At P’tach Lo II: Putting Essential Questions into Practice

By Rabbi Zac Kamenetz (Johnson)

Last May, I wrote an article advocating for the inclusion of essential questions (EQs) at the center of experiential Jewish education as a means of creating purpose-driven, creative and fun programs. As BBYO’s Jewish Enrichment Team has refined the focus and reach of its educational frameworknow known as ‘Kivun’ – we have created a set of EQs for our own teen membership. By integrating these questions into various points of our programming – chapter meetings, regional conventions and summer immersive experiences – our members will come closer to fulfilling our mission of having more meaningful, Jewish experiences together.

Built upon Kivun’s three core outcomes – Identify, Connect and Improve – the questions below and others will shortly be piloted in the field. During this phase, we will ask select staff, adult advisors and teen leaders to use these EQs in various ways.

  • IDENTIFY – Who am I? Supported by questions such as:
    What kind of Jew am I? / Where am I on my Jewish journey? / Why do I choose to be Jewish? / How do I connect to the Jewish past? / In what ways does diversity affect my Jewish life and practice?/ What is my obligation towards other Jews?
  • CONNECTWho are we? Supported by questions such as:
    What is a Jewish home? / What is a homeland? / How does the State of Israel tell our story?/ Who is and is not in our community? / How do we create a unified community for all kinds of Jews?
  • IMPROVEFor Whom Are We Responsible? Supported by questions such as:
    What do we need to know in order to do the most good?/ How do we form our opinions? / What is Jewish about changing the world? / How do our values influence our actions? / How should leaders inspire others to follow?

Examples of ways we see these EQs playing out are: Teens planning Kabbalat Shabbat services which explore various tefillot by asking how those prayers reflect the steps of their peers’ Jewish journeys; Advisors and staff planning teen leadership meetings around the question of how leaders inspire others to follow; and service-learning programs and social action initiatives using many of these questions to both frame and reflect participants’ experiences.

This is an exciting move forward for our vision of Jewish enrichment, but we don’t want to have this conversation alone. In the comments, please let us know:

  1. What are the essential questions you want your members, students or stakeholders to grapple with?
  2. How are you and your agency using questions to deepen the relationships with themselves; the communities they are a part of and serve; and their Jewish heritage?

The potential for EQs to enhance program quality and Jewish content is inexhaustible. Let us know what you think, and ask a question or two.

Rabbi Zac Kamenetz is a Director of Jewish Enrichment for BBYO.