Purim is the Prescription for Pediatric Judaism

Gratuitous Throwback Purim Photo
Gratuitous Throwback Purim Photo

When we think about Purim as parents, we probably think most about this: “What shall I dress my children as this year for Purim?”

But in a hopefully growing number of families, including ours, the question isn’t what are we going to dress our children as for Purim.  In our family, we ask ourselves what are we going to dress as for Purim?

I would wager a bet that no more than 10-15% of families attending Purim services and/or carnivals this year will come in costume.  Why?

The phenomenon is often referred to as “pedicatric Judaism” and I find that Purim is its paradigmatic Jewish holiday.  I Googled “pediatric Judaism” to see who should get credit for its coinage and the best I could come up with was the following from a Reform Judaism Magazine article:

Why, then, the emphasis on what Rabbi Larry Hoffman, professor at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, calls “pediatric Judaism”? “We have planned for our children only,” he wrote in 1996. “In our understandable anxiety to pass on Judaism as their heritage, we have neglected its spiritual resources for adults, leaving ourselves with no adequate notion of how we too might draw sustenance from our faith as we grow up and grow older.”

That sounds about right.

Far too often, even those who are the most engaged – the ones who do affiliate with synagogues and do try to provide their children with Jewish educational experiences – they work to ensure their children experience and participate, but neglect to include themselves.

When as a graduate student in Los Angeles, I first attended a synagogue in which adults participated in Jewish holiday celebrations as adults – active, joyous and engaged – it was almost surreal.  This was not a Judaism for children – costume contests, parades, pony rides and candy (although that may all have been there as well) – but a Judaism that adults took seriously for themselves.  They were not lining the walls watching the children within; they were celebrating the joy of being Jewish for themselves.

What’s the danger of “pediatric Judaism”?  For me it is the perpetuation of the idea that being Jewish, or perhaps more accurately doing Jewish, is something that is only for children.  We are our children’s most powerful role models and teachers and they are surely paying attention.  When they can see that we take something seriously, it is a signal to them that they ought to as well.  Children learn how to be an adult by watching our adult behaviors.  We understand this as parents and so we think carefully about how we behave in front of our children, what kind of language we use, and what kind of values we express and try to live by.  So, too, it is with being a Jewish adult.  Our children are looking to us to see what adult Jews do and it presents us with a big opportunity and a huge responsibility.

I don’t wish to pile on parents.  Jewish schools and institutions play a part as well.  If Rabbi Hoffman is correct that adult Jews do not see in Judaism a resource to find their spiritual needs met, we have to be willing to ask the difficult question of why?  What programs, classes, experiences, outreach, etc., have we not successfully offered or facilitated that have led to this situation?

We will all need to do more if we are ever to cure ourselves of pediatric Judaism.  In our schools and our synagogues, we need to reach out to parents and provide them with the support, education, experiences and love they will need to find the courage to try on new ideas and behaviors.  We will need to present a Judaism worthy of the education and sophistication of our parents.  Luckily, Judaism contains within it all that and more.

So this year…what are you going to be for Purim?  Don’t let your children have all the fun…and don’t let them think that the fun of Purim is only for them!

Shining the “Schechter Spotlight” – Volume 1

Slide1As I blogged about last week, part of the joy of running the Schechter Network is the opportunity to visit so many of our schools and see firsthand the excellence, the innovation and the impact of the work of our talented leaders and dedicated teachers.  We, as a network, have strived in our rebirth to be more cognizant of that excellence and to be more strategic in how we leverage it between our schools.  We have focused less energy, however, on trying to use our bully pulpit to shine a brighter light on our schools for the greater good of advocacy and support.  We want to try to do better…

…each of our schools was asked to share in their own words examples of programs and initiatives of what they think makes their school unique, special, excellent, and innovative. We promised to batch and share out as they come in.

We have been pleased with the responses so far and look forward to more volumes of the “Schechter Spotlight” after today’s.  Without further adieu – and in no particular order – it is our pleasure to introduce you to three of our amazing Schechter schools…

logoName of SchoolCommunity Day School (Pittsburgh, PA)

Description of SchoolCommunity Day School is a nurturing, academically excellent Jewish day school for the 21st century. From Early Childhood through Middle School, we inspire our students to love learning through innovative teaching methods and hands-on discovery. CDS is a welcoming community where Pittsburgh families who span the spectrum of Jewish belief and practice can learn and connect along with their children. As our students grow in knowledge from preschool through 8th Grade, they grow as people — finding their passions, embracing their Jewish identities, and preparing for successful and meaningful lives.

Current Work/Projects:

  • We’re opening our new 3-year-old program in Fall 2016 (currently accepting applications on a waiting list).
  • We’re implementing Lucy Calkin’s Writing Workshop curriculum school-wide. This groundbreaking model used by thousands of schools worldwide was developed at the Teachers College Reading & Writing Project (TCRWP) at Columbia University in New York City. It’s a rigorous and engaging curriculum with a proven track record of improving student achievement that transforms children as early as kindergarten into published authors.
  • Community Day School has been recognized as a Facing History and Ourselves Innovative Schools Network Partner School, and we’ve introduced a rich “Facing Choices” curriculum in Pre-K to Grade 8. As part of this initiative, this year marked the first time that Community Day School was in session for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  Instead of taking the day off, we took on the essential themes of this important day together as a school and with the broader Pittsburgh community in a meaningful way that honored the life and legacy of Dr. King.
  • We’re training interested CDS teachers on each level to coach every grade in mindfulness practices and we’re linking mindfulness to the ancient practice of t’fillah. Our students begin each morning in a meditative space as a way to connect with their past, reset their priorities, and get set for a day of purposeful and sacred work.
  • We’ve embarked on a visioning process by convening a task force of educators, parents, technologists, and scientists to identify opportunities for innovation and growth related to technology integration at Community Day School.
  • We’re establishing a Middle School Advisory program.
  • We’re benchmarking Hebrew language progress with a DIBELS-type Hebrew language assessment being created and piloted for us, as well as piloting “Dvash,” a new program for teaching Hebrew to children with dyslexia and other language-related challenges.
  • We’re offering a new class for parents of children ages 2-10 years old called Foundations for Jewish Family Living developed by The Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning to enrich the Jewish conversations that naturally emerge around the dinner table when parents and children are able to share their learning.



cropped-banner101414Name of School:  Ner Tamid Community Day School (Sharon, MA)

Area of Strength/Passion/Specialty:   Multi-age, personalized learning

At Ner Tamid Community Day School, we do not divide our community of learners by age and grade level. Elementary and middle school aged children have the opportunity to learn together and from one another. Our multi-age classroom supports individual growth through an approach to learning that is child centered rather than curriculum centered.   Each child becomes a successful learner on his or her own continuum of growth.   The mixed-age environment requires teachers to facilitate the learning of each child rather than to instruct the class as a whole based on predetermined grade-level skills and content.  This grouping evolves into a true family of learners.

Brief Description of Current Work/Projects:

We end our week with Passion Project Friday!  Each child has the opportunity to explore a topic that is personally interesting to them.  Children investigate their topic across the content areas, incorporating everything from science, to Judaics, to Hebrew.  They learn research skills, connect with experts on their topic, and end the year with an exposition.



header-indexName of School: Akiba-Schechter Jewish Day School (Chicago, IL)

Area of Strength: We’re considered strong in many areas—general studies, for example; our Humanities program; our play-based, Reggio Preschool; critical thinking, our Buddy Program, multi-age learning, etc. I would say if I had to choose one thing to hang our hat on, which encompasses all of that, it’s our individualization. We are known throughout the community for our ability to challenge even the most gifted children while still scaffolding for those who need more support. We teach students, not subjects. People come to us because they feel the other schools treat them like cogs in a machine, not as individuals. They value the individualized attention we provide.


The Dollhouse Project: Our 7th/8th science classes have been studying electricity and circuits. As part of their final project, they had to work in groups to build dollhouses. The houses had to be fully functional with working electricity. Students built every aspect of the house themselves. One even included a working elevator. Photos of the dollhouses can be found on our Facebook page.

The Family Project: Our Preschool is play-based and Reggio-Emilia inspired. Integral to these philosophies is the notion that our curriculum emerges from the students, and the students document their own learning. The Family Project is something the entire Preschool/Kindergarten took on together, and the concept was that each class documented what family means to them, but in a different way. The students created a giant gallery about the concept of family. Here is a blog post that features images from the gallery and some examples of what it looks like for preschool-aged children to document their own work: http://akibablogger.blogspot.com/2015/11/family-is.html. Our Preschool has become a leader in Reggio learning, and last year three of our teachers were selected to visit Reggio Emilia, Italy, to learn about this philosophy at its source, in its original home.

The Mishkan Project: In Tanach class, our 5th/6th graders learning about the Mishkan created 3-D models of the vessels used in Tabernacle. Then, they presented them to parents in a Mishkan fair. The intention was to bring the Mishkan to life through hands-on, collaborative team work, and to be able to present their creations orally to a formal audience. Here is a blog post with photos: http://akibablogger.blogspot.com/?/news/blog/

Mock Appellate Court: As part of their unit on Mesopotamia, one of the 5th/6th History classes is going to be holding a mock appeals court. During their study of Hammurabi’s Code, they found some passages that were remarkably similar to passages in Parshat Mishpatim. They specifically looked at the case of a pregnant woman who is accidentally hit and miscarries. The punishment in each text is different, but the question is the same: is the fetus a human life or the mother’s property? The students then looked at a modern day court case from Massachusetts that deals with the same scenario: Thibert vs. Milka (1995).  The students will be simulating a mock appeals court by taking on the roles of appellate lawyers and writing appellate “briefs.” They will do this after analyzing a series of fictional cases and deciding whether these cases hurt or help their position. They are also looking at the various excerpts from the Talmud that deal with this issue.


Three schools of different sizes in different cities all of whom are doing great works, the “Schechter Difference” indeed!  We look forward to introducing to you more of our schools in the weeks and months ahead…

The Inclusive Jewish Day School

jdaim_hires1People who know our family know that since we moved to Florida six years ago, we will take any opportunity to maximize our proximity to Disney.  So it should be no surprise that with a daughter’s birthday nearly conflated with a three-day weekend, that I found myself in line for Space Mountain yesterday people-watching with my ten year-old.  A few families ahead of us was a tween who exhibited a variety of tics, both physical and auditory, who, thanks to the 50-minute wait, attracted his fair share of glances both furtive and obvious.  I observed my daughter and watched her split her gaze between the tween and the watchers and felt myself grow tense as I wondered what she was thinking, what she might say and whether I had prepared her for encountering difference with grace and acceptance.

But beyond the living parenting litmus test the situation created, the question shifted as it often does for me from the personal to the professional and I wondered if this tween had been a student in a school I had headed, would he have felt safe, appreciated, loved and, perhaps most importantly, included?

It made me ask myself, as a leader of schools, “Are we providing our schools with the resources and support they need to tackle issues of difference in ways that accord with our highest Jewish values?”

I am not sure that we are.

And sadly, as a number of articles that have come out in response to this being Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month, a significant number of parents and organizations would agree.

We recognize that Schechter schools, Jewish day schools, private schools, etc., are not always capable of handling each and every situation appropriately.  We are not always the “best educational setting” for each Jewish child of difference, disability or with special needs.


We also recognize that if our starting point was “how can we make this work for this child and our school” instead of “here are all the reasons why this cannot work” that a lot more Jewish children and their families would be included.  Our philosophical and moral starting point must be that difference or disability ought not preclude a Jewish day school education for those who wish it.  And then a conversation about how can begin…


This Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month, let us declare that our schools have a passion for meeting the needs of all Jewish children because we recognize that each child has “special” needs.  That to truly believe that each is made in God’s image requires that we apply the filter of inclusivity whenever possible.  And each time our resources prevent one Jewish family from joining our Jewish day school family, let us be resolved to secure the resources so that not one more family share a similar fate.

The Biggest Tent: A NewOrg For A New Schechter

[This is an unusually long post – even for me – I hope you stay with me to the end.]

If you read this blog (and thank you if you do!) then you know that we officially made public that which we had spent the better part of a year or so working so hard in private to make true…


My board chair uses a yiddish expression to describe the journey Schechter has been on since our recent rebirth and it translates essentially to “riding two horses with one tuchus“. The metaphor probably explains both why the direction of the Schechter Day School Network has occasionally appeared helter-skelter and why our rumps are sore from travel.

[Rim shot.]

the-futureHowever jarring it might seem from the outside to witness the transition from the Solomon Schechter Day School Association to the Schechter Day School Network to NewOrg over the course of just three years, the truth is that the story of Schechter and many of its schools is the story of NewOrg and that is why I am confident and enthusiastic that NewOrg is a game changer for Schechter and for the field.

Let me state clearly that each organization has its own unique story leading up to this moment. In the here and now, as the leader of Schechter, it is only my place to share our story.

The story of Schechter over the last couple of years is a story of renewal, reconnection, reintroduction and rebirth.  I have visited over thirty-five Schechter schools in the last eighteen months and I can testify that the state of our union is strong.  There is unequivocally a thing called “Schechter” that includes, but is not limited to, both a clear educational philosophy and a strong sense of Jewish mission and vision.  There are broadly shared assumptions about standards, innovation, excellence, rigor, integration, Zionism, Hebrew language acquisition, centrality of prayer, and much more which simply cannot be reduced to policy or schedule or a prayerbook.  There are relationships with Conservative Judaism that include synagogues (USCJ), camp (Ramah), youth movements USY), and academia (JTS and AJU) and our schools have a multivalent relationship with the movement that is not a weakness of either, but a strength of both.

The story of Schechter is that of a big tent where Schechter schools share an overwhelming majority of critical characteristics that taken together clearly identify them as “Schechter” while preserving sufficient room for schools to be who they are in an ever-changing, ever-more-blurry Jewish world.  I blogged at length early in our rebirth about how all Schechter schools (really all Jewish day schools) are by some definition “community schools” and I revisit that notion here only to suggest that among many catalysts and forces that led to NewOrg, one that I believe is deserving of inclusion is the reemergence of Schechter as a vital force in the field.  Our work helped clarify that some boundaries are more permeable than others; that some lines had grown more blurry than others and that the future of Schechter and the field would require a healthy re-imagination of that adjacent possible.


And that brings us to NewOrg.

NewOrg makes possible for Jewish day schools what the current constellation of organizations could not – the ability to be defined across a multiplicity of domains and the opportunity to be resourced as such.  Schools will no longer be reduced to one definition as a result of politics or size or religious affiliation or cost.  NewOrg is the promise of personalized organizational support equal to that which our leaders and teachers require and our students deserve.  If you are a Schechter school by virtue of your Jewish mission and vision, a community school by virtue of your pluralistic enrollment, Hebrew immersed by virtue of your approach to second-language acquisition, Zionist by virtue of the centrality of Israel, “21st century” by virtue of your beliefs about innovation and educational technology, fiscally safeguarded by virtue of your endowment programs, etc., etc., etc., then your school will engage with NewOrg along and across all these dimensions with the people and resources  necessary to be the most successful version of your authentic self.

That’s why we believe this is a huge “win-win” and a gigantic “yes, and” for Schechter.

It is also why we believe this is a huge win for Conservative Judaism.

I’ll have more to say about this in upcoming posts, but for now let us be clear that the opportunities NewOrg presents are not only about what Schechter schools get, but what Schechter has to offer the field.  It makes it possible for the vision for Jewish day school that makes Schechter “Schechter” accessible to other schools who resemble Schechter schools in myriad ways.  There are Schechter schools whose Jewish mission and vision are either determined or informed by normative Conservative Jewish beliefs and practices. But there are a significant number of other schools whose centrist Jewish mission and vision mirror Conservative Jewish beliefs and practices.  NewOrg will provide those schools access to Schechter expertise and resources proven successful in a centrist Jewish context.  So not only is Schechter’s influence not reduced by NewOrg, we believe it is significantly enhanced, and with it the ability to share in the education of thousands upon thousands of Conservative Jewish children who attend other day schools.


NewOrg does not resolve each issue nor solve each problem facing Schechter or the field. Not even close.  Affordability, relevance, and excellence are just three categories of work NewOrg will need to address in bold new ways to fulfill its promise.   There remains many questions unanswered and an accelerated transition process during which to answer them. Not to mention our guarantee to the commitments of the here and now.  Our accountability to our schools and our programs remains as we navigate the path from here to there.  


The story of the Schechter Day School Network may not turn out to be the longest chapter in Schechter’s narrative, in fact, it is likely to be its shortest.  But we believe wholeheartedly that it will go down as amongst its most impactful and historic.  The narrative of Schechter will now be interwoven with the narratives of our sister organizations and of NewOrg itself.  We pray that together we will write a new and powerful chapter for our children, our communities, and our people.

Praying With Your Legs in 2016: What JDS Can Learn From Killer Mike

I have a pretty extravagant lunch routine…

…I will typically grab a yogurt and spend a little “me time” on the web catching up on the late-night TV antics that I am no longer old enough to stay up to watch.

Pretty crazy, I know.

Very rarely do I see anything that inspires any kind of reaction; never have I watched something that inspired me to write professionally.  And I can assure you that I was not anticipating an interview with Killer Mike could be such a catalyst.

And yet…

I thought there were two remarkable takeaways from this worth sharing…

The first was Killer Mike’s claim that Bernie Sanders is the spiritual heir to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s message of social justice.

You can leave your aesthetic sensibilities of Killer Mike’s work as an artist and your political views of Bernie Sander’s work as a public servant in someone else’s comments.  I am not here to advocate for either.  What struck me is essentially this:

Photo: Library of Congress
Photo: Library of Congress


David Goldman/AP Photo
David Goldman/AP Photo

Again, please.  I am not suggesting that Bernie Sanders is Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel any more than I would be suggesting that Killer Mike is Martin Luther King, Jr.

But I would be lying if I didn’t say that my very first thought when listening to this younger, African-American, hip-hop artist and social justice advocate talk about this older, Jewish, public servant and social justice advocate wasn’t a reminder of how inextricably linked the Jewish and African-American communities were during the civil rights era and whether this unlikely duo represents an anomaly or a harbinger.

I have written and others have written better about that historical and current relationship.  As we head into yet another MLK Day, perhaps we can be reminded once again of our “shared dreams” and inspired to bring them a day closer to realization.


The second takeaway – and the one that has more applicability to Jewish day school – is Killer Mike’s proscription for how to best support underserved communities.  He lays out a vision of empathy which can only be achieved through relationship.  This requires us to leave our comfort zones and engage with the wider world.  In Killer Mike’s context he is talking essentially about white, middle-class folk, but in it I heard echoes of a common concern families have about the ghettoization of Jewish day schools, their lack of racial diversity and the impact it has on children who will need to live, work and contribute to a multicultural world.

Almost a year ago, I wrote about Ferguson, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner, and my struggle to decide if I had what to say.

Saying nothing at all doesn’t feel right either.  To say nothing would suggest that I have no stake in this issue, that it neither impacts me nor is incumbent upon me to participate in. Even, if I am unclear as to what “participation” ought to be.  As a citizen and as an educator, I do have a stake, I am impacted and I believe it is incumbent upon me to participate.  And I will, like many others, have to struggle to figure out what participation looks like because I am unwilling to remain forever a bystander.  Are we our brother’s keeper?  What does that keeping look like today?

And that was long before Cleveland, Charleston, and Chicago and the rest…

Killer Mike provides one path of participation.  Many of our schools have relationships with underserved schools where tutoring, mentoring, supplies, books, etc., are shared. Many of our schools have social justice programs where they take what they are learning in the walls of their buildings and go out into the world to make a difference.  These are wonderful initiatives to be sure.  However, if economic inequality is the issue of today (even if we cannot agree on what to do about it), we can and should do more. Furthermore, if we want our schools and our children to really matter to black (and brown and impoverished) lives in our communities, we will need to do more than engage in hashtag activism.  We need to engage with people.


Add one.

As we prepare to commemorate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., let’s get curious about what our networks, organizations and schools are doing to really engage with others.  I challenge schools – and other thought-leaders – to share links to programs or ideas in the comment section or on social media.  I welcome your feedback, ideas, curiosity and contributions.

How to Support Israel When Israel Doesn’t Support You

Israeli flag in the windOur Friday morning breakfast conversation was a little bit different than normal this morning thanks to our guest, Talia, a teacher from our school’s sister school in Israel who is staying with us during this year’s Federation-sponsored exchange of teachers.  As she was preparing to spend the day and her visit at our Schechter school, the local Orthodox Jewish day school and each of the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox synagogues in our local Jewish community, she had lots of questions.  Our system of denominations, day schools and congregational schools is mostly a mystery to Talia.


Well maybe this article published on Wednesday from JTA helps explain:

Israel’s Ashkenazi chief rabbi, David Lau, criticized Education Minister Naftali Bennett for visiting a Conservative Jewish Solomon Schechter school [Manhattan] while in the United States.

On Wednesday, Lau told the haredi Kol Hai radio station that Bennett, chair of the religious Zionist Jewish Home party and a modern Orthodox Jew, should have conferred with an Orthodox rabbi about the visit. Lau called the Dec. 1 trip to the New York school “unacceptable.”

Commenting on his visit, Bennett tweeted, “What love of Israel, what love of Judaism.” As minister of religious services from 2013 to 2015, he advocated limited religious reform in Israel.

“To speak deliberately with a specific community and to recognize it and its path, when this path distances Jews from the path of the Jewish people, this is forbidden,” Lau said, according to the The Jerusalem Post. “If Minister Bennett would have asked my opinion before the visit, I would have said to him explicitly, ‘You cannot go somewhere where the education distances Jews from tradition, from the past, and from the future of the Jewish people.’”

[For an appropriate response on behalf of Conservative Judaism, you won’t do better than this statement from the Rabbinical Assembly.]

Now I realize that a visit to a different Schechter school, to a Reform Jewish day school or to a Community day school would surely have resulted in similar comments.  It speaks to much larger issues about the stranglehold Orthodoxy has over the Jewish State.  And it begs for me a very simple and sad question: “How do you support Israel when Israel doesn’t seem to support you?”

I just wrote a few weeks ago a blog post all about my love of Israel so I don’t think I need to restate it here…

And I wrote last year a blog post all about the importance of the World Zionist Organization and MERCAZ (an importance that these events makes all too clear) so I won’t restate it here…

…what I will state is the emotional challenge of caring deeply for Israel while acknowledging that, at least, the STATE of Israel (not the PEOPLE) not only doesn’t care, but seems outright hostile to everything I believe to be true and beautiful about Judaism.

Those of us who have responsibility for Jewish day schools in North America are frequently and rightfully challenged to do a better job of providing high-quality Israel education to our students, to better and more ably prepare them to be advocates for Israel on increasingly more divisive high school and college campuses and to facilitate their journey towards lifelong engagement and an enduring relationship with the Land, People and State of Israel.

Is it fair to ask that Israel do a better job acknowledging and respecting the positive contributions of all streams of Jewish life to Israel and to Jewish Peoplehood writ large?

The Silent Power of Chanukah

Why are these nights different than all other nights?

Photographed by Chayim B. Alevsky.
Photographed by Chayim B. Alevsky.

Wrong holiday, I know.

But there is actually something powerfully different about Chanukah that has much to teach us about the power of experiences and a pedagogy of meaning…

Chanukah is the only Jewish holiday without a sacred text of its own.  (There is a Book of Maccabees, but it is part of the Catholic Bible.)  Instead of a public reading, we are commanded to bear silent witness to the miracles of the season with a public doing – the lighting of candles in a window.

For me the pedagogical takeaway isn’t so much the “silence” as it is the “act”.  It is an action that anyone can take; it is not so ritualistically complex that only the most knowledgable amongst us can perform it.  It is an action performed publicly and in the home.  And it is an act through which the meaning can be found through the doing.  It is truly and act of “na’aseh v’nishma“.

This quotation from the Torah (Exodus 24:7) has been interpreted in many ways in Jewish tradition.  The meaning which speaks most deeply to me is: “We will do and then we will understand.”  This meaning comes from a rabbinic story (also called “midrash”) that explains Israel’s unconditional love for the Torah.  The midrash is as follows:

When the Children of Israel were offered the Torah they enthusiastically accepted the prescriptive mitzvot (commandments) as God’s gift.  Israel collectively proclaimed the words “na’aseh v’nishma “, “we will do mitzvot and then we will understand them”. Judaism places an emphasis on performance and understanding spirituality,
values, community, and the self through deed.

Simply put, we learn best by doing.

This idea has powerfully stimulated my own Jewish journey and informs my work as a Jewish educator.  I think there are two major implications from this:  One, regardless of the institution, we have a responsibility to provide access to informal Jewish educational programs to our young people.  Two, our formal educational institutions can stand to learn from what makes informal work.  Namely, I believe strongly in education that is active, interactive, dynamic, and most importantly experiential.  It is one thing to teach Judaism; it is something more powerful to teach people how to live Judaism.

It is one thing to teach social action; it is identity forming for our children to go out into the world as part of their Jewish Studies experience and make the world a better place by doing social action.

It is one thing to read about Israel; it is transformative to visit Israel.  (Now more than ever.)

And for this time of year?

It is one thing to study Chanukah; it is something infinitely more meaningful to light a menorah in the window, surrounded by family.

So please next week let’s gather together in our windows to light the Chanukah candles.

In addition, this and each Chanukah, let’s not forget our Jewish values of tzedakah (charity) and kehillah (community).   Along with your normal gift-giving, consider donating a night or two of your family’s celebration to those less fortunate than ourselves.


Chag urim sameach from my family to yours!

The Storify of #edJEWcon Chicago

I know there are others, but until someone convinces me others, I’m sticking with Storify as my preferred method of documenting my learning from professional development conferences and experiences. I like how visual it is and I love how easy it is to preserve the links to all my learning.

We had a wonderful experience on Wednesday in Chicago and I am pleased to amplify the learning by inviting you into its story. I hope our learning inspires more learning, more reflection, and more sharing.



[If your browser isn’t letting you scroll through the whole thing, please follow this link.]

I Heart Israel

NormalDSC_0052I have really debated whether or not to write this for quite a while…

…similar to other issues of national or international import, I am never entirely certain whether it is an appropriate use of my small slice of the blogosphere to add to a conversation in which I bring no particular expertise and no concrete suggestions.

Is there something I can say or offer that will help address what is going on in Israel right now and how we could or should respond?  Do I have something critical to share with our schools about how to process and discuss current events?  Our schools are led by talented and bright professionals and lay leaders who in this day and age have access to a myriad of resources.  Sure, I might be aware of one or two they are not and could help by making them available, but it would be hubris to think that I have an answer to address this that they don’t or that they couldn’t easily find.  And yet…

Saying nothing at all doesn’t feel right either.  As a Jewish educator – as a Jew – I have to speak purely from the heart about Israel…

…a place that changed my life in 1988.

…a place that changed it again in 1992.

…a place that changed it once again in 1997 and 1998.

…a place that I anxiously await revisiting.

…a place that I have waited their whole lives to share with my children.

Because like a lot of Jews of my generation, a teen Israel experience (along with camp) was a crucial step on my Jewish journey.  It also was my very first job in Jewish education.

I first went to Israel in 1988 as part of our local Federation’s teen tour.  It was an 13736_195079166057_1485454_nextraordinary experience and I met friends that summer that I am still close with today.  I returned to Israel in 1992 as part of a NFTY in Israel summer experience. I unfortunately decided to pose in the awkward position you find me in the lower, righthand corner of this picture.  Yes, my hair is shoulder-length.  And yes, sadly, I am wearing socks with sandals.

My very first job in Jewish education was working for the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Los Angles (BJE-LA) running teen programs, paramount of which was the LA Summer-in-Israel Ulpan.  I cannot provide a link to the program because, unfortunately, it no longer exists, but for many years it was a signature summer-in-Israel program combining the regular touring experiences of other trips with an actual Hebrew ulpan for which students received high school and college credit.  I spent the summers of 1997 and 1998 leading this trip and having an opportunity to provide teens with the experiences I had been blessed to have as a teen myself.

The power of the Israel experience is real.

That’s why we visit.  That’s why we do our b’nai mitzvah there.  That’s why we have Federation and synagogue missions.  That’s why we send our Jewish day school classes.  That’s why we send our teachers.  That’s why we make aliyah.

That’s why the current situation is heartbreaking.


I have no interest injecting politics of any kind.  I have my beliefs and I am sure you do as well.  I don’t know what the answers are to safeguard our homeland, our beating heart. I’m not even sure I know the questions.  I am sure that the opportunity to experience Israel transformed me and the opportunity to provide that experience to others transformed me just as thoroughly.  To contemplate the idea that one day it could prove too unsafe to visit stirs my soul to anger.  To wonder if one day it could prove impossible shakes me to my core.

As the sun makes a slow descent and brings with it the spirit of Shabbat, I can only pray. Other days of the week lend themselves to advocacy, but not this one.  Our worship calls us to face our sacred ancestral home…may a day come when the peace of Shabbat envelopes our home, our Israel.

And may that day come without delay…