April 18, 2024
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The Keys to Jewish Education Success and Living a Values-Oriented Life

In distance learning “we have been given a remarkable transformative educational tool that will long outlast the pandemic… (and one) that we need to exploit,” noted Dr. Jonathan Sarna of Brandeis University. Distance learning supplemented by face-to-face learning can prevent a “generation of children who are Jewishly illiterate” and don’t know their own language, texts or civilization, with deep consequences for years to come, he noted at a recent summit on Jewish education held as the opening session of the annual NewCAJE Conference.

With Sunday school and Hebrew school classes cancelled in some communities, some students are missing at least three to four months, or 10%, of their Jewish education. When you add in the cancellation of Jewish summer camps, Birthright and teen trips to Israel, along with the reduction in size of bar/bat mitzvah celebrations, you see the magnitude of the educational crisis, he pointed out, adding that “we know when you miss some Jewish education, you don’t usually make it up.”

“We have moved from ‘a chosen people’ to ‘a choosing people,’” Dr. Jonathan Mirvis of Hebrew University told those attending this year’s virtual conference. “We need to create high-impact programming” using Birthright as a paradigm, he said, adding that “this would transform the world of Jewish education” through multiple impactful experiences each year.

“There is a growing consensus that Jewish education needs to be more than accumulation of facts and figures,” Dr. Jeffrey S. Kress of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City told those attending the summit. It needs to be about “living a good, values-oriented life, and it should help us enrich our own life while also helping to build kehillah (community).”

“Now is the time to ‘exploit the openness of parents to change,’” according to Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman of Congregation Shaarei Shamayim in Madison, Wisconsin. Sympathetic to the individual needs of each set of parents and students and also fearful that they might choose to take the coming year off in terms of Jewish education, Zimmerman has developed a flexible education program that can be customized for each family. The congregation has developed a values-based educational program that will support students in developing a strong Jewish identity and connection to the community; instill in them the Jewish values of compassion, equity for all people, intellectual curiosity and ethical deliberation; and involve them with Jewish teachings that will help them grapple with the most engaging problems of our time.

“Jewish educators have had to learn new skills to be able to operate in a virtual reality. They are essential workers, working overtime to provide their students from preschool through adults a quality experience,” said Rabbi Cherie Koller-Fox, NewCAJE president.

While sessions on ed tech and social justice are of great interest at the conference, there also are professional-development sessions that offer training in subjects such as teaching Hebrew, Israel or history; curriculum development; and teaching methodology. There are traditional one-off sessions that provide a focus on a particular subject, as well as deep-dive workshops that take place over a few weeks, focused on the same topic. These deep-dive courses will follow an arc and include the same participants and speaker(s) each week. In addition, NewCAJE is offering four certificate courses: Director Certificate, Early Childhood Educator Certificate, JEd-Tech Teaching Online Certificate and Teacher Certificate. And NewCAJE is training 12 new storytellers to revitalize that art form.

From now through August 2, about 950 are choosing from more than 400 unique events, including individual learning sessions, deep-dive longer-term courses, social gatherings, cohort networking, spiritual events and entertainment. This trans-denominational conference offers the chance to share best practices and learn from peers.

NewCAJE is a non-profit, trans-denominational organization advocating for Jewish education and Jewish educators in all job descriptions in the field. For more information about the conference, please go to www.newcaje.org/summer-of-newcaje.

By Judi Resnick

 

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