Monday, October 13, 2014

The Classroomless Class

This week TIME magazine featured the Paperless Classroom. Students equipped with ipads don't need paper to write, or books to read. A click and a stylus makes learning magic. As much as I appreciate the trees that will be saved from this innovation, it is an innovation barking up the wrong tree. Paperless is not the answer. What we need is a Classroomless Class.

I recently visited a  progressive elementary school. Every 20 minutes the children had another assignment. I left there thinking if I had to spend 7 hours a day following the rules and confined to schedules like that I'd run away from home. What was the difference between the regiment the students were experiencing and Orange is the New Black? That confining feeling, someone watching your every move, trying to sneak a chat with a friend and making sure to follow orders  or be punished made me want to pack a bag and run!



I am recommending we forbid learning within the walls of the classroom. No more children staring at cinder block walls. Hard cold chairs in rows even set up in circles are to be banned. Pealing posters and florescent lighting x'd out. The schedule and the rules of every 20 minutes, listen and now do this activity sheet quarantined.

In my work in NY we've created learning to spur teacher skill and imagination. Most successful experiences  have been:
1. In a shopping mall-what does Jewish tradition say about buying?
2. In a restaurant-Torah learning and values go hand in hand with a meal.
3. At the NYC High line-blessings said and understood when seeing true wonder.
4. At the art museum-where color and text and soul enliven
5. In homes-where we got to know each others stories

We could have done anyone of these lessons  in a classroom. Dance, music and drawing could have trumped the pen and pencil fill out the worksheet activity. But no amount of dance or story telling, no amount of apps and programs could have made the lessons more memorable.

 Jewish learning that is memorable and  goes to real life is not for a classroom--as Dr. Jeff Kress says, "Judaism is not a subject to be learned ABOUT." Living Jewish resulting from learning Jewish takes place in mall, the restaurant, the garden path and the museum..when we wake, when we walk and when go to bed at night. I have this idea on very high authority.

What would it take for us to foster Jewish learning for children and their families that take place where they are, not where the cinder block is?

 I asked my students at HUC while sitting on the roof  smelling limes to awaken the soul (Jewish teaching says smell is for the soul-whereas food is for the body). I asked them to write questions they have been pondering since the holidays. They said things like: How can I be authentic while living up to people's expectations; how do I show love when I'm stressed by my days?

These are the kinds of questions our learners hold. And they can't be addressed within
cinderblock walls if we want to penetrate the amount of "stuff" that comes to learners.

The Classroomless Class speaks to the real life questions people are wondering about-and in the spaces that amplify not confine learning by roster and cinder block.

What are the tools of The Classroomless Class?
*Really knowing the learner..their interests and needs
*Family desire
*Apps at the ready
*Personal follow up beyond what an ipad can do
*A chevra-no kid can believe she is an island
*Some mentoring
*Flexibility

 Could you imagine The Classroomless Class?




The Classroomless Class could be a tree that grows in Brooklyn...
Manhattan, Westchester, Long Island and wherever our learners walk.



Monday, October 6, 2014

Forgiving: I'm a little Off

Red leaves on the  trees signal it is  time for Sukkot. But, since I was on vacation between Rosh hashanah and Yom Kippur, I find I'm spiritually a little off. I did throw a galette, a flat rock, into the ocean along with hundreds of Jews from Nice, France for tashlich.  The rabbi who gave a Rosh Hashanah sermon in English, Yiddish and French invited us to join the 1500 Jews of Nice who gather for Tashlich, to throw their sins into the Cote d'Azur regardless of their yearly degree of practice. The police were there too, yet  no one seemed afraid to share such an outward expression of their Jewishness. I wast most afraid for the women wearing high heeled shoes on the rocky beach-no sand, just rocks.

 Now, back on the Amtrak train, I'm pondering the ideas of last week's holy days: Forgiveness. Giving it, not asking for it.

 Asking for is a  lot easier. I even have the simple steps on a refrigerator magnet in my kitchen. 1. Recognize you did a wrong; 2. Say your sorry; 3. Ask for forgiveness; 4. Do an act to repair the wrong; 5. when presented with  the same situation, act differently.

I ask you: What are the steps of giving forgiveness?

I've struggled with this trait-virtue- action of forgiving my whole life. At my more seasoned age, I'm better at it than in my youth. I could hold on to hurt and anger for days, weeks, months and, yes, even years.  Something about being right and the other person being wrong seemed to warrant sustained anger. Being genuinely hurt, and even deeply wounded seemed according to my logic of heart and mind to justify judgment and anger.

My son, the rabbi in training, gave a sermon this year on giving forgiveness.He quoted Mandela: Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting  for it to kill your enemy.  I get it, the anger, the judgment only hurts me. And I know over time I've learned to let go, release, disregard, ignore, and move on.


"What is the difference," I asked two of my sons, "between full throated forgiveness and just moving on?"  They both agreed that you can still feel a hurt, and forgive. You can forgive and remain changed by the experience they said. You can forgive even if the other person hasn't done the steps of teshuva.

"Do you need to understand, the other person's feelings...like in Mussar, do you have to hold their experience?" Do you need to understand your own part and what you are responsible for?"

I'm still pondering and would ask for your insight.
What is full throated forgiveness?
What are the steps? Help me so I can better throw away the stones, not the ones from the beach, but the ones that linger in my heart.








Thursday, September 11, 2014

Terroir Today

 Today, 9/11, in New York, on the High Line, with fear in my belly of bombs, planes and buildings colliding with people, I had lunch at a cafe, called, Terroir.


343 FDNY died on 9/11
Terror I know.
Fire Fighter Families











Terroir, on the other hand, I had to look up.

Terroir is the set of special characteristics in the geography, geology and climate of a certain place that interacts with plant genetics and is expressed in products like wine, coffee and chocolate.

I was with Dena, and Tamara, my colleagues, to plan a day of learning for educational leaders. The core idea..appreciation. The lesson would be happening in a place with very special characteristics that changes the flavor of the learning.

We practiced the lesson together.

Walk along the rails overlooking the street along the path lined with flowers and art.
With a partner:

1. Notice--

2. Appreciate

3. Humbly invite in something greater than your self.

Together we paused by the purple flowers and read:

"Can you see the holiness in those things you take for granted--a paved road or a washing machine? If you concentrate on finding whatever is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul."
Rabbi Harold Kushner

And together we recited the blessing said when seeing wonders of nature, including lightning, shooting stars, vast deserts, high mountains, and a sunrise:
We praise you, Eternal our G-d, Sovereign of the universe, Source of Creation.

What did I notice? A breeze. Sunshine. Smiling faces on a day that 13 years ago brought me literally to my knees.

What did I appreciate? Walking with inspiring colleagues and seeing the multitude of flowers and colors. Breathing more slowly.

And when humbly inviting in the Force greater than my self, I experienced quiet and then I went, just briefly, Higher.

Back now, on the last leg of my train ride home. Glad to be coming safely home.

Terror-Terroir
What a difference 13 years makes. What a difference, as Tamara said, a letter makes.








Monday, September 8, 2014

Pendulum swinging -More Knowledge?

Reality Check. Are you hearing the same trend that I am? Jews in their 20s and 30s are lamenting that they didn't learn enough Jewish content from their part time Jewish education. Young adults who go to Israel on Birthright can't speak Hebrew--not even enough to find the bathroom. This is a generation not turning to institutions wants"do it yourself," Judaism, yet find a you tube video is not enough to make a seder. These out-of-collegers are not hearing the old "it was boring story." Rather, I'm hearing it was fun--I had friends--but I didn't learn enough.

This trend, if true, is perplexing.
1. Learn more is not the usual cry of 12 year olds
2. How much content can you learn in a handful of hours a week?
3. I thought the digital age learning was less about knowledge because all content is a click away

Recently, a staff member in a "give kids a trillion choices like Israeli dance, karav maga, and making ancient pottery, explained why the program is not growing. "Kids already have a lot of  activities. They don't want more. Their parents in the end want them to know the four questions."

Is the pendulum swinging back from "fun, engaged, customer satisfaction," to deep content?
What are you hearing?

The challenge of course is that you can't learn content in a vacuum. You don't learn Hebrew by memorizing more lists of words.  Being able to lead Havdalah doesn't come from drawing pictures of havdalah candles and putting spices in an orange.

As the Harvest Moon rises (September 8 and 9) and the learning begins
it is worth re-looking at the design principles that are foundational to the work we do in New York . Learning will:
1. be content rich and accessible
2. build intentional and caring relationships
3. speak to the questions of learners-applicable to daily life
4. enable inquiry, reflection and meaning making

What happens to learning that doesn't embrace all four principles?
We fall short. What good are friends without content, or content without meaning?
I also what design principle is missing?

Takes so much time and thought to embrace all these  principles (built on the work of Jon Woocher and John Dewey).

Yet, each is essential, like when driving a car, you can't say I'll only use the review mirror and skip the side ones. Well you can, but there are consequences.

I challenge you fellow educators, and I challenge myself to pay attention to all four. The pendulum tolls for us!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Not out of tears yet

So this was a week of a lot of tears.

Miki Young, a beloved woman in our community passed away. Her funeral was held at the synagogue and was filled to the rafter as a tribute to a loving woman who lived with God and helped others do so too. "She kicked my ass," a rabbi said, of how Miki helped him be honest to the core. Joie a thirty year old young mother, once my student, sat next to me at the funeral, hugged me and just balled. Her mother died this past year too. She said, "Miki came to the shiva, I hardly knew her but she knew how to talk to me about death in a way no one else could" Joie cried for Miki and for her mother. I cried too.

Today we sat in the same synagogue space for the funeral of Faye, the mother of our good friend. Faye's brother told us their parents came to America without an education, worked hard  to become a lawyer and a nurse. They lived simply. And the money they did earn was left in trust for their grandchildren to be connected to Yiddish culture and to be used to help cousins who were still in the Soviet Union.  Faye's  three children and her six grandchildren were there. D'or l' dor her daughter repeated.  From generation to generation. From 1900-2014 this was a story of values and family. My friend sitting near me in the shul, who lost her father this year cried too. She cried for her father and for Faye.

We all cried for the souls that hovered over the coffins and for the souls who hover over us.

This week we cried for Fergueson and Foley. For Eshdod and for Gaza. I cry for the teen who was punched in the face and called Kike at Temple University.

I admit I'm exhausted. I feel I'm in a world gone mad mad and madder. I cry for the death of the myth that civilization has evolved since 1060 or 1943. A human will cut your head off, punch you in the face, and blow you to bits without hesitation. The word civilization seems erroneous.

My colleague and friend Shelly and I led two webinars this week for educators on how to begin the year. "This year is different than all others" we said. We were going to offer a teaching on "Flipping Self Worth on its head." But that self absorption -all about me--seems the wrong note in our world that has flipped. The core teaching of our webinar...don't pretend you have the answers. This is a moment like none other. We begin the year humbly and bravely with conversation to uncover new truths and actions in this time of conflict and turmoil. This is a time when core assumptions are being challenged and so our teaching has to too.

And now before I start cleaning up for Shabbat, to say one more week Shabbat Shalom with emphasis on a Shalom that is so broken I'm reading on YNet news about the four-year old Daniel Turgerman who was killed by mortar fire in Sha'ar HaNegev Regional Council.

When I light Shabbat candles I often say, "cause the world needs a little extra light. " Can I say that tonight when I have a suspicious thought that humanity is critically wounded. I'm drained and yet not out of tears..because I know there is more coming that will bring more tears.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Three Men On A Leg

On the last leg of my trip to Los Angeles I spoke with three very different men. Each revealed  stories of a world that is out of sync with the perfectly hedged condos on Wiltshire Boulevard that reach for clear blue sunny skies.

This is Andre. Before heading out to the airport, I thought I could steal 30 minutes by the pool. With his exquisite French accent, accented by exquisite sunglasses with metal trim, he told me he loves America, sells Toyotas in Provence, is working on a deal to start retirement "castles,"  has traveled the world and more. Ok, Andre I hear the details of your life. Twenty minutes of his details. Enough. "Can I ask you a hard question?" I said.

"Tell me about anti-semitism in France. I am Jewish." (the first thing I had told him about my self.) I took a leap because I wasn't really interested in his knee surgery or how America's health care isn't as good as France's. I wanted to know if there was red meat behind the talk of anti-semitism.

"We see what is going on the television over there. Israel and the Jews, you know.
 And there are more Jews in France than any place in the world."

"I don't think so," I interjected.

 "No this is true.  They make most of the movies and TV shows so it impacts what we see. Mostly in Paris they stay to themselves." (note all is being said in that dreamy French accent). And a guy I know who is Jewish he told me that all you have to do if you are Jewish is go up to a Jew who has a business and say I'm Jewish and you get a job. I know some Jews." Andre's girlfriend walked over a minute later. Our pleasant pool side conversation was over.

On the next leg of the trip, I spoke to my cab driver. I couldn't resist. Another accent. "Where are you originally from?"

 "Armenia and then we went to Syria."

 "Did you leave Armenia after the genocide?"
"Yes."
 We talked about a crazy world where genocide is still happening. And then I made a passing comment. After that comment he drove mostly with his eyes  in the rear view mirror looking at me while he told me a story that made him cry.

My passing comment: Where are the mothers of the terrorists in Iraq who are slaughtering people?

Taxi Driver: I'll tell you a story. A terrorist in Lebanon back in the 1970's was being trained to kill Christians and Jews. (This time I hadn't revealed my orientation).

The terrorist told his best friend who was a Christian, 'we can't be friends any more'  But his friend stayed with him and helped him learn the ways of Christianity. One night the man who was a terrorist, had a dream that Jesus had visited him and he told his friend he was afraid.

 Knowing his family and the people training him would kill him if he said he wanted to be baptized he escaped to France and then to the US.

'I'll tell you why I'm sharing this story in a minute, its about the mothers," the cab driver said.

Twenty years went by and he wanted so badly to see his mother. He returned to Lebanon. His mother wept when she saw him, hugged him and said, "Dear, tell me what food you missed that I make with my own hands."

"Dolah" he said. The next day she made him the eggplant stuffed rice and meat. And the man died. She had poisoned him, his own mother, because he had converted. This is where the mothers are."

I wondered, was this story about someone he knew well? The cab driver had told the story with great detail. "I saw it on youtube. His brother who also converted tells the story."

We arrived at the airport and I wished him peace. Was the story true? I don't know. What was clear that he carried the story as part of his truth.

Third man on the last  leg of the trip. Rollin. Named for his father who drank to cope with all the bodies he had buried in Viet Nam. This thirty-two year old, sitting next to me on the US Air flight, father of Nile, expecting another baby, was going to visit his girlfriend who is not the mother of his boys. "I named my son Nile," he started the conversation with me after seeing the map in the book. I'm reading about the Arab and Israeli conflict.

"Yes I'm Jewish."

"Oh are you a Zionist?" I asked, "What is a Zionist? Do you mean someone who thinks Israel should exist, if that is the definition, yes I'm a Zionist."

 Later he asked, "Are you a Hebrew?"

Later he asked, "You read the Kabbalah right? I don't really know what Hebrews believe."

And we spoke about the killing in St. Louis. He grew up there.His friend still lives around the corner from the shooting.

"There are no jobs there. I was lucky. My dad died and he left me enough money to go to private Catholic school. All through high school I wore a uniform and learned discipline. Even when I was homeless, and slept in a car, I got up and went to school. You see those kids in Missouri, there is nothing for them. No jobs, no school, no family.  People forget Missouri was the last slave state and all that oppression mentality is still left there. I'm working on my college degree. I want to work with children and help them."

Rollin spoke about how he had fasted for Ramadan although he is not Muslim. He reads the occult. He gave me a few suggestions of books I should read. He believes in taking something from everywhere.

"You seem like a very spiritual person," I commented.

"You have to look up," he said "when you are in the ruins, and there is nothing around, I learned to look up."

These were the stories of three men who in the normal course of the day I wouldn't have met. Their stories are potent. In a short amount of time, each one was quickly willing to share a piece of themselves that is making up the collective feeling that the world is standing on one leg. Are we primed for one thing to come by and kick out that leg? I'm anxious about what happens, if you have one leg and it gets kicked out from under you.

What are you hearing in the stories under clear blue skies?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Mara Made Aliyah Now she Writes About the day

Cousin Mara fell in love with Israel and Tom and made aliyah.
Last week she and I had dinner in a cafe in Jerusalem. I made sure the restaurant was, as instructed, 90 seconds from a shelter. 

This is her most recent note home. She said I could share.

Hi All - 

The first thing I did this morning was roll over and check the news to see if the names of the 13 Israeli soldiers killed yesterday were published.  I nervously skimmed the names hoping not to see my friend's brother, who was in the same unit.  And it was a strange reality because while I sighed for relief that he was not listed, I knew those names were brothers to someone else, sons to grieving mothers, someone else's father, loving husband.  

On my drive to work, only sad songs played on the radio, still interrupted by announcements of falling rockets.  Everyone in my office, along with the rest of Israel, has the news up on their computers and nervously click "refresh" in case there is something new, more soldiers down, perhaps a cease fire, terrorists found, tunnels leading from Gaza to Israel discovered.  

This is life now.  Automatic away messages reply to our emails from people called to reserve duty, not sure whey they will be back.  The 8 o'clock news is filled with heart-wrenching eulogies from 10 year-old sons saying goodbye to their fathers and clips of soldiers, now of blessed memory, playing their guitar and making their friends smile.  There was even a post on Facebook asking people to do a mitzvah and come to the funeral of a "lone" soldier from Texas who made aliyah without his family, so his parents don't fly in from America to arrive at an empty funeral.  The message went viral and there will probably be 10,000 people in attendance.  

There is always an empty pause after you ask anyone how they are doing, unsure if you give the truth.  And the woman at the grocery stores not only says "have a good evening", but she throws in, "and I hope it's a quiet one too".  The only way I can explain the atmosphere is, it just feels heavy here.  Everything.  

In the meantime, there will continue to be anti-Israel riots in France, Denmark, Chile and England, a "die-in" staged in Boston, and perhaps the scariest of all, anti-Semitic marches springing up all over Germany - the largest one planned for this Friday in Berlin.  

Oy...I wish I could send a happier note, but I suppose I'm a bit bummed out today.  I just wanted to share the atmosphere, thoughts and feelings here.  John Kerry and Ban Ki Moon came for a visit, but the Backstreet Boys and Neil Young canceled their concerts this week.  

If anyone is looking for a good website in English, to get updates, you can check out Times of Israel or YNet   

Sending lots of love from over here, 
Mara