Friday, May 20, 2011

High Heels, a rock star mic & a city winery

"This makes me want to be a Jewish educator," said Rebecca Saidlower, the marketing director at The Jewish Education Project after viewing the premiere screening of "The High Five."

Rebecca, along with over one hundred and thirty clergy, lay leaders, teachers and directors gathered at the City Winery ( in New York City on Wednesday for the Eyes on Success Film Festival.

Before going on stage to start the day, I got the instructions:
"Its a rock star microphone," explained the tech guy with a pony tail. "You have to hold it right up to your lips or else the sound doesn't pick up. When a rock star sings the mic doesn't pick up the instruments, just the guy singing."

Needless to say, it took me most of the morning to figure it out. He really meant put that mic up to your lips.

How cool is it to be a Jewish educator, wearing high heels and surrounded by wine barrels at 10 am in Soho. Yes cool, but what's awesome is to see the results of the hard work of Jewish education.

The thirty minute documentary, The High Five, is the story of congregations putting a hammer to the classroom only model. In place of rows of desks and black/smart boards as the predominant vehicle for Jewish engagement, Coalition of Innovating Congregations are creating education that is lived, engages the family, speaks to the individual, builds community and relationships and redefines the role of teacher.

Aylam Orian, our Israeli-American film maker, who is also an actor, knew just how to match word and image (* See Aylam's range: Will we see Aylam at the Academy Awards next year? Look for his tuxedo when they hand that shiny statue out for a documentary.

In "The High Five," I love the footage of the young teen, knitted cap low over his eyes, telling how he spent the year doing Mitzvah Corps at Temple Emanu-El of NYC. You see him with children in the shelter before he says:

"I realize how much I have. Not many people have what I have. I appreciate that. And when I'm talking to my friends, I want them to appreciate what they have too."

From South Huntington Jewish Center, a teen, with braces and a big smile says in the film, "As I've grown, I know that God is with me. When I'm having challenges at home or school or with friends, God is with me. You know like my conscience, He is helping me know what to do." The boy continues to speak more conviction about his relationship with God than many adults I've spoken with.

The impact is in living color. The voices of children that reveal deep connection are possible because these congregations have prioritized resources to reach their goals.

Temple Emanu-El is committed to young people mending the world and living Jewish values daily.

South Huntington also prioritized-just in a different direction. They asked: "If we only have limited hours, what shall we teach, immerse and reflect on?" The answer for them shows, "we accompany learners on a spiritual journey grounded in Judaism."

A song was written to celebrate the work they have done to put a hammer to the classroom only model of Jewish education. "I Am Planting" by Stereo Sinai. Listen to the song on the Coalition of Innovating Congregations blog Check out the gorgeous text study by Susan Ticker that goes with the song.

Congregations heard each other's stories, saw each other's movies and then asked:
What's unique about our model of Jewish education?

With that insight about how they are unique they learned from Sarah Durham, president and founder of Big Duck .

She is the author of Brandraising. A Self proclaimed communications non profit nerd, Sarah Durham taught how to communicate your uniqueness, your success. Tough marketplace, might as well communicate smartly about your innovations.

I'll close today with a quote from Isabelle, a precious 4th grader, at the Community Synagogue of Rye. She says in The High Five.
"It feels good. We learn not just about God, Moshe Shmote, we also learn about each other."