Monday, August 19, 2013

The Table was on Fire

Musical  IQ turned the room hot fast. Beat, down beat, beat faster. One hundred and fifty of us beat the drums. Maintenance staff warned us not to open the drapes because the summer sun would raise the thermometer. I couldn't resist. Natural light revealing the New York cityscape would help spark the imagination of educational leaders gathered to visualize Jewish education 2020. I pushed open all the drapery.

Passions rose quickly. We listened to one another's accomplishments and heard  glimpses of our future. Our rare and best moments were the wonderful harbingers of what could come.  Diversity and choice would have to be the norm. A clear and worthy value proposition would be at the center of the new economics. Congregations would be, as Rabbi Wise of Hollis Hills said, no longer everything to everyone but doing best what they did best.

Technology was, as you'd expect, a conversation.

But the table that may appear to be the least sexy, was the hottest.  I sat down and the first word I heard was "sensuality." The conversation was on fire.

Ariel Burger of Boston referred to Baal Teshuvahs who once craved the taste of a Friday night beer. And now what they crave taste of the challah on Shabbat. The group knew what Ariel meant. This rabbi and phd with a smile in his eyes was saying something that this group resonated with but struggled to find words to express it.

"Is it a rewiring", asked Ariel? Elizabeth Yari, an artist, didn't let convention hold back imagination, "Speaking without words. this is about.reaching the primordial. " Each at the table nodded,  adding an image to a kind of Jewish learning that speaks to the inner life.  Cut out the noise and listen.

 "Kishka work?" "Soul work?"  Tastes, colors, notes, textures. Questions, inquires and memories. Joy. Sadness. Each of us had a collection of these things in our own inner lives formed from a relationship with Judaism. We were just struggling to find a way to talk about it.

We also shared a worry.  We weren't talking about  apps or raps. Would futurists be horrified? Would we be ridiculed for not being in step?

 Ilene Wasserman, of ICW Consulting, hekshered us. "Businesses now teach mindfulness. Being Present." Cookie Markoff, a board member and educator moved us forward and Debbie Friedman of the Jewish Education Project in her bright tangerine jacket called out "Re-wire to Inspire."

"I'm afraid," I said, "I'm afraid I work in a system that doesn't think the inner lives of learners is the next hot topic. How will we stand up to say, "This is our future. Not just a gadget, but a kishka, a soul, a rewiring, an inner life...a...?"

Help. What do you think? Is this an image of the future? How do you talk about it? We had a spark of an idea.  What fuel can you add to the fire?