Friday, September 2, 2011

Architectural Digest: the Jewish Education issue

The camera scans the room:
Sloppy rows of desks, a dusty blackboard, posters curling off of a nauseous green wall, books and art supplies huddled in the corner. A Hebrew word here and a Jewish symbol there.

This is a scene from our new documentary "the High Five."

I took the footage with my flip video looking for, as our Israeli film maker instructed, B Roll. And there it was,in 2011. The scene could have been my Har Zion Hebrew School class from 1968. The only thing missing was Mrs. Glassman with her beehive french twist and cat-eyed shaped glasses.

The scene in the movie should be thought of as nowhere in particular with no distinguishing marks. Huh, you naive film maker.

This morning I got an email from the Director of Education from that particular congregation (woops). The director wrote:

"I was thinking about the video and how you suggested the the word education conjures up images of classrooms and schools (my favorite part of the video is the photo of my school's classroom that appears as you describe traditional/ineffective Jewish education :-) -- my words, not yours, I know. it made me laugh and wonder and I had a moment of sadness.....

....anyway, I was wondering..... if you could design and physical space for a synagogue's jewish education program on the footprint of our property....what would the building look like?"

Thank you to this educator for not chopping my head off. And I'm sorry I caused her/him sadness. And true kudos to him/her for beginning to imagine the Architectural Digest of space and place for powerful Jewish learning.

I'm ready to be Sister Parish (she totaly changed the look of the White House for Jackie O)of Jewish Education.

My first suggestion, forget the footprint of the property.
Where are there other existing spaces that reflect your values and support your goals?

Walk over here with me to the childrens' homes. A few years ago CBST in Manhattan held learning for children in congregant's homes. In their case, children came from many neighborhoods. So they cut out carpool and held learning in the home. Challenges yes, but look at the possibilities, dear, please. What's the kitchen ready to teach? What's the dinning room set up for learning? And the bedroom, need I go on? Fabulous right!

If you don't like that, let's walk over here to Macy's, to the Starbucks, the museum and the garden. Now you want to talk to me about setting that promotes learning. And I don't mean to use these spaces as field trips. Regularly, this is what we do, we learn on mountain tops and open fields. Now we are talking location location location.

Just think if someone said to you the building is closed and the world is open. The curriculum is the daily questions of life in the spaces where children and families live now.

Should we teach about yirah/awe in a classroom with a book or weekly go out into the field and experience it? You choose.

And if you are a little less avant garde, a bit more early American, what would you do with that horrible puke green wall with posters that insist on creeping down to the floor? Paint anyone? Art anyone? cushions instead of desks?
I loved when my students raced to class to be the first to sit on the video rockers I bought at Boscovs. Close to the floor and close to each other in a circle, we munched bagels and intertwined their lives and Torah into a gorgeous long lasting tweed. That was 75 dollars a chair well spent.

The educator who sent the email this morning posed a question that can release imagination. Have the conversation: what setting says welcome? What space says Judaism is the fabric of your life? This space is yours to make your own.

Give your students and parents (even if their name is not Harold purple crayon and create the next issue of Architectural Digest: the Jewish Education Issue Fall/2011

(free copies of the High Five are available, email me at