Thursday, December 5, 2013

Happy Anniversary Coalition-Diamond earrings would be nice

           In a Boston bar, in 2003, I met Dr. Rob Weinberg for the first time. I flew from Philadelphia to discuss the possibility of a new job in New York to replace iconic Hebrew School with new models. 

Cyd Weissman right, and Robert Weinberg

In the dim light of the bar, Rob proudly showed me the online resource the Experiment in Congregational Education (ECE) had created to showcase new ways of educating liberal Jews in congregations: Shabbat, Family, Retreat, Elective and Parent Led models. Their video documentation highlighted early new model experiments from around the country that would be the centerpiece of the NY project.  The job: Director of the Alternative Models of the Religious School Project. Fortunately I got the job and re-named the project: The RE-IMAGINE Project.

UJA-Federation of New York funded us, the ECE, to  replace the unloved child of the Jewish Community- Hebrew School with something that could matter to learners. The central agency in Manhattan cared little for congregational  education. An outside team was needed.  

We scrounged around the city and countryside to find five congregations that would take free consulting, materials and gatherings to re-imagine Hebrew School. The very first congregation we visited was The Reconstructionist Synagogue of the North Shore (RSNS). I led Rob and I in a meditation before we went in to give our shpiel to the lay and professionals. We had rehearsed. I was nervous. I needed breath.

So now in 2013, RSNS is one of 50 congregations who are working on creating new visions and new models. RSNS began with a Shabbat Family model, moved to an elective prayer model and now they are building a third model. These pioneering leaders are working with a local environmental group,  and artists  to build an integrated community model. 

Not all of their experiments lived. They tested out a Tribes model grouping families across ages and zip codes into havurote. Good idea but a zip code we learned is not a reason to celebrate Shabbat together. In ten years RSNS, like others in the Coalition of Innovating congregations, has visioned and re-visioned, has modeled and remodeld.

In the past decade the Central Agency who cared little for congregations became the The Jewish Education Project committed to congregations. I moved my seat of work from The ECE to the new agency missioned for innovation. 

The RE-IMAGINE Project ended. LOMED started.

LOMED said you can change models and we'll help you accompany that with professional development; powerful learning; assessment; sustainability; and networking.

We partnered with another NY initiative The Leadership Institute (LI) to coordinate strategy. LOMED CHADASH was born for alumni of LI to keep the innovation ball going. The Jewish Education Project kept its partnership with ECE and we learned how to make change quicker with Express Innovation.

Our continued efforts launched 17 alternatives to the unloved child. Congregational Learning is a bit more loved now..because
children in NY now learn in homes and in the city. Children are enriched by Intergenerational models and camp connect models. Teens happily participate in service learning and choose your own adventure models. Instead of ba ba ba children learn Hebrew online with tutors. And families are guided by concierge models. Congregations are poised to continue and expand!

Rob and I had struggled in the early days to uncover 5 congregations who cared to re-imagine. In the following years we grew to 20 and then 30 and now 50 in the Coalition. Look out next year..what's coming!

For now I have to say  "Happy 10th anniversary to the Coalition of Innovating Congregations." According to Hallmark the traditional gift for this anniversary is tin or aluminum. However, the modern gift for a 10th anniversary is DIAMOND JEWELRY. Hello...earrings would be nice. 

What a life from Boston Bar to diamond jewelry. It's been a good decade.