Monday, July 30, 2012

Calling for change--here is what it looks like.

The Coalition of Innovating Congregations of New York, over 50 congregations from across movements, does not ask why Jewish education has to transform in the wake of the changing natures of knowledge, commitment and learning. They don’t write essays on what education could look like if change were made. Today, that is the work of the blogosphere and folks who find comfort in ringing the worry bell.

Instead, pioneers in New York have, for almost a decade, done risk-everything-sweat-on-brow-imagination-full-force work that has resulted in transformation in real time. To those who are now joining the unanimous call for change, I invite you to be in conversation with the Coalition (

The work they have done does not come from a single push of a button. Truth be told, transformation is complicated and even at times serendipitous.  So, a blog post won’t capture the full story of how to do what's needed. But, here is a clear guide for all those who want to do the work.

Learning “about Judaism” is dead. Powerful Jewish engagement models created in New York have one thing in common: an end to learning about a holiday that’s coming, or an event on a calendar or a trip that will happen one day. And they put an end to activity, no matter how interesting that is for sometime in the future. None of the emerging models assumes that children singing, painting and acting their way through a Jewish content area relevant to some day in the future will deeply change a young person’s life.

 In place of the “learning about Judaism” model, these leader congregations are creating LIVING LOMED.

Living LOMED is like:
1.      Brushing your teeth. You do it every day. If you don’t do it, there are consequences like with your health and folks who don’t want to sit next to you. There are people in your life, who nudge you when you don’t do it. 

     Today's models enable young people to daily practice stuff that helps them be healthier human beings (mind, body and soul). That practice can be about how you breath, how you wake, or how you fight on the playground. Adult roles aren’t about “teaching about” but being there in a regularized way to encourage, to answer, and to model.

2.      Eating a meal. The Tisch Model has emerged in New York. Regularized meals with family and friends in your home, in the museum or in the shul have become the table set for Jewish life learning. In these new models friends and the generations literally and figuratively have hunger fed. Folks are hungry for food, ok that’s important. And young people have an equal hunger to explore the turmoil and openings of daily life. There is a real hunger not to sit at the table alone. Engagement in New York is like the modern day tisch feeding what young people are hungry for: Food, relationships, nurturance and figuring real stuff out.

3.      Playing in the orchestra. Everyone has a role to play. Sure there is practice, but it is in service of clear active regularized participation in something greater than self. An orchestra has a hierarchy…you have to do a lot to be the first violinist. There is a first violinist who is a role model and I want to strive to participate in that full way. I also add value in a way that people notice and care about. And, even if all I can do is turn the page, people still say, “I see you and I care about you.” I can be part of something really important that is appreciated by others. The emphasis is on the group experience that results because of my unique and complementary contribution.  Being part of the orchestra is good for me. It also matters to others.

4.      Doing a science experiment in a living laboratory. Today, there are not five easy steps for how to be a Jew or a whole human being. So in New York young people are taught how to be Madame Curies. You’ll just have to figure out how to live a meaningful life guided by Jewish tradition, no one can tell you how. So learn how to be an experimenter in your everyday life.
a.    State a compelling question
b.    Do the background research
c.     Create a hypothesis
d.    Test it it on the way
e.     Reflect and analyze
f.      Confirm or challenge your hypothesis
g.    Try to live it again

These are opportune times. Join those who altering the landscape of Jewish engagement. The good news is that the wheel is already being reinvented. Dr. Michelle Lynn Sachs says educators get stuck in the “grammar of schooling.” Too many have tried to fix curriculum or add clever activities. We've learned in New York, that just ‘aint enough.

Jewish engagement today has to be regularized and healthy enriching daily existence like brushing teeth; it has to feed your most basic needs, like at a meal; it has to enable you to experience purposefulness and connection, like playing in the orchestra; and must enable self construction, like a science experiment in a living lab.

 The Coalition of Innovating Congregations has more work to do in the next decade in order to fully realize what they have uncovered and begun to build. They have a great blueprint for the new landscape: the grammar is living, not learning about.