Thursday, June 25, 2015

Ending This Chapter of My Career

 This morning while taking the train to NY, I took some time to think about what's different and what remains the same after 12 years of work. Well, I'm no longer in my 40's, I'm still trying to lose 5 (ok 10 pounds) and I no longer have children at home.  I've had some real battles and some real successes. I've worked with a team beyond compare. And, I still care deeply about Jewish life and learning.

As I end the chapter of my career entitled: Training to RE-IMAGINE a few reflections to guide the next chapter of my career: Education Under RE-Construction.   

After 12 years. what's different?

The desire for change is normative (the pace of it is still slow): When I first came to NYC we struggled to find 5 congregations who would re-imagine their religious school model. One rabbi literally yelled at us when we broached the subject. I left that Long Island synagogue feeling like  I had been mugged. Today the idea that change is needed is de rigueur.

The edges of our imagination have expanded: Jewish learning and classroom are no longer synonymous. The mall, the museum, the open field, the soup kitchen, and the home are now common places for Jewish learning experiences. With the flip of the classroom, online and face-to-face mingle. Connecting Jewish learning to camp, to trips, and to communal problems that need to be solved happens regularly. Teens, parents, and  elders are learners and teachers along side of children.

Jewish identity is no longer the named outcome. Identity has been replaced by identities. Trying to achieve a long term fragmented fluid outcome has been replaced with a notion of Whole Person Outcomes. Whole person outcomes are immediate, and measurable.  Our work is to stir the unique alchemy of how to live as a Jew/as a human today. Growth is measurable. We can reach for and name growth in Knowledge; Doing (lived action); Believing/Valuing (my reflections on); Belonging. Seeing the growth of a whole person, not just their Jewish selves changes everything.

It's not just the school. Funding in New York set the mandate that we were to change the religious school. What do we know ---the school does not have enough horsepower to change itself or to change people. The school needs the congregation. The best impact comes when Joshua gives the commands for the trumpets to blare and the walls come down between and school.  A few places have dabbled and more are needed for the trumpets to bring down the walls between the congregation the camp, the JCC, and the artists and more.

What is the same
Jewish Education still needs re-imagining. We're not there yet. Twelve years of sustained effort to alter the religious school has achieved new inventive models. Yet, there is another 12 years needed. And that is two generations of children who need us to work faster and smarter. Too few congregations have made new models their primary engine for engaging children and families.

The levers in a child's life that matter most: I came to NY believing that impacting family and community were the necessary levers for impacting a child's Jewish life. Children's early life is molded by the practices and values of the family. Parents need a circle of influencing friends to explore/grow their own Jewish rhythms.  And yet, too many synagogues think their job is to educate the child. We still haven't kicked that paradigm to the curb. Our latest study affirmed that models with the greatest impact were designed with family and/or community at the center. This is a duh, what's stopping folks?

We still believe: I believe that Judaism makes life better. I believe each has person has a responsibility to past, present and future and Judaism is a Jew's birthright to that time travel. I believe it is within our reach to open the time tunnel to more young Jews.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Bob Sherman announces my new job!

To our Congregational Community:
I am writing to inform you that Cyd Weissman, Director of Congregational Learning at The Jewish Education Project for the past 6 years, has accepted a new position as Director of The Reconstructionist Learning Network at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia. We are incredibly proud of everything Cyd has accomplished with us and excited for her as she takes on a new role within the field of Jewish education.
Many of you know Cyd well. She has been an integral member of our leadership team, helping to design the way we approach sparking and spreading innovation in congregational education. She has also taken a lead in the redesign of our whole agency as it repositioned itself locally and nationally. Her impact on our agency, on congregations throughout New York and on the field is deep and profound. The Coalition of Innovating Congregations, the network which she established, continues to grow and create Jewish education that makes a difference in the lives of today's children and families. The Jewish Education Project team is fully committed to supporting and growing our work and influence in this vital sector building on her successes.
In her new role on the RRC faculty, Cyd will be building upon her experience, research and expertise derived from her time at The Jewish Education Project to bring dynamic learning to Reconstructionist congregations and their schools across North America.
Cyd will continue to be part of The Jewish Education Project network of innovative educators and we are already thinking of ways to work to accomplish shared goals and together strengthen the field. I know you will join me in wishing Cyd great success in her new position. Cyd will remain with us through the month of July before leaving to take up her new position.

Robert Sherman, CEO

Monday, April 27, 2015

If You Really Listen--Yachdav 2015

This Thursday, at our annual Yachdav, over 130 educators from The Coalition of Innovating Congregations will gather in NYC to listen. What an odd activity for a group known for doing. The Coalition is known for creating new models of Jewish Enrichment, like learning that happens in homes, and in yoga studios. We're known for creating Jewish learning that makes bunks, tribes, buddies, and havurote instead of classrooms. We're known for making madrichim, chiefs, morei derech, and counselors instead of teachers. Our reputation is for designing whole person learning that speaks to knowing, doing, believing/valuing and belong, not just learning for recitation or fun.  We're not known for sitting. What emerges when makers and shakers sit and listen?

Josh Nelson, performing song and leading text study, will set the kavanah for Yachdav with a passage from Talmud:
“And it shall come to pass, if listening you shall listen” (Deuteronomy 28:8): if you listen, you will continue to listen, but if not, you will not listen.

והיה אם שמוע תשמע וגו' אם שמוע תשמע ואם לאו לא תשמע

I confess I have the bad listening habit described in the latter part of the text. Often, way too often, I only hear the first part of someone's story, or comment. I hear something said, and my mind starts sparking. I get excited. I have a counter thought. Instead of listening to someone's full comment, I'm ready to respond mid-way through their sharing.

Could I have a dollar every time I hear my husband say, "Let me finish."
I'm not fully listening. I'm engaged. But that's not good enough.

Thursday's listening schedule will include:
1. The Innovation Marketplace-a new space for folks who care about Jewish education to listen to one shop around like in any marketplace for good ideas, and tools for educational change. It is a place to hear a voice, and share your own.

2.  Teen Voices-Funded by The Jim Joseph Foundation, the Jewish Education Project went to Boston, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Denver to listen to 150 Jewish teenagers. These teens ranged from high to low engagement in Jewish life. What did we learn from their stories? What do they value? What can you hear in their struggles? What we hear should make us pause before we design one more program for them.

3. Parent Voices-Thanks to UJA Federation, we hired IWC Consulting Group, led by Ilene Wasserman, to conduct focus groups with 100 parents across New York. These parents send their children/often join their children in the new models of Jewish Education. Oh my what we heard. There is a new story to tell about parents. Their voices we'll urge us to walk through new doors as educators.

4. New Research--Prof. Steven M. Cohen, has heard a new generation of parents and learners. He no longer is quoting a study that says one say a one day a week religious school harms, not helps Jewish identification. He has some powerful new research that will equip us for a new trajectory of education.

Educational leaders will hone their listening skills in sessions about listening when God is present; listening as a community organizer; listening for advocacy; listening as a designer and listening for the whole story. Experts can help us have helpful listening habits.

We're a busy Coalition. We're constantly on to the next innovation. What happens if we shift the energy from creating to listening? What gets created in that listening? How different is the creation, once we listen? What will emerge if you really listen?

Friday, April 24, 2015

Clergy Move Beyond Tweaking

 Some congregations can't get passed educational tweaking. And yet, some make significant and life transforming change. What's the difference?

The research in New York keeps coming back to the clergy.
Most often, not always, the real change maker and shaker congregations have clergy actively involved in educational change.

I'm happy to call out a few examples of clergy who have helped make the difference of overcoming inertia:

Rabbi Gordon Tucker at Temple Israel Center

Rabbi Daniel Gropper at Community Synagogue of Rye

Rabbi Alan Lucas at Temple Beth Sholom of Rosyln

Rabbi Lee Friedlander, and Cantor Eric Schulmiller of The Reconstructionist Synagogue of the North Shore

Clergy who see education as the mission bearing child of their congregations take seven actions that break inertia, leave behind tweaking, and make real change happen.
Top Seven Clergy Actions That Make Real Educational Change

  1. Set Holy Purpose: lives of children and families are the lifeblood of our community
  2. Set the fire: signal this is an urgent priority
  3. Be a partner: build a team, share hopes and dreams
  4. Gather gifts: listen for and invite people’s talents
  5. Tell the story: the journey of our people toward a new land 
  6. Go to the mattresses: for resources-human, space, dollars 
  7. Make it safe: to innovate, learn, fail, lift up success, take risks

Can you add another clergy person who is helping lead real educational change?

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Healing the Hate On Our Buses

Starting today, Philadelphia's city public transit, SEPTA, will carry ads with photographs from 1941 of a meeting between Hitler and Hajj Amin al-Husseini, a Palestinian Arab nationalist who made radio broadcasts supporting the Nazis.  The hurtful slogan trolling the streets of Brotherly Love for the next month: "Islamic Jew Hatred: It's in the Quran."

Thirty-thousand dollars purchased this far right wing campaign. SEPTA fought to say no, but the courts said free speech dictates that The American Freedom Defense Initiative can have their say. This organization has grown by leaps and bounds in the US and Europe since 2010 with its purpose to Stop Islamization of America (SIOA). Shamefully, a Jewish woman, Pamela Geller is one of its founders. 

I confess my tribal nature-when a Jew does dumb and bad, it feels shameful.

The Interfaith Center of Philadelphia, led by a woman grounded by Torah values, Abby Stamelman Hocky, invites us to say

Not here. Not now. Not in our city. 

Abby asks that we "embrace our diverse voices and to unite to effect positive change. To stand in solidarity with those might otherwise be alienated." To counter the hate on our buses and in people's hearts go to:

Another Philadelphian, grounded in Torah, and committed to healing, not hating, is Dr. Barry Mann. His new book, Dreams of Peace, is a language primer for Hebrew and Arabic. Dr. Mann is a physician-surgeon-Chief Academic Officer- yet found the time to create an easy access language primer that helps readers learn Hebrew, and Arabic. He even found the time to teach the primer in a course to rabbinical students. We need a shared language if we are going to ever understand one another. This book is a great start.

Ibrahim Miari of the University of Pennsylvania comments on Dreams of Peace: "As a bilingual native speaker and instructor of both Arabic and Hebrew, I know through experience how language creates a window into culture and allows an opening for a new perspective. The innovations of this dual language primer demonstrate the similarities between the two languages, and may be one small step towards both facilitating language acquisition and fostering further understanding." 

Would people who spent time learning one another's language, and honoring their common roots, put hateful ads on city transit? Dreams of Peace is available on Amazon. Hey, I wrote the first reader review!

Salute to Abby and Barry for healing the hate.

I am inspired.

I take the challenge today to do something to heal the hate. What are you inspired to do?

Monday, March 16, 2015

Jewish Educators: Dust or Angels?

Hey Jewish Educator--who are you? Are you just below the angels --(if we just could get it right), single handedly growing the next generation of Jews?

 Or are you poorly-trained-trapped-in-a-box-folks who are as helpful in growing the next generation of Jews as the dust in your pocket?

The answer depends on who is standing on their soap box.
Beth Cousens piece in today's ejewishphilanthropy seemed to describe Jewish educators as both --a bit above the dust of Philip Roth's basement accomplishing little and right below the angels, single handedly able to make 7 years old know the depth and meaning of Judaism.

A few points to consider:

 1. There is no Jewish educational experience that can counter familial and societal norms. Let's humbly recognize that family values, practices and expectations not educators are the prime operating system for the Jewish development of 6-12 year olds. And when families check out and drop off, there is no Holy grail of education to counter the family.

2. Religion itself is having a challenging time in 2015 in USA--ala Pew and the rise of the nons. America at large is not having a religious field day. By overwhelming numbers Jews are proud to be Jews, but how much they know and do is far less. Again, what's the Jewish education that will counter prevailing societal norms?

3. Synagogues, Federations and a great deal of the existing Jewish organizational landscape is still standing for Torah, avodah and gemiliut chasadim while parents are simply asking: how do I raise a whole child in a very broken world?

Jewish education is one piece of a larger system that grows a child.  The more complicated truth is about the challenge of  families, societal norms and reshaping religious ideas to speak to people's real lives--not just Jewish education gone wrong . It is not as sexy as pointing the finger at the whipping boy of Jewish life--Hebrew school.

When we are at our best, Jewish educators connect the questions Jews have when they wake in the morning and when they go to bed at night with the wisdom, the rhythm and the comradeship of Jewish life. When we are at a our best, we make accessible each person's birthright so children and adults can discover their unique path and responsibility to making our challenging world a little better.

Next month, I'll have the results of interviews with 100 parents with children who attend the bolder newer models of Jewish education emerging across the country. From these interviews we hear parents who talk Torah with their children, change hectic schedules to make sure Shabbat is met, and act out Jewish teaching in their lives. I'm glad to add this new body of research to the narrative.

As we go forward, let's not pretend that Jewish education can make ALL the difference nor does it make No difference. Let's instead think about the more complicated landscape that impacts a child's life and how Jewish education can effectively be part and partner in that landscape.

Jewish educators are neither dust nor angels. At our best, we are...well what would you say from your soap box?

Monday, January 26, 2015

Anita remembered

To honor Anita’s full life I’d like to share the story of her last month. How she met this challenge  reveals her previous 84 years.

We had had our family Chanukah celebration. As always she brought something for the meal, and had a gift for everyone. We lit candles had latkaes and she said as she always did “Cyd I don’t know how you have the time.” She wasn’t quite feeling her self at the party, and the family said she should see the doctor. Henry tried twice “you’ll be the healthiest person the doctor sees all day, I’ll take you.” The next day she said she was feeling better and went on with her busy schedule.
That Sunday night she called Jay and reported she had a wonderful time out with her very good friend Bruce. They had gone to an Italian restaurant and listened to opera, something she loved. I don’t know what she wore but I could imagine her in a colorful print, with a necklace, pin and earrings and red lipstick and definitely with a smile. And perfect skin and perfect posture. Jay said she sounded the happiest he had heard in quite a while.

Ross was supposed to see her that Tuesday morning before he went back to school. And in a world of busy schedules, that was important to him. Her grandsons called, emailed and saw her on happy occasions. When Jay would say he spoke to his mom that was one of the first things he’d report, which grandson she had spoken to or had received email from.

Ross called Grandmom twice that Tuesday morning and when she didn’t answer he called Jay who found her in her apartment having had a stroke. In just a few minutes Roselle and Jay were by her side at Bryn Mawr Hospital.

When she could barely speak at first, Anita in the ER said over and over I love you, I appreciate it, thank you. Humble and asking for little only living with a stance of appreciation, these were her phrases with a crooked mouth and a straight heart. Anita told Roselle she was so proud of her many accomplishments including her new job which was going to be blocks from Anita’s apartment.

At first Anita was prepared for the fight to get back to her apartment living the full and interesting life she had made for herself.

Not surprisingly the family that she has shared every holiday, birthday and occasion with surrounded her at the hospital, Roselle and Henry, Jay and myself and Gary, Kabeera, A &N (Underage so I won’t put their names) Alex, Ross and Sam. A called her Great Grandmom Anita and had made a beautiful picture with a message that remained in her hospital room. Adam, Rebecca, and Anastasia joined the Grandmom vigil.

More surprisingly to us than our gathering around her, was her very full cell phone. Every day another friend was calling asking where are you Anita? Some of her friends we knew from her days as a school girl, and some we hadn’t heard of .But without question the cell phone, that rang with Havana gila ring tone every day with another friend looking and starting to worry about Anita. Flowers were delivered from a neighbor and from Bruce. The nurses told us what we knew, she was so kind.

Within a short week, we thought Anita was going to rehab and would hopefully be back to her full days studying, taking public transportation or off to a concert, or as Jay noted, “doing her own taxes.” And then things changed with Infections and flu on top of her stroke. And though her speech became clearer she became more sleepy.

No mother would want this, but the children who she raised were so devoted to her, feeding her spoon by spoon, talking to her and holding her hand. Roselle and Jay, sat by her side, and spoke to her with compassion. She’d open her eye to say, I love you. Both of them were professionals who have been trained to care for people at this phase of life, and yet both are very simply children with breaking hearts.

The true character of who Anita was, one that would inspire each of us, and be a role model is when she had to face that she wasn’t going to get better. Gary, both grandson and doctor, gently helped her understand what was ahead.

When we spoke to her about hospice and said, we’d like her to come to our house, she didn’t have a word about herself, she simply said, “I don’t want to be a burden.” And that was like her.

Anita understood hospice because in the last year, Jay took her regularly to see Bud, her dear companion for the past five years, in hospice. “I want to be comfortable,” she said, “like Bud.”  We never saw Anita cry in the last days. We saw each other cry, but not her.

When she was told about hospice, I said to her, “Do you want to speak to a rabbi?”

“No” she said clearly, “this is my decision.”

Again this is who she was, she did what she had to, independently, organized and took care of all the details. Her directions and wishes were “in the red folder,” “in the drawer” “in the back, on the left.” She had everything arranged. About her funeral she was clear she wanted it here.

And she said, “I want to look pretty.”

The night before she came to our house, we all sat around her signing songs and prayers. “We’re going to sing Yedid Nefesh Grandmom,” Ross said, Do you know what that means, “Beloved Soul,” she said from her sleepy state. “Where did you learn that?’ “At a class at Federation,” she said. Gary and Kabeera sang her Yedid nefesh at her bedside taking shifts from working in the hospital and caring for their children.

We sang that night in the hospital the song we sang every Shabbat, Shalom Aleichem and all of a sudden from her sleepy state, she was singing with us. Anita celebrated many Shabbat Dinners at our house, and it is our custom to say something that happened good in the week. Without exception, when it came to Anita’s turn she would say, “Coming here, being with all of you for Shabbat.”  At her bedside we read Eshes Chayil, a Woman of Valor, at the end of the psalm that describes a woman who cares for her family, keeps them clothed and cared for, has the love of her husband, she said from her sleep state, Amen.

Her last night in the hospital Ross slept by her bed and heard her say, “no more shopping, no more cooking.” She was making sense of what was happening.

Every night Anita was in our family room on hospice, we gathered around her and sang song after song. She loved music. Like Fridays nights when Jay and Roselle were young she and Saul had date night. They made cocktails and played music and danced together in their house. I remember Saul regularly bringing fresh flowers to Anita at the end of the week.

Alex and Sam led the song describing the angels that surrounded her
On my right is Mic-ha-el, “who is like G-d”, Alex said, “you are Grandmom”, on my left is Gabriel, “God is my strength, the strength you have given us and we are giving you” Alex said, in front of me is Uriel –“God is my light, just as you have been light guiding us” and behind me is Rapahel , “God heals and for all the doctors and care providers who are healing” and above my head is Schenicha.

Sam sang the contemporary Israeli song Hazelana hazelana save me.

We couldn’t save her. Anita asked for very little in her life, but she gave a great deal and in turn she was given the full love of her children and grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Gemilut Chasadim, means acts of loving kindness, they are acts that you do knowing that you get nothing in return. Every hour of hospice was that kind of loving kindness. And The very last act of gemilut chasadim that Jay and Roselle did was to buy her a beautiful outfit to wear. As Roselle said, “she never splurged on her self, I want to do that.” And it was easy for Roselle and Jay to pick the colors the style. Classic and bright. They were fulfilling her wish, “I want to look pretty.” You’ve never seen a brother and sister, so respectful and loving of one another, so respectful in the way their mother had taught and modeled.

As her daughter in law I want to give testimony to all that she gave to her grandsons, countless hours of babysitting, attending their graduations, concerts. I know our children have known the great love of their grandmother and the last days of her life, I watched them each with their own tears, their own songs, their own tenderness, give her the greatest of love.

Sam shared quote that he said told Grandmom’s story, “love so strong without ebb and flow or crests and troughs, indeed lacking  any sort of motion so that it had become invisible to him these years..part of the order of things outside his head which he had taken for granted.”

We just expected Grandmom’s love to always be, did taken for granted..and now gone. Now her family and friends will carry her story and love in their heart.