Monday, March 16, 2015

Jewish Educators: Dust or Angels?

Hey Jewish Educator--who are you? Are you just below the angels --(if we just could get it right), single handedly growing the next generation of Jews?

 Or are you poorly-trained-trapped-in-a-box-folks who are as helpful in growing the next generation of Jews as the dust in your pocket?

The answer depends on who is standing on their soap box.
Beth Cousens piece in today's ejewishphilanthropy seemed to describe Jewish educators as both --a bit above the dust of Philip Roth's basement accomplishing little and right below the angels, single handedly able to make 7 years old know the depth and meaning of Judaism.

A few points to consider:

 1. There is no Jewish educational experience that can counter familial and societal norms. Let's humbly recognize that family values, practices and expectations not educators are the prime operating system for the Jewish development of 6-12 year olds. And when families check out and drop off, there is no Holy grail of education to counter the family.

2. Religion itself is having a challenging time in 2015 in USA--ala Pew and the rise of the nons. America at large is not having a religious field day. By overwhelming numbers Jews are proud to be Jews, but how much they know and do is far less. Again, what's the Jewish education that will counter prevailing societal norms?

3. Synagogues, Federations and a great deal of the existing Jewish organizational landscape is still standing for Torah, avodah and gemiliut chasadim while parents are simply asking: how do I raise a whole child in a very broken world?

Jewish education is one piece of a larger system that grows a child.  The more complicated truth is about the challenge of  families, societal norms and reshaping religious ideas to speak to people's real lives--not just Jewish education gone wrong . It is not as sexy as pointing the finger at the whipping boy of Jewish life--Hebrew school.

When we are at our best, Jewish educators connect the questions Jews have when they wake in the morning and when they go to bed at night with the wisdom, the rhythm and the comradeship of Jewish life. When we are at a our best, we make accessible each person's birthright so children and adults can discover their unique path and responsibility to making our challenging world a little better.

Next month, I'll have the results of interviews with 100 parents with children who attend the bolder newer models of Jewish education emerging across the country. From these interviews we hear parents who talk Torah with their children, change hectic schedules to make sure Shabbat is met, and act out Jewish teaching in their lives. I'm glad to add this new body of research to the narrative.

As we go forward, let's not pretend that Jewish education can make ALL the difference nor does it make No difference. Let's instead think about the more complicated landscape that impacts a child's life and how Jewish education can effectively be part and partner in that landscape.

Jewish educators are neither dust nor angels. At our best, we are...well what would you say from your soap box?