What Exactly are You Trying to Accomplish?
By Cyd B. Weissman
What’s your worthy mission?
What do you say when someone taps you on the shoulder and asks:
“What is the purpose of congregational education? What exactly are you trying to accomplish?”
If you know the children in your congregation, you have the answer. I don’t mean you know their names and where they go to school. I mean you know the story of their lives. I mean you can describe what it is like when their alarm goes off in the morning, when they walk on the playground and when they shut off their computers at night. If you know their joys and their struggles, their losses and their accomplishments, you know the purpose of congregational education. If not, you may be giving answers like “The purpose of congregational education is to build Jewish identity.”
The inner life of the children in your community
Play a game with me for a few minutes. Imagine you are a ten year old in your congregation. iPod in hand, knapsack weighing down on your back and soccer shoes untied, waiting for the trophy. Now as this fifth grader, take the following survey.
On a scale from 1-10, report your level of challenge related to the following tasks, keeping in mind that one equates to, “I can do this easily,” and ten equates to, “This is a real challenge for me.”
I can describe three rituals that happen at a Passover seder.
I can sing two Hebrew songs.
I can retell a Bible story.
I can recite or read a prayer or a blessing.
I can tell you three facts about Israel.
I can tell a story about my sense of accomplishment that doesn’t have to do with grades or awards.
I can spend time with teenagers and adults who are role models for me.
I can spend regular nurturing time with my parents/caregivers.
I know where to turn with the big and little questions that keep me up at night. (e.g. What do I do when kids are mean to me? What should I do when I’m being mean to kids?)
I can be with God when I am happy, sad, thankful or confused.
Reflection on your survey results: What stands out for you?
Do you imagine your students have the basic facts of Jewish life? If they are missing one or two, they Google to find them.
What is not so easily searched out is how to manage the questions and challenges of daily life. Judaism and a loving Jewish community are the engines for navigating the complexity of life behind a child’s schedule.
When someone taps me on the shoulder and asks: What is the purpose of congregational Jewish education, I say: To enable a life well lived, now.
When we, along with parents and community, achieve that purpose, what’s the impact on a child’s emerging Jewish identity?