The Business of Making Memories

I have more than my share of educational degrees and consider myself a lifelong learner.

I have not the slightest idea what I learned in Third Grade.

That is not a slight at my Third Grade Teacher, whoever she may have been.  I am quite confident I had an excellent Third Grade Teacher and learned all that I should have in Third Grade.  But I have no recollections of the experience.

In Jewish Education, we speak often of the necessity for “creating Jewish memories” – that layering memorable Jewish experiences one on top of the other leads to deeper identification, higher affiliation, and greater participation in ritual and practice.  The science of how that happens, of course, is somewhat inexact.  No one knows the exact combination of experiences required for the desired outcome – probably because it is entirely idiosyncratic.  For me, it was some combination of summer camp, strong peer identification, supportive parents, Israel experiences, positive supplemental school experience, etc. that has guided me down my Jewish journey.  [I strongly (hopefully not preachily!) suggested in my last blogpost that the holiday of Sukkot represented one such powerful opportunity for creating lasting Jewish memories and have been pleased to see many students and their families enjoying the holiday.]

But the roller coaster of Jewish holidays reaches climax this weekend as we move from Sukkot to Simchat Torah, after which we’ll come back down to earth and the reality of full weeks of teaching and learning.  And with that will come the weighty expectations of moving each child along his or her own unique path of potential – there is serious work ahead…

This school does not belong to me.  It belongs to us all and requires a shared vision to successfully accomplish all its hopes and dreams.  Putting some of these themes together along with my ongoing desire to juice the level of interactivity, leads me to ask a series of semi-connected questions to which I encourage you to respond in whatever manner suits you best.  If you are ready to dip your toe into the blogosphere and respond right here, please do.  If that seems too public for you, please feel free and email me at jon.mitzmacher@mjgds.org.  And if even that seems intimidating and you are part of our local community, feel free and actually talk to me!  (I still do believe in face-to-face interaction!)  I will report back on your collective wisdom and how it can and should shape the direction our school takes moving forward.

What are the educational memories (good, bad or otherwise) that contributed to make you the kind of learner you turned out to be?

What are the Jewish memories (good, bad or otherwise) that have shaped your Jewish journey thus far?

What memories do you wish for your children?

How can (our) school help contribute to making the memories you wish for your children?

I look forward to hearing your voice…

Author: Jon Mitzmacher

Dr. Jon Mitzmacher is the Head of the Ottawa Jewish Community School. He was most recently the VP of Innovation for Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools.  He is the former Executive Director of the Schechter Day School Network.  He is also the former head of the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School, a K-8 Solomon Schechter, located in Jacksonville, FL, and part of the Jacksonville Jewish Center.  He was the founding head of the Solomon Schechter Day School of Las Vegas.  Jon has worked in all aspects of Jewish Education from camping to congregations and everything in between.

3 thoughts on “The Business of Making Memories”

  1. I have to admit that I do not have specific memories about my education that have affected my learning style. I have always been a visual and experiential learner. What I have realized as I have matured, is that I wish I would have read more of everything. I am sure I was encouraged to read what was necessary for school, but I am not so sure I was encouraged to read beyond what was required. I am always impressed with people who can refer to books they have read and share how that book has enriched their life. Reading is one of the best ways to experience something beyond our everyday. Some of the most intelligent and well rounded people I know are avid readers. I want to be an avid reader.

    A vivid Jewish memory that has shaped my life happened while celebrating Passover with my husband’s family a few months after we were married. We started the Seder and my new grandfather-in-law sang the holiday kiddush which I had neither heard or sang since I was in Hebrew School. At that moment, I thought to myself, “I did not realize people actually sang this kiddush on Passover. I thought we only learned it and sang it in Hebrew School.” I did attend Passover Seders prior to getting married, but I do not remember singing that holiday Kiddush anywhere else but Hebrew School. It was at that moment that I realized I had learned about the Jewish Holidays and customs, but I had not taken that knowledge to the next level of application. Now, I try to learn and apply what I learn (mostly from my kids) for as many Jewish holidays as I can.

    Of course I only want my children to have happy memories. I would love for these memories to include fun times with family and friends. I want them to remember their most exciting “firsts” which I am sure will be different for each of my kids. I want them to be grounded and know exactly who they are and where they came from.

    Our school can help contribute to my kids memory making by providing opportunities for them to experience the excitement and joy of understanding something for the first time; Challenging them to figure out the hard math problem; teaching them to give of themselves to others and live a life guided by Judaism; encouraging them to look outside of the box.

    Thank you so much for asking all of these questions.

    1. Wow, Mauri, that is so beautifully expressed and touching – thanks for sharing and for being brave and open enough to put it out there! Your message brought tears to my eyes as many of the points you touch upon resonate for me as a parent and Jewish journey’er’. Wishing you and your family a great week ahead – Shavua Tov!

  2. Having my parents with us this weekend reminded me how fortunate I was to have life-long learners as my first role models and primary teachers. Both of my parents had challenging experiences as children; my Mom lost her mother when she was 7; my Dad’s parents, immigrants from Polans, were too busy trying to create a new life in Galveston, Texas to have much time for him or his sister.

    It was very important for my parents to create a loving, nurturing, enriching environment for my younger brother and me. I remember vividly weekly trips to the library, family dinners every night in spite of their busy work schedules, VERY long car trips touring many of the 50 States so we could experience first hand the wonders of our great country.

    Their goal as parents was not only to encourage a love of learning, but also to impress upon us the importance of being a good person, ‘a mensch’; how I remember the lectures and groundings I would receive when caught ‘being glib’ – OY!

    While my parents were not educated Jewishly, they were committed Reform Jews who emphasized the values and value of our religious tradition. Their decision to send us to religious school , Jewish camps and on an Israel teen tour in spite of our resistance is one of the main reasons my brother and I are both raising Jewish children who attend Jewish Day Schools.

    There’s a fascinating book ‘Stars of David: Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish’ by Abigail Pogrebin. After reading about Sarah Jessica Parker, I saw the next chapter was with Leon Wieseltier , editor of The New Republic and a brilliant author, someone I knew very little about. In the interview, Wieseltier provocatively states, “I think the great historical failing of American Jewry is not its rate of intermarriage but its rate of illiteracy.” He continues, “Judaism is the instrument that opens up the world for me…this tradition gives me the words and the instruments to break into the universal questions.’

    While there is so much more to what he says, his message encapsulates how I feel about Judaism and my own ongoing Jewish journey. It also describes what Steven and I hope our children receive from a Jewish Day School environment. We want them to know their inheritance, to feel pride in being Jewish through their connection with the Hebrew language, sacred texts, meaningful celebration of holidays and of course through their relationships with Jewish teachers and students.

    Thank you for encouraging us to ponder these important questions, Jon. Shavua Tov!

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