The Jewish Education Project and The Experiment in Congregational Education (ECE) began working together four years ago with the intention of transforming the landscape of Jewish education in Greater New York. Since then, it’s become clear to me that our work is not primarily about education. I recognize this is a stunning confession, so let me explain.
The majority of children and parents in liberal Jewish homes observe one Jewish ritual religiously: Hebrew School. For these families, the weekly trek to Hebrew School is their predominant Jewish experience. Educators in these schools try to make Torah, Avodah and Gemilut Chasadim subjects of interest to children and parents who are actually yearning for something very different.
Through our close relationships with congregations we’ve learned that few today are knocking on the door asking to learn one more Torah portion. Instead we hear a genuine desire in children and parents to make friends, manage daily life, experience joy, spend quality family time and get and give help when storm clouds rise. The need for bar/bat mitzvah remains part of these more quotidian quests as well.
So I've grown to see my work is not just about making better education. Rather my work is enabling congregations to re-shuffle the canon of Jewish ideas and experience so they speak to today’s Jews--through the doorway of education. As a result, children and parents now experiencing a more personal Judaism (e.g. in homes, including the Rabbi’s home, with personal coaches and multiple choices); a more relevant Judaism (e.g. focused on raising children or how to reach your dreams); a more joyful Judaism (e.g. camp and retreat experiences); a more relational Judaism (e.g. connecting children and teens and seniors); a more active Judaism (e.g. in soup kitchens, and building sukkot); a more family-focused Judaism (e.g. family trips in the city, home Shabbat, and book clubs); and a Judaism that allows more choice (customize your experiences; Skype Hebrew at your convenience).
Children and families throughout the Coalition of Innovating Congregations now regularly experience a Judaism that is accessible and meaningful.
Congregations in turn are learning how to extract from the vast canon of Jewish tradition compelling and relevant big ideas and experiences that powerfully engage today’s Jews. The “school” has been the lab for congregations to hear the need, experiment, and re-package the pillars of Jewish engagement.
What do you think needs to be reshuffled from the Canon?