As I end the chapter of my career entitled: Training to RE-IMAGINE a few reflections to guide the next chapter of my career: Education Under RE-Construction.
After 12 years. what's different?
The desire for change is normative (the pace of it is still slow): When I first came to NYC we struggled to find 5 congregations who would re-imagine their religious school model. One rabbi literally yelled at us when we broached the subject. I left that Long Island synagogue feeling like I had been mugged. Today the idea that change is needed is de rigueur.
The edges of our imagination have expanded: Jewish learning and classroom are no longer synonymous. The mall, the museum, the open field, the soup kitchen, and the home are now common places for Jewish learning experiences. With the flip of the classroom, online and face-to-face mingle. Connecting Jewish learning to camp, to trips, and to communal problems that need to be solved happens regularly. Teens, parents, and elders are learners and teachers along side of children.
Jewish identity is no longer the named outcome. Identity has been replaced by identities. Trying to achieve a long term fragmented fluid outcome has been replaced with a notion of Whole Person Outcomes. Whole person outcomes are immediate, and measurable. Our work is to stir the unique alchemy of how to live as a Jew/as a human today. Growth is measurable. We can reach for and name growth in Knowledge; Doing (lived action); Believing/Valuing (my reflections on); Belonging. Seeing the growth of a whole person, not just their Jewish selves changes everything.
It's not just the school. Funding in New York set the mandate that we were to change the religious school. What do we know ---the school does not have enough horsepower to change itself or to change people. The school needs the congregation. The best impact comes when Joshua gives the commands for the trumpets to blare and the walls come down between and school. A few places have dabbled and more are needed for the trumpets to bring down the walls between the congregation the camp, the JCC, and the artists and more.
What is the same
Jewish Education still needs re-imagining. We're not there yet. Twelve years of sustained effort to alter the religious school has achieved new inventive models. Yet, there is another 12 years needed. And that is two generations of children who need us to work faster and smarter. Too few congregations have made new models their primary engine for engaging children and families.
The levers in a child's life that matter most: I came to NY believing that impacting family and community were the necessary levers for impacting a child's Jewish life. Children's early life is molded by the practices and values of the family. Parents need a circle of influencing friends to explore/grow their own Jewish rhythms. And yet, too many synagogues think their job is to educate the child. We still haven't kicked that paradigm to the curb. Our latest study affirmed that models with the greatest impact were designed with family and/or community at the center. This is a duh, what's stopping folks?
We still believe: I believe that Judaism makes life better. I believe each has person has a responsibility to past, present and future and Judaism is a Jew's birthright to that time travel. I believe it is within our reach to open the time tunnel to more young Jews.