The True Story of JEDLAB: the Network That Needs You as Much as You Need It

Dear eJewish Philanthropists,

My name is Ken Gordon, and I’m the social media manager at the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education. Our friends call us PEJE. Not long ago, I read a book called The Sorcerers and Their Apprentices by former MIT Media Lab director Frank Moss. (Read this to find out why the Jewish communal world should be employing this volume.) As I paged through this lively and readable book, which makes the Media Lab sound like the most fun and productive R&D laboratory in the history of humankind, I thought, “I gotta build a Jewish day school version of this thing….”

Which is to say, I wanted, as I flipped through its amazing pages, to create some kind of organization, based on the Media Lab model and ethos, that would allow me to work with the amazing people I knew from my personal learning network (a.k.a. my friends and colleagues from #JEDCHAT, a weekly Twitter forum for Jewish educators). I specially thought of a core group of Jewish education people – including a winner of the Jewish Futures Competition, a Joshua Venture grantee, the former executive director of LimmudLA, and the founder of Frisch’s superlative RealSchool program – all of whom I then forced to read the book. They soon become Sorcerers enthusiasts. Our conversations began in a Twitter group, we picked up members, and we quickly grew beyond it. The Twitter conversation was so exciting, and so fragmented, that we decided to have an after-hours webinar to discuss how the book would apply to our work lives.

From there, we started JEDLAB, a network of Jewish educators. It may be the fastest-growing and liveliest network anywhere in the Jewish world. JEDLAB right now exists as a robust Facebook Group (though we have bigger plans – count on that), one that went from one member on April 25th to 740 members. But it’s not just the size of the membership; it’s the quality and quantity of the conversations. The people here know and care deeply about Jewish education, and when they talk they invariably have something smart and/or challenging and/or novel to say. Our best conversations can stretch to 50, 70, even 100 comments, spanning over numerous days, and involve people from all areas of Jewish life and roles within Jewish education.

Our members are vastly diverse: they work at a variety of orgs, are planted all over the map, and they perform an impressive array of functions. Take a look:

Who is JedLAB

Click image to view the Pinterest board

The denizens of JEDLAB hold all kinds of strong opinions, and are unafraid to make these opinions known. It’s all very civil and respectful – many of us learned this etiquette from #JEDCHAT – and we take the time to get to know one another and learn each other’s intellectual and spiritual contexts.

Now, we realize that, with school finishing up, many of you have been too busy grading papers, running Grandparents’ Day events, and generally closing out end-of-the-academic-year business, that you haven’t had the time or energy to engage in online networking.

We forgive you.

But now it’s time to say: School’s out, and we’re open for business. Here are four superb reasons why you no longer have any excuse to join our kehillah:

  1. We are building strong relationships, 24/6. This is what Ron Wolfson says Jewish life  – and Jewish communal life – is all about. “After more than forty years of living and teaching the Jewish way,” he says in Relational Judaism, “I have come to an understanding about the essence of Judaism: It’s all about relationships.” In fact, Ron is an active part of our JEDLAB kehillah, and he takes the time to engage with our conversations and connect 1:1 with other members.
  2. JEDLAB is as highly efficient means to listen in. Most of us haven’t the time or energy or schedule space to get out and mix it with the people. With JEDLAB, you can do this instantly – from you computer. It is an invaluable listening tour of the Jewish educational world.
  3. JEDLAB conversations are authentic and honest and smart and in depth. The people in the LAB are know and care deeply about the issues of Jewish education. Moreover, they are working hard to improve their communities and themselves in this forum. They ask for help, float out ideas, discuss failures and successes. You can learn a tremendous about of information by dropping into the JEDLAB.
  4. JEDLAB bulldozes the silos. We’re just getting started here but already JEDLAB is creating collaborations between Jewish professions who otherwise would never have met. This network promises enormous possibilities – and with your involvement, these could increase a thousand-fold.

The fact is, JEDLAB will make you a more informed and connected leader, a better leader, a smarter leader, and – weirdly enough – less lonely. We are kind of a family and you are just as welcome as the most humble teacher, or the most learned rabbi, to join us.

So consider this an open invitation.
Ken G.

p.s. If you’re interested in joining JEDLAB but harbor a doubt or two, send an email to me (ken@peje.org) and my co-instigator Yechiel Hoffman (yechielhoffman1@gmail.com) and we’ll set up a time to talk, connect you with other JEDLAB pals, and help you find your personalized way into this network. Seriously. We are in this for you.

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Comments

  1. says

    What an amazing community you have built in such a short time. Clearly, you are filling a need for impactful connection/conversation about all things JED. Look forward to being a part of such a vibrant, informed and intelligent kehillah!

  2. says

    Rarely in the online (or offline space for that matter) do we find the perfect chemistry for something to soar. Even with the most planning, there is always an element of chemistry and magic fairy dust needed to really make something blossom in a big way. I’ve so enjoyed not only being a part of JEDLAB, but watching this chemistry happen. The conversations are some of the most rich, challenging and engaging I’ve seen on Facebook. Conversation is deep and plentiful, and so meaningful and unique that 50 comments can appear in a single hour. Clearly, JEDLAB is filling a certain hole in the current landscape, and those who are hungry to fill that hole are creating it for ourselves.

  3. Maya says

    It is very exciting to see JEDLAB grow and generate such important conversations across the sectors of the Jewish Education Field. Ken & Yechiel – thank you for making it happen, and so quickly. Here are some questions I have – please discuss on JELAB! :)

    1. What is the overarching purpose of JEDLAB? The fire that ignites it and keeps it burning? Is it, as Ken writes, about breaking down silos? Generating meaningful conversations? To what end? Might one of the early action-items of JEDLAB be a crowd-sourced logic model, with a communally agreed-upon purpose, outcomes, and activities?

    2. How might JEDLAB develop and nurture a shared language and set of values and practices that could permeate the Jewish educational community? In our work over the past year bringing Design Thinking mindsets and tools to NY Jewish Day Schools, the Jewish Education Project and UpStart Bay Area have helped create and nurture the Day School Collaboration Network – a small but growing network of teachers using Design principles and tools to experiment with concrete approaches to solving challenges, taking advantage of opportunities, and working collaboratively. Is it possible, and should it be a goal, for JEDLAB to introduce and experiment with a particular set of tools and approaches that will deepen the network offline, and begin to permeate the way we think and work in the field of Jewish Education?

    3. How might we use this space most efficiently? With the premise that in order to do real thinking and good work you need time – time to be thoughtful, creative – how might we ensure that the comments and posts and contributions on this network do not simply generate more conversation, but move the community forward? What is the relationship between an online network and on-the-ground networks? What other types of activities might JEDLAB encourage that would further ensure its contribution and value?

  4. says

    @Lisa: What an amazing comment. Thank YOU. We are honored to have you in the JEDLAB and we look forward to learning from you and the wide and diverse networks you have woven along the way. Let’s get working…