The Coalition of Innovating Congregations
Transforming Jewish Education
Jewish Learning that Lives
More than 50 congregations with close to 3,600 children, and a thousand teachers, are replacing the traditional “Hebrew School” model with Jewish Learning that Lives. Instead of classroom-based activity as the core of a child’s experience, new models immerse children in Jewish community and real lived experience. Today, New York leads the nation in creating diverse models that engage young people and their families. The variation in emerging models speaks to a world where no one solution works for everyone.
New York’s pioneering congregations are connected through a robust network known as the "Coalition of Innovating Congregations" that is supported by The Jewish Education Project and funded by UJA Federation of New York, in collaboration with the Experiment in Congregational Education and the Leadership Institute of HUC and JTS. As a result, an inviting landscape of congregational Jewish education has emerged in New York. The Coalition Congregations receives coaching from a skilled organizational and educational consultant, learning in the network about cutting edge big ideas (innovators need innovators), and a stipend to support innovation. By 2014 all Coalition Congregations will enroll the majority of their children in models of Jewish Learning that Lives.
Coalition Congregations participate in LOMED or Express Innovation (EI)
LOMED has over 35 congregations in all regions of Greater New York with leadership teams that include clergy, directors of education, master teachers, teens and lay leaders who create and expand bold new models. These congregations have been engaged in creating new models of Jewish education for anywhere from 3-8 years. Below you will find highlighted stories of what looks significantly different from traditional Hebrew School of yesterday. To hear the impact these models have on leaners and teachers listen to our movie collection on innovatingcongregations.org.
LOMED congregations jumped into uncharted waters, taking risks and conducting experiments, before the call for full scale educational change was normative. Their continued efforts, testing and learning show the nation how to turn good ideas into reality. LOMED congregations are providing the proof text for educational innovation that matters.
Two noteworthy initiatives within LOMED: Camp Connect and Coalition Educators
1. Camp Connect (funded by the Foundation for Jewish Camp) in partnership with The Jewish Education Project
Three LOMED congregations are creating camp like/camp linked models of Jewish engagement. These models are designed explicitly to increase the number of children who attend Jewish overnight camp. They are also designed to have the year long experience be more like some of the most powerful elements of summer camp.
We’ve recently completed a survey with families at these congregations that reveal the trends of how and why families make choices about Jewish camp. (Temple Beth Sholom of Roslyn, Shaaray Tefilah/Manhattan and Westchester Reform Temple).
2. Coalition Educators:
Coalition Educators (CE) are dynamic Jewish educators equipped with graduate degrees, experienced in multiple educational settings and driven by a tenacious desire to make change. As a result these three CEs act as as power stations for innovation in congregations in nine congregations. Each CE works within three congregations and links to all nine. Three superb educators, Tara Seigel, Hilary Schumer and Shana Zionts act to magnify innovation within a congregation and connect innovations across congregations. When a good idea starts in one place, the Coalition Educator then seeds it in another congregation. The “coalition” effect keeps innovators from working in isolation and enables more expansive change.
Keeping in mind that transformation takes imagination, persistence, and labor, it is necessary for congregations to re configure the “staffing pyramid” of who is responsible to get the work done. Traditionally the work of innovation fell exclusively on the shoulders of the Directors of Education. Now nine congregations are energized with the talent, and time of the Coalition Educators. Each Coalition Educator has a powerful story to tell about how they have facilitated change and seeded ideas from one place to another.
Express Innovation with more than a dozen congregations began in 2011 to quickly enable congregations to implement new models of Jewish education. Based on models created by LOMED and other pioneer congregations they have been able to move to quick action and adapt models already created. These congregations, in all regions and movements of New York, have accessed the hopes and dreams of parents, implemented a new model and used four boosters to accelerate change: 1) Social networks; 2) Compelling communications; 3) Data, that includes interviews and surveys to mark impact; and 4) Reflection on their efforts to propel more change. With virtually no process, these congregations have gotten results on the ground quickly and now are expanding.
Below, is a sample (10) of the wide range of Living Jewish Learning Models emerging in New York.
LOMED: Models Replace “Hebrew School” with
Jewish Learning that Lives
1. Emanu-El of the City of New York
Saul Kaiserman, Director and Shana Zionts, Coalition Educator
The Jewish Education Consultant, Jo Kay
Model One: Mitzvah Corps (Lived Experience is Paramount)
Teens and pre teens /young teens regularly experience social justice. Learning is focused on the lived experience of Tikkun Olam. Each experience is grounded in Jewish text on how and why to perform the mitzvah (e.g. in a soup kitchen, animal shelter). After the lived experience focused time is given for student to reflect in order to make meaning, articulate values and build relationships with peers. A cycle of learning, doing, and reflecting for meaning is the core of the model.
Model Two: “Tribes” model (Caring and Purposeful Relationships are Paramount)
Children across ages are gathered according to interest in “affinity groups.” A parallel one could imagine is like the Princeton Eating Clubs. Each affinity group is led by a teen who help the children set rituals of welcoming, celebrating and honoring the highs and lows in their lives. Social cohesion, and shared interests, defines the connections. In this model teachers act as coaches enabling young people to create the connections that are experienced as caring and purposeful.
Emanu-El is also participating in the Jewish Journey’s Project.
2. Ansche Chesed
Rabbi Marci Jacobs Aronchick and Shana Zionts, Coalition Educator
The Jewish Education Consultant, Rabbi Dena Klein
Tutoring and Community (Attending to the individual and connecting to community is paramount)
This model, launching this year, enables busy families to both have customized learning for their child and be connected to the larger communal experience. This model responds to the express needs of families that include skill building for their children through “tutoring” learning, raising their children in a community of lived Judaism and having opportunities for their own adult learning.
Parents participate in parlor meetings to explore their goals for their children. Child and parental quests act as the guideposts for the family’s individualized learning plan. A combination of home based celebration, private tutoring, Shabbat communal celebration and learning, family albums and online communications make up a year long experience.
3. B’nai Jeshurun
Contact Ivy Schreiber, Hilary Schumer (Coalition Educator)
The Jewish Education Project Consultant: Rabbi Jeni Friedman
Mitzvah Map (Concierge and Community is Paramount)
Families begin B’nai Mitzvah journey at end of 4th grade when each child/family receives their Torah portion. In 5th grade, families begin work with their individual Mitzvah Coach exploring greater understanding of mitzvot they are already performing and trying on new mitzvot that families themselves select over the course of the year. Mitzvah Journey Families will work with their own Mitzvah Coaches, with other MJ families who choose similar mitzvot, in cohorts, and join together for larger MJ communal events over the year.
Additionally, they are launching Jewish Journey Project and have developed a Shabbat and Retreat model.
4. Community Synagogue of Rye
Laurie Landes, Director, Rabbi Daniel Gropper and Shana Zionts, Coalition Educator
The Jewish Education Project Consultant, Susan Ticker
Havurah Model: (Relationships and Community are Paramount)
Clustering children in groups of ten and enabling them to meet in each other’s homes each week, enables the congregation to best meets its priority goal to “Enable young people to apply Torah to daily life.”
Children meet once a week in their havurah (approximately 10 children) in a home or in a setting that acts as a lived context for learning (e.g a mall, a yoga studio). Additionally, families celebrate holiday/Shabbat once a month together in the Temple or in homes. Children receive weekly skype Hebrew. Also, once a month are able to participate in communal learning or celebration at the Temple (e.g. Shabbat morning family learning).
Social activities like movie night are included as part of the experience for young people.
Children’s learning begins by “uncovering the questions of the learners.” Children are asked questions like: “What is something important to you that you hope to accomplish in the next three months?” or “If you can make a difference to someone what would that be?”
Units of learning grow from the questions of the learners and are framed by real living experiences both in the home and in everyday living sites (e.g. Starbucks, yoga center, parks, other houses of worship). This model enables a close link between the Jewish learning and daily living.
This congregation also has a Shabbat family model where parents joined children throughout the year on Shabbat for learning and social justice.
5. Temple Beth Sholom of Roslyn
Gila Hadani Ward, Director of Life-long Learning; Sharon Solomon, Director
The Jewish Education Consultant, Suri Jacknis
Model One: Shabbat Family Study (Jewish communal Experience/the Rhythm of Jewish Time, links to Jewish camp and relationships are paramount)
Regularly families come together to study and to participate actively in a Mishpacha (Family) service. Learning is as interactive for children and adults. There are opportunities both for family conversations as well as conversations among adults. Children and adults seek connection between the Torah learning and daily life. Relevance to real life is a priority. Families also meet once a month to put Torah into action through involvement in various aspects of tikkun olam projects.
Model Two: Morei Derech
Lay mentors (who have had their own study and training) work with a cohort of “Dorshei Derech,” who are people early on in their life/Jewish Jewish journeys. Together, they study, celebrate Shabbat and holidays. The Morei Derech mentors talk to the Dorshei Derech participants about how to make Jewish choices and how to infuse Jewish experiences into family life. This program has been a wonderful way to connect adult learners both to other families with children of a similar age as well as families who are older.
Model Three: Camp Kehila
TBS, a Camp Connect Congregation, will build up a strong camp community through shared experiences at TBS as well as through deepening partnerships with 9 camps. Members of TBS staff are acting as concierges, helping families make connections to camps that will best meet their needs and enhance their Jewish journeys as well as their other interests.
Yedidim –is a new model that builds on the notion that everyone can be a mentor and needs a mentor. To foster children going to overnight Jewish camp, social connections are foundational. Also, this new model builds on the success of the Morei Derech model. This model will enable every learner to be engaged in an intergenerational relationship through shared experiences and conversations. Through book buddies, outside excursions, acts of kindness all children will experience being a mentor and mentee. The Vav class, for example, will experience a class on hadracha (leadership) techniques so that they can become more involved in the planning and execution of Yedidim. Vav students will also become camp counselors that can work in the summer and also year- round as madrichim at TBS.
Other aspects of Camp Kehila include Camp Adventure, Chugim, Shared Home-based, camp-like experiences known as Homish-Hamish-Campish, Camp-Inspired music and tefilla, and a High School course for Counselors.
6. The Village Temple, NYC
Alex Tansky, Director of Education
The Jewish Education Project Consultant, Rabbi Mike Mellen
Chiburim: (Families, teens and Camp experience are paramount)
This congregation has two models. One model engages families in Shabbat learning and celebration at the synagogue and in homes.
The second enables pre-teens and teens to learn in order to teach. Older children learn how to be counselors and role models to younger children. They will enact this role weekly and during vacation in December, February and April in a “day camp” format.
7. Woodlands Community Temple, Harriet Levine and Rabbi Mara Young are contacts
The Jewish Education Project Consultant, Susan Ticker
Sparks: (Families celebrating and living Judaism together is paramount)
This Retreat/Shabbat Family and Intergenerational Model aligned to their goal of children experiencing social justice and developing a moral compass.
In year one they tested the model with one grade, in year two they are expanded to include three grades of children, this year reaching over 100 children. Data they compared from their fall to spring survey spurred on the quick expansion of their new model.
All lived experiences with families have pre and post learning. This enables adults and children to learn, prepare, experience and then reflect. This is based on KOLB cycle of experiential learning, speaking to the necessity of preparation, concrete experience and reflection.
The lived celebration of the holiday cycle anchors the model. And ensures there is pre/post learning and social justice. There is a direct connection between the work the children do in a classroom and the lived communal experience. Parents are also provided home pre activities that include questions, texts and ways of celebrating at home.
This model honors choice of learners, multiple ways of learning are offered: e.g. the arts, music, drama, etc. Learning happens at the shul, at home, at he Senior Living facility, retreat centers, sukkot. Torah is at the core of all learning.
8. Park Slope Jewish Center, Rabbi Carie Carter and Elisabeth Albert are contacts
The Jewish Education Project Consultant, Abby Pitkowsky
Model: Shaaarei Mitzah (Community and Action are Paramount)
Shabbat / Social Justice / Family Model
Their learning is aligned to their goal of engaging in lifelong learning that fosters a Jewish community with the family, congregation and broader Jewish community.
In year one, they tested this with 26 seventh grade B’nai Mitzvah families. While there had long been some family engagement with B’nai Mitzvah families at PSJC, it was felt less than sufficient to meet the needs of their families and congregational goals. They realized that students were essentially learning about Jewish life and they have made a significant change to experience Jewish life. Express Innovation gave Park Slope Jewish Center an opportunity to bring families together and to use that time to get to know one another and explore issues of real concern. In year two they plan to expand to include the incoming sixth grade, the 26 alumni of the seventh grade / present eighth grade and the incoming seventh grade, a total of 72 families. The data captured in their fall and spring surveys was a strong factor to expand so significantly. The model will integrate Shabbat, Social Justice and Family Learning.
All lived experiences have pre and post learning to further opportunities for sharing and reflection as individuals and families. A virtual platform is being developed to help families remain connected with one another outside of Shaarei Mitzvah experiences.
Park Slope Jewish Center’s goal to build solid relationships and a stronger sense of community is the driving force to engage families in lived experiences of Shabbat and Social Justice. Students and their families will be engaged in learning experiences on Shabbat at the congregation and in homes and on Social Justice Sundays throughout New York City.
9. Temple Beth Shalom Mahopac, Rabbi Eytan Hammerman and Carol Zager are contacts
The Jewish Education Project Consultant, Susan Ticker
Shabbat / Family Model (Community, Jewish Time and Family are Paramount)
This model builds Jewish community by deepening family’s connections to Shabbat and to each other.
They have made a sea change in their approach from learning about Shabbat and holiday celebrations on Sundays and weekdays to anchoring the learning to Shabbat and holidays. Family learning experiences will take place monthly on Shabbat morning as well as several Friday evenings, Shabbat afternoons, and holidays, totaling more than 25 over the course of this year in real Jewish time.
Teachers will facilitate pre and post learning in classrooms to help children connect with Shabbat and each other in a deeper way following each experience.
10. Beth Shalom – Oceanside Jewish Center, Rabbi Mark Greenspan and Rabbi Aviva Fellman are contacts.
The Jewish Education Project Consultant, Ellen Rank
Model: The Beit Midrash: (Parents and children as teachers and Learners and Torah are Paraomount)
This model is based built on their primary goal to create a community of learners who will embark on a journey of Jewish education and growth.
Parents of children in multiple graders will meet monthly to learn with their children in a Beit Midrash setting (grades 4, 5, 6 and 7). Its design will help shift focus to teach parents and the community the meaning of chevruta, text study. Parents will have opportunity to study text among adults and will then be joined by their children. Light suppers will follow providing additional opportunities for connection and relationship building.
Each session will have different thematic focus and will be connected seasonally to the calendar and to the larger Hebrew school curriculum. There will be a variety of pieces for focus – text, discussion questions and car conversation pieces. Families will engage with the text in ways that have personal and applicable meaning.