Achieving Excellence by Pursuing Excellence in our Early Childhood Center


[For the past 18 months, the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) supported three “Communities of Practice,” cohorts of congregations that came together to learn, discuss, and experiment in a specific field. Members from participating congregations have been asked to reflect about their process.] By Dr. Paula Sayag As an early childhood consultant with Washington, D.C.’s central Jewish education agency, I had the privilege of interacting with Jewish educators on a national scale, learning about trends in Jewish communal involvement, and helping congregations respond to large-scale concerns. Still, I didn’t have the opportunity to put into practice the advice I was offering other educators - or, more importantly, to build close relationships with the families that educators serve. So I decided to … [Read more...]

Three Thoughts for Jewish Educators as We Start the New School Year

By David Steiner This article is for directors of education, those people who work tirelessly behind the scenes to make the next generation of Jews worthy of the proud traditions of our people. At this time of year, while you are thinking about family services during the days of awe and school openings and curriculum nights, please try to leave room in your overflowing brains for some of the most important ideas behind our work. School is not a natural phenomenon. Teaching is. School may have existed in different forms over the years, from Socrates and his discourses to the cheder in the shtetle, but the organization of groups of children in learning places, away from the families where they live their Jewish life, is not ideal. Parents and guardians are the natural conveyors of treasured … [Read more...]

Starting the School Year with Soul

By Sarah Blattner and Miriam Brosseau There is something sacred about the start of the school year. Who doesn’t love the smell of freshly sharpened pencils and the crisp new notebooks eagerly awaiting the next brilliant idea? But more than the new school supplies, it’s a rare opportunity to start anew, to begin again with fresh ideas, revise old ones and try out unique ways of doing things. It is time to think about how we can help our communities - students, teachers, administrators, and parents alike - start off with a sense of renewed commitment to Jewish life and learning. As Micah Lapidus wrote recently about the anticipation that comes with a new school year: As an educator I’m renewed in my sense of purpose and I’m ready to get to work. As an educator I believe that I’m participating in … [Read more...]

Empowering Prayer Communities through Religious School Worship

By Saul Kaiserman As Reform Jews, our beliefs pull us in two directions. On the one hand, we cherish our autonomy: Our freedom to express ourselves as individuals and to make choices that are entirely our own. At the same time, we know the value of community: Our sense of obligation to others with whom we share a history and a destiny. This dynamic tension can be creative and inspirational - or it can be exhausting and alienating. Perhaps nowhere in Jewish life is the challenge of finding equilibrium between these two forces felt as strongly as in synagogue worship. Prayer is an intensely personal experience, yet when we come together for worship as part of a congregation, we often use words written by someone we have never met and in a language we don’t understand. In our religious school … [Read more...]

Campaign In a Box: A Campaign for Religious Schools

By Sherri W. Morr After volunteering to run a session at the recent NewCAJE conference in Los Angeles, my preparatory conversations led me to believe most religious schools do not have budgets for such items as staff conferences or for emergencies like perhaps a teen not being able to attend a teen Shabbaton. In listening to stories, by some educators I almost felt as though some religious schools were considered the unattractive step child. So I put together a concept of paying it forward as a means to raise money for religious school activities. I called it "Campaign in a Box" and distributed the handouts in a small box. Here’s the plan: The school connects with social justice organizations, arranges for students to do mitzvah programs through volunteering. Student Volunteer hours are … [Read more...]

Text Me: Judaism and Technology

By Dr. Jeffrey Schein As the month of Elul approaches and preparations for the High Holidays begin, I often think about the famous Hasidic teaching that one ought to keep a different verse in each of our two pockets: in one “for me was the world created” and the other “I am but dust and ashes.” Presumably this provides the right blend of spiritual humility and moral audacity necessary to begin the new year. Analagously, I’d like to suggest that the contemporary Jewish educator ought to keep on her smart phone two instantly available video-clips as they think about their relationship to technology in the new year. One is for the times when out of business or tiredness she is anchoring her best educational efforts in the technologies of the 20th century: Click then on the link for Russel Neiss’s … [Read more...]

Carpe Diem: Let’s Get the Movement Together

By Edward Frim It happened for Hillel on Campus. It coalesced for Jewish Day Schools. Birthright Israel has done it. It came together for Jewish Camping. Each of these movements has succeeded in attracting and convening partisans and funders, creating excitement, attracting resources and making a huge difference in Jewish life in North America. Perhaps the biggest endeavor in Jewish life in North America has yet to flower in this way. It has great potential to transform Jewish life, and it is poised and ready. The majority of our children continue to receive Jewish education in synagogue and part-time settings and their families continue to be engaged in synagogue or Jewish community life. We have yet to seize on this huge opportunity for our community. Many of our leaders continue to cling … [Read more...]

Experiential Jewish Education: Back to the Future

by Dr. Gil Graff Recently, I attended the annual conference of the Network for Research in Jewish Education, in Los Angeles. There, I participated in a session on principles of experiential education articulated by John Dewey in the first half of the twentieth century as applied to Jewish learning in contemporary settings of Jewish education. The presentation included a look at some project-based learning experiences at schools, anchored in “a Dewey-inspired perspective.” Several weeks later, I came across a piece authored in 1925 by Dr. David de Sola Pool, spiritual leader of the Spanish and Portuguese Congregation, Shearith Israel (in New York), in the pages of The Jewish Forum. Titled “Can Our Jewish Schools Be Made to Teach?” the article encouraged project-based experiential education. … [Read more...]