarity with the citizens of Jerusalem and Israel. The meetings of the World Zionist Congress will continue as planned with a full complement of Reform Jewish leaders from around the globe. Our brothers and sisters in Israel need – and deserve – our support in these challenging times. They are not alone.

Rabbi Daniel H. Freelander, WUPJ President
Carole Sterling, WUPJ Chair
Dr. Philip Bliss, WUPJ Advocacy Committee Chair

Watch an in-depth analysis of the latest developments in Israel by Professor Paul Liptz, WUPJ Anita Saltz International Education Center’s Director of Education here.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Jewish Educational Theory of Everything, Part II

This piece actually is from January and was written by my friend and colleague Wendy Grinberg. It was originally published on her blog Jewish Education Lab (not to be confused with JEDLAB on Facebook). I think she has a good handle on some very important aspects of ToE (Theory of Everything).

Here’s my latest article in eJewishPhilanthropy. Looking forward to your responses.

There is a lot of talk about changing the name, the times, the locations and the format of synagogue schools. But calling something experiential, changing the hours or even inviting the parents is not enough to make deep change in religious school. What is needed is a change in thinking.

Is school the right model for what we are trying to do in our synagogue education programs? Why do they exist? There is a lot for students to learn in order to be knowledgeable in Jewish practices, values and traditions. But children who can “get an A in Judaism” are not our ultimate goal. A person can become an expert in these areas without even being Jewish. Our goal is mastery of “applied Judaism,” demonstrated by students who are part of a Jewish community and can face the challenges of this life in a Jewish way. Let me give you an example of what this can look like within the bounds of a typical third grade Sunday morning religious school class structure. Here’s how the teacher described it:

In the synagogue kitchen, nineteen third graders gathered around the stainless steel island upon which was heaped bunches of leeks, onions, carrots, turnips, parsnips, and bundles of parsley and dill. On the stove behind them, four free-range chickens were simmering in big soup pots. Mamma Barbara, grandmother to one of the students and the guest of honor for the morning, stood at the head of the island, handing out peelers, instruction, and encouragement to eager hands. Within minutes, the floor was a mess of carrot tops and parsnip shavings that missed the compost bags. The smell of chopped onions brought tears to some sensitive eyes.

A sense of community, sometimes so hard to foster in a classroom setting, was everywhere one looked in this overheated kitchen. Kitchen tools were shared without a teacher’s guidance. One child held a hard–to-cut vegetable for another to chop, while, across the way, another student warned his new friend to “be careful of the splashing soup” as she put her cut up celery into the pot.

Cleanup over and soup gently simmering on the stove, the class climbed the stairs back up the classroom, where Mamma Barbara told them the story of the recipe, passed down from her own great-grandmother through the daughters of her family, from a Russian shtetl to the suburbs of New Jersey. The soup (“Jewish penicillin,” Mamma Barbara called it) would now be strained, frozen, and ultimately delivered to the ill in our community by the sixth graders of our synagogue as part of their bar or bat mitzvah projects.

More than a kitschy hands-on activity, this effort coordinated by Jessie Losch at The Barnert Temple Congregation B’nai Jeshurun of Franklin Lakes gets to the heart of what applied Judaism in a school setting looks like. A few key components:

  1. The school is not separate from the greater community. In our scenario, students function as a class community within the context of the synagogue community. Mamma Barbara brought her family recipe and became part of the effort. In addition, the students planted chicken soup herbs in the synagogue garden to harvest for their soup under the direction of a synagogue member who is also a master gardener. Another group of expert adults facilitated the students in creating a Matzah Ball Mensches logo which will adorn the labels of every package of soup. As a mitzvah project, a sixth grader will serve as the liaison to the caring committee, coordinating delivery. K-2nd graders will create cards to go with the soup.
  2. Judaism is not confined to a time of the week or a room of the synagogue.
    The boundaries that often segment children’s Jewish life (Sunday mornings at the synagogue) were permeated by people and activities around making the soup and delivering it. Community members and older students joined in. The sick people who will receive the soup are not necessarily third grade classmates. Deliveries will occur on different days and in other places, and cooking and planting took place outside of the classroom, albeit on synagogue property.
  3. Jewish values are put in action to solve real problems.
    Students learned about taking care of the earth, dietary laws, and preventing the suffering of animals and then discussed how to make the soup in an ethical way. They studied Rabbi Akiva’s teaching on the power of visiting the sick: “He who does not visit the sick is like a murderer!” A connection to Jewish history and heritage was made real through Mamma Barbara’s recipe and family story. Empathy and care for the sick went from theoretical to real as eight year-olds did what they could to help and provide comfort to those in need.
  4. There are widening circles of involvement.This project has grown since it was first initiated. The excitement of participating in real and meaningful Jewish acts that make a difference is contagious. Director of Lifelong Learning Sara Losch has invited other classes to be a part. Now the fifth grade class is involved in creating a book that will tell the story of this project to the recipient, including the mitzvot it teaches and the recipe for chicken soup. Students become teachers to community members and spread their learning.

Under the direction of Senior Rabbi Elyse Frishman, this synagogue has been in a constant cycle of experimentation, assessment and improvement. That being said, this experience of applied Judaism did not require a full restructure of the synagogue school. Jessie understands the world of her classroom as a part of a greater Jewish community. She incorporated the enduring understandings that were articulated for her class and asked herself: What would a student who integrated these ideas know/do/understand in the real world? Others were able to get involved and see how this project could connect to their efforts as well.

Applied Judaism is my term for a way of thinking about Jewish learning and its purposes. Judaism is not a subject matter to be mastered in our schools; it is a salve for the human condition. At the heart of Jewish education is a belief that being Jewish, living in a Jewish way, makes life more meaningful, more enjoyable, and more beautiful. With the right approach, children can experience this and enrich the whole community, even within the context of a conventional Sunday morning program.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Just some fun for Parshat Noach!

And finally...


This is from a letter I shared with the parents in our school this fall.

Something New
I am working with a group of colleagues from around the country with Doctors Jeffrey Kress and Evie Rotstein. Jeff is a professor at the Davidson School of Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Evie—who many of you met last May when she spoke here-is director of the School of Education at the Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion.

We are studying something called social, emotional and spiritual learning (SESL). Like cognitive (knowledge) and affective learning, they each distinct ways in which we perceive our world and make sense and meaning of it. For the last several years our faculty and I have been developing lessons that utilize something called experiential education—which focuses on things that happen as we learn, distinct from information on a page or screen. SESL actually provides us with the philosophical underpinning to experiential and many other kinds of learning.

We need your help. During the course of the year, we will be constructing a lexicon—a list of words that we will use to describe things that reflect how learners’ social, emotional and spiritual selves are nourished. We will share that vocabulary with you in the weekly e-mails. Please use some of those words when you ask your kids to describe something they experienced or that their teacher or classmate said. Lots of people talk about the importance of spirituality, but because we don’t really have a common language, it is very hard for us to actually do anything about it.

Something Old
Last year, in this space I told you about a week I spent learning in Los Angeles in an immersion program for Jewish educators, rabbis and cantors at Beit T’shuvah. It is the country’s only Jewish residential facility for people in recovery from all kinds of addiction.

At Beit T’shuvah, they breathe spirituality. The rabbi there, Mark Borovitz – is crazy for the work of Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the great Jewish thinkers of the 20th century. We spent considerable time studying Heschel’s work. He said:

“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. ....get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”

In our school we continue to work on radical amazement. Our growing Tefillah – worship – curriculum is one example, as is our new Hebrew curriculum. Both were developed to respond to the educational and spiritual needs of our students and set them on the road to radical amazement.

In Tefillah, each grade spends part of the service time learning about a prayer. Why do we say it? What is the point? What does it mean to me? Then we pray together.

In Hebrew, we use Modern Hebrew instead of the prayer book – to teach the same levels we used before. The vocabulary and the content are different, but the linguistic skills develop at the same rate. And the content integrates with the rest of our curriculum, covering holy days, values and Israel.

We invite you to be a part of the process as we seek ways to help our learners discover radical amazement in their lives! 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Prevention is a Mitzvah

Apologies to my friend Joel Lurie Grishaver and the gang at Torah Aura Productions for stealing the title of an amazing Instant Lesson on AIDS education. But it is very apropos. This article is about a new policy in our Religious School that grew out of discussions in JEDLAB and elsewhere in the months following the outbreak of Measles traced back to visitors to Disneyland in California. The Penn and Teller video is brilliant, but the language may seem coarse to some.

I want to tell you about our new immunization policy, which was introduced to our Religious School families in Mid-July. Our Religious School Vision Team spent considerable time studying and discussing this issue following the Disneyland measles outbreak this past December. We also consulted with medical professionals to learn what the standard of care is. We came out with a fairly simple yet decisive policy:

“Because we care about the health of all members of our community, parents are required to certify that each child’s immunizations are up to date according to the State of Connecticut Department of Public Health immunization requirements for enrolled students in Connecticut schools ( in order to attend our school. Medically-necessary exemptions must be certified by a physician.”
Parents send their children to religious school and assume that their children will enjoy themselves, have positive social interactions, learn from the rich Jewish environment and be safe and healthy. Safety and public health are priorities for B’nai Israel and for all of the URJ camps and Israel programs. The vaccination of all members of the community is essential in order to maintain a safe environment and decrease the risk of transmission of preventable illnesses.

The establishment of a safe environment must therefore include the requirement that all participants be adequately immunized against all of the preventable diseases as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. While parents may choose to defer the vaccination of their children, for our school this is not an issue of individual rights and choice, but an issue of public health and policy. The routine vaccination of all children, staff and faculty is an important public health matter.

As a sacred community, we have an obligation to protect the health of all of our students. Students who are not up to date with their immunizations place those who are medically unable to be immunized at significant risk.

The experts are unequivocal on the science behind the health benefits of immunization. Vaccination protects children. Please see the sites of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the Centers for Disease Control (http//, the American Academy of Pediatrics (, the American Academy of Family Physicians (, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists ( for more information.

Given the science, Judaism is equally unequivocal on the subject. The highest Jewish value is pikuach nefesh – saving a life. The Central Conference of American Rabbis has stated “Jewish tradition would define immunization as part of the mitzvah of healing and recognize it as a required measure, since we are not entitled to endanger ourselves or the children for whom we are responsible... There are no valid Jewish religious grounds to support the refusal to immunize as a general principle”

So I want to appreciate that we have once again made this congregation and our school a safer place for all by ensuring we are protecting those who cannot be vaccinated. This is exactly what we did eighteen years ago when we met our first pre-schooler with a severe allergy to nuts. We simply eliminated nuts and nut products from the school wing. And it has worked.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Back to the Future...The (Jewish Educational) Theory of Everything Pt. I

As a lifelong fan of the Chicago Cubs, I am completely caught up in the post-season of Baseball. Something that has no relevance in this blog. Except of course as a frame for my teshuvah for going so long without posting on this blog. You see, in Back to the Future 2, Marty McFly travels 30 years into the future and among other things learns that the Cubs have just won the World Series. When the film was made in 1985 it was a cute joke. Now the Cubs are 8 wins away from making that a reality.

So let me change the past by changing the here and now. No excuses. We are all busy. But I want to get things going here again and I hop you will join me for the ride! Today is Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan. I am going to try for a post each day of the month. Friday will be a double portion to hold me over for Shabbat.


The (Jewish Educational)
Theory of Everything

A film about Stephen Hawking seems an unlikely idea for a blockbuster film. While the Theory of Everything made a decent amount of money it did even better at the Oscars. I can just imagine the pitch meeting with potential producers: “So this film is about a brilliant mathematician who is barely able to move. He uses a wheelchair to get around and a computer to speak. The key is that he believes he can come up with a mathematical equation that explains everything in the universe!”

It was actually a beautiful film about love and character and mathematics. And it got me to thinking about my work as a Jewish Educator. Yeah. I get that look a lot at home. I tend to ruin movies because I am always looking for the teachable moment to use in my high school class. This time the film became a tipping point for what I have been thinking about for the past year.

If you read the Jewish press and blogsphere (try, or you would see a number of ideas about Jewish learning that have been trending for a while. Some of them we have talked about and adapted here at B’nai Israel: Experiential Learning; Israel Education; School as Camp; Independent Minyanim; the “death” of the synagogue; Using Skype and other Technologies; Project Based Learning and Understanding by Design are but a few. Each is the next new best thing – and any institution that doesn’t adapt it is bound to go the way of the dinosaurs.

I have been a student of Jewish education long enough to know that these trends are cyclical. Twenty years ago the debate was Day School vs. Synagogue School vs. Israel Trip vs. Summer Camp vs. Adult Learning vs. Early Childhood Education. It was presented in just that way – like some Jewish educational Ultimate Fighting cage match.

I have become convinced that we need to develop a Jewish Educational Theory of Everything – a simple and elegant way to describe how we incorporate all of the richness of Jewish life, language, text and history with all of the many and varied ways of teaching and learning. I believe it is not only possible but necessary. As a lifelong Cubs fan, I have seen managers and owners from Leo Durocher and P.K. Wrigley to the present day try to fix losing seasons by using quick fixes and dumping multiple players in the hope that someone – anyone – else can do the job. I think the whole world knows how that has worked since 1918.

So I am going to be part of the team that creates that theory. Our school is the laboratory – as it has been for the last twenty years. We are not going to try things willy nilly. We will do what we have done – study the new ideas for ways that add value to our teaching and learning. And we will create some of our own. As always at this time of year, we are looking for a few new teachers to help us get there. So come be part of our learning lab.

Anyone want to go to the pitch meeting with me? I am pretty sure we can make a movie about this!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Need for Rest-and-Digest Philanthropy:
Strengthen Jewish Education by Tending to Jewish Educators

Dr. Zachary Lasker
I have gotten to know Zachary Lasker, director of Melton & Davidson Education Projects at William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education of The Jewish Theological Seminary over the past few years. We met when he was presenting at the Network for Research in Jewish Education (NRJE) conference about the ReFrame program - which is teaching educators about experiential learning. He is a very smart guy and a dedicated Jewish educator. 

The following piece was in my inbox this morning courtesy of - you guessed it - eJewish Philanthropy. I thought it was worth sharing. Please discuss on the eJP site so we can participate in one conversation!


The Need for
Rest-and-Digest Philanthropy:
Strengthen Jewish Education
by Tending to Jewish Educators

By Zachary Lasker, Ed.D

Most of us can identify with the automatic response triggered when a child falls into potentially dangerous or stressful circumstances – he goes missing at the supermarket, she chases a ball into the middle of a busy street, he wakes up from a night terror. Without any conscious decision, we drop what we are doing and a jolt of energy and clarity propel us to ward off danger. When the challenge is surmounted, we settle back into a more calm and relaxed state as our system recharges for the next crisis. We can generally tolerate incidents of stress presented when caring for a few people at a time, but what happens to the body and mind when it takes responsibility for 20, 100, 500, or 1,000 people and the frequency of stress inducing events increases exponentially?

Recently I had the good fortune to brainstorm with a group of philanthropic leaders committed to the vibrant future of our Jewish day schools. The discussion centered on national initiatives that can guide and support leading educators. We were joined for a portion of our time by sets of school heads and board chairs to discuss their work, and the room began to buzz with excitement as school heads shared their innovating efforts in the areas of instruction, recruitment, fundraising, and governance. There was no shortage of ideas, and it was inspiring to see the group grow animated as they described their dreams. While school leaders ease-fully identified ideas crying out for incubation, they also shared their struggle to find the time and space required to leap forward from idea to implementation.

When the philanthropists reconvened there were two important revelations:

1. Schools vary in their needs based on the nuances of their specific community

2. School leaders have great potential as ground level innovators, reflective of a rising trend in entrepreneurial leadership wherein individuals are their own best problem solvers

Education leaders who identify a challenge and then design a solution are more likely to hit home runs, driven by an invigorating amount of empowerment and enthusiasm. This approach leaves plenty of room for networking, sharing of best practices, and collaboration, but honors the fact that the Jewish community – like the world over-– has outgrown a one size fits all, top-down way of working.

How can philanthropy move the needle of day school education on a national level in a way that empowers the local leader? Our group started to peel the onion:
  • Could school heads identify the challenges they faced? Certainly.
  • Did they have ideas for solutions and an interest in taking a lead as problem solvers? Absolutely.
  • Did they have the time, space, and support to design, pilot, and assess these ideas? NO!

Jewish educators on the front line spend more time extinguishing fires than igniting them. When a program or school term is up and running we have a responsibility to ensure the physical, emotional, and social safety of our constituents, along with the administrative and financial security of our institutions. Children and parents are vocal with their needs, faculty/staff deserve attention, we are responsible to our lay leaders, and accidents happen despite the best-laid plans. Leading an institution forward under these circumstances is tough.

Fight-or-Flight Work

My tenure as a Jewish camp director was phenomenally fulfilling, but also taxing. Working in a vibrant Jewish community exposed me to spiritually moving experiences of prayer and song, awesome encounters with nature, ridiculously fun recreational activities, and an incredible group of people who became family. The work of a camp director – like my administrative colleagues in day and congregational schools, youth groups, and community centers – is also marked by days of great challenge. One single day could include the following curveballs:
  • § Prank pulled by the oldest campers in the middle of the night sets a negative example and raises safety concerns
  • Phone calls from parents concerned that photos posted on the website featuring their kids with a neutral facial expression is an early indicator of flu, homesickness, or bullying
  • Call from the infirmary: a handful of campers tested positive for lice
  • Head wilderness guide needs extended time off to be with an ill grandparent
  • Surprise inspection by a health inspector

Each of these incidents triggers an automatic physiological response, similar to when a child is missing or chases a ball into the street. What to do? Take flight to some unidentified tropical setting OR take a deep breath and face each incident head on. Opting for “fight” over “flight,” my body shifted into autopilot mode marked by a rush of adrenaline as I did whatever was needed to overcome the obstacles. Physical and mental energy went to the issue at hand, over other needs such as rest, food, and hygiene. Most Jewish educators prefer to spend time observing programs, mentoring faculty/staff, teaching, and cataloging inspiring moments, but when a program is in session we have no choice but to face the curveballs when thrown. Many of my summers were spent in “reactive mode,” responding to the daily needs of the learners, staff, and parents under my care.

The Jewish Educator’s Nervous System

There is a scientific explanation for when a Jewish educator shifts into this “fight-or-flight” mode. Our autonomic nervous system regulates many of the primary functions of the body – heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, and urination. When the body perceives a harmful, threatening, or otherwise stressful event there is a discharge of the sympathetic nervous system, which primes animals for the mode of “fight-or-flight.” A physiological reaction follows wherein the body produces a specific hormone that increases blood pressure and sugar, and suppresses the immune system.
  • Heart and lung action accelerate
  • Stomach/intestinal action slows or stops digestion
  • Metabolic energy sources are released for muscular action
  • Bladder actions relax
  • Tunnel vision (loss of peripheral vision)

The body is now physically prepared to instinctively face the challenge head on. Physiological responses by the sympathetic nervous system when in flight-or-flight mode are accompanied by emotional, cognitive, and social responses. Individuals naturally prone to higher levels of emotional reactivity may experience an increase in anxiety or aggression. Cognition is generally more inclined to recognize the negative over the positive. We are more likely to perceive ambiguous situations as negative, and recall negative words. This inclination may extend into social situations, manifesting in behaviors that are aggressive or hostile.

The sympathetic nervous system is our best resource as a temporary, adaptive reaction to stress. Prolonged endurance of stress pushes the sympathetic nervous system into “overdrive,” and puts us at risk for a number of consequences ranging from headaches and problems sleeping, to lack of motivation and social withdrawal.

The body functions most effectively in fight-or-flight mode when given time off to generate and conserve energy. This occurs when the parasympathetic nervous system is activated and the body nestles into a state of “rest-and-digest.” Heart rate and force decrease, intestinal and glandular activity increase, and the body relaxes its sexual and urinary functions[1]. The body is more protected from the risks associated with the fight-or-flight state.

As a Jewish camp director the summer was rarely the time and space for my own creative and strategic thinking, for learning and growing, and for attending to my own needs. Rather, I needed to create space to fulfill these needs during the year. I was lucky. As a Ramah director, I was part of a network of camp leadership who offered each other professional and emotional support, and who met regularly during the off-season to exchange ideas and to set strategic goals for the Ramah movement. I was also fortunate to benefit from professional learning opportunities through the Foundation for Jewish Camp and American Camp Association, and through doctoral studies with the full support of my lay leadership.

Rest & Digest Philanthropy

Philanthropists committed to the vibrant future of the Jewish people have a responsibility to ensure that our education leadership can rest-and-digest in order to face the inevitably long stretches of fight-or-flight that accompany responsibility for the physical, spiritual, emotional, and social well being of their learners. Lay leaders encourage rest-and-digest when they ensure their professionals take personal time off to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Two other priorities will secure the space educators need to rest-and-digest:

1. Claim opportunities for personal Jewish experiences

Jewish education is an emotional endeavor, and professionals are at their best when they can draw on their own encounters with Judaism. Those that champion Jewish educators have a responsibility to ensure that they experience prayer, text, Israel, Shabbat and other holidays, and a wide array of Jewish cultural expressions. There are great benefits to enabling Jewish educators with explicit opportunities for Jewish living and learning:
  • They are likely to maintain their own passion to promote Jewish living and learning for others
  • These experiences trigger concrete ideas for their work with learners
  • Educators serve as role models for their learners in the instances where the learner sees the educator immersed in their own Jewish journey

2. Secure time and space to pursue new ideas with colleagues and mentors

As stated earlier, most Jewish educators can identify areas in need of improvement, and many even have innovative solutions. Few can find the time and support needed at their workplaces to design, implement, and assess these ideas. The need for sacred spaces and relationships to enable this process is critical.

Fortunately, there is a range of rest-and-digest opportunities currently available for learning, networking, mentoring, and assessment provided by a collection of institutions and agencies committed to emerging and seasoned Jewish educators. The Davidson School of the Jewish Theological Seminary offers an array of experiences for institution and instructional leaders in schools, early childhood centers, and community centers. Many camp networks, such as the National Ramah Commission and the Foundation for Jewish Camp, are at the forefront of these efforts by providing opportunities for summer and year round staff to pursue their own Jewish learning and training. Mechon Hadar provides programs for Jewish educators to encounter Judaism through text and music in an egalitarian, beit midrash setting.

However, strategic action is required to grow, protect and leverage these opportunities. Our field needs more visionary philanthropists who will partner with national providers to ensure they remain accessible to local communities and professionals. On a local level, philanthropists and lay leaders can partner with their professionals to identify the interventions that will most behoove the professionals and carve out pockets of time for rest-and-digest within the constantly busy rhythm of the year. “If not now – when?”


Dr. Zachary Lasker is director of Melton & Davidson Education Projects at William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education of The Jewish Theological Seminary. Previously he served as camp director for Camp Ramah in California, and a teacher in day and congregational schools.