Friday, April 22, 2011

Quotidian Judaism

On the streets of Manhattan, stop for a coffee and a pastry at Le Pain Quotidien.
This shop is a boulangerie with long tables that seat strangers and friends alike, dipping and ripping croissants. Daily bread, Le Pain Quotidien. The restaurant captures a bit of the French country side cafe with earthy food and conversation. I like the easy tones, the soft palette of woods, and the delicious seductive pastries.

This chain of stores is a clue to a Judaism that can welcome 21st century learners.
Judaism for the every day. Quotidian Judaism.

Definition: Quotidian: occurring every day; belonging to each day. (thank you to my son Alex for teaching me that word)

Quotidian Judaism speaks to the questions we wonder about when we wake in the morning, when walk on the way and when we go to bed at night.

The more ritualized spaces and hours of our lives like Passover, birth, Shabbat, Rosh Hashanah, death, or a kosher kitchen are essential of course, and Judaism helps us mark that time. Somehow those are the moments that have become the focus of our educational programs.

" This is how you do it on this very special day in the year, the week, the month. Say this bracha and then you wave your hands in the air three times like that. No close your eyes first. Oh these kids."

By focusing on the highlight moments of the calendar, Jewish learning has reinforced the notable divide between daily life and Jewish calendared life.

We all know the Jewish way is not to separate the two. Rather they are intimately connected. Talmud instructs us how to tie our shoes, speak to our teachers, what to do when you find a lost coin, and how to sell a donkey and a cow. Talmud speaks to daily life. And our rabbis bridge the waving of our hands and the lighting of the candles with what we do along the road.

But, Jewish educators, in most congregations that I have seen, sledge hammered the bridge.
I'm not sure the exact moment when educators excised the canon of Judaism for daily life.

So I'm a proponent of Quotidian Judaism.
A Jewish Education that is in dialogue with the questions and needs of daily life.

What's the curriculum?
The Torah of a person begins the dialogue.
Imagine this:
What happens when we gather with a group of children weekly
and we have a ritual.

We sit on the floor, we each have a pillow for comfort.
We break, dip or rip a croissant.
And we sing five prayers together.

Ma Tovu..
We build a tent for one another.
A place to come with your questions and your thoughts.
What happened to you today?
What's on your mind?
Learners can write in a journal or say responses out loud.

The array of responses ask for praise, petition, express worry, or gratitude or let's be surprised.
What happens next?
A group of children hear one another's stories.
A teacher/madrich can honor that story and bring in Jewish teaching to the quesiton posed.

Sometimes students have big and worried kinds of questions.
Ok..this is a place to bring that and if the teacher/madrich can't manage,
who in the community is a professional/expert who can help?
And what does Judaism, Quotidian Judaism, say about that.
let's figure it out together.

A few years ago, I was on Long Island visiting a congregation.
The children were bustling around the class. No one in a seat.

From afar, the conversation sounded like buzz wuzz buzz. Kids being giberrishy.
I was close enough to hear the words, not just the tone.

The teacher: "Sheket, sheket. I told you to be quiet. The bell rang."
She pushed her glasses up, away from the tip of her nose.

"Now in your seats be quiet. Today our lesson is reciting viahavta. Open your books."

What did the teacher miss?
The chatter of the day:

"My friends were on the bus that crashed after school."
"How do I know if they are ok? What can we do? I'm scared."

The teacher wasn't teaching Quotidian Judaism. She was hired to teach the next chapter in the book.

Educators who are hired to teach Quotidian Judaism
are present for their students' souls: their questions, their worries and their joys.

Christianity, I've heard, calls it something like "A culture of accompaniment."
Teachers, we are here to accompany, to guide, to be present. How many times did we say Hineini in the seder?

We're working on creating the inviting space that says
come in and rip and dip your bread with friends and folks you don't know.

Each child, each adult is a meaning seeking being. We're all trying to make sense from our daily lives. Let the conversation begin.
Hot chocolate, cafe au lait?