Digital Wrestling

by Jeffrey Lasday

As Jews, we are born to wrestle. Our very name Israel means “One Who Wrestles with God.” We wrestle with prayer. We wrestle with text. We wrestle with Jewish identity. As Jewish educators, we are charged with providing our students with wrestling matches that will enable them to engage in these classic Jewish struggles in the 21st century. To do so means to better understand our digital students, wrestle with our own fears of change and master the amazing possibilities of using technology in the classroom.

Facing a rapidly changing world, Jewish educators need to tackle the use of technology in pursuit of Jewish learning. Our contemporary world forces educators to wrestle with what were once basic assumptions such as:

  • What is a classroom?
  • When does learning take place?
  • What (and where) is a learning community?
  • What is a text (and what does it mean for us when text is a verb)?

For example, what does it mean for Jewish education when our social milieu, today’s classroom, is:

  • Portable – mobile technology fits into a pocket or purse
  • Small enough for one while being large enough for millions and
  • Unbound by time and space?

In 2001 educational software and online game designer Marc Prensky first coined the concept of “digital natives” and “digital immigrants.” Prensky pointed out that 21st century students were “digital natives” with brains and learning styles so changed that they were no longer the people for whom our educational systems were designed to teach. He described students age 25 and younger as digital natives, native speakers of the language of computers, video games and the internet. And therefore who are we – the generation born before the start of the digital age? We are digital immigrants. As immigrants we can learn to speak the language of technology and adapt to this new digital culture, but we will always speak with an accent.

Ten years later the challenge of digital natives and digital immigrant is more relevant as ever, especially when it comes to Jewish learning. What does it mean for Jewish education when our students are immersed in a wired (or wireless) culture? What does it mean for Jewish education when the majority of our teachers are still “digital immigrants?

Yet, even if we speak “digital” with an accent, we can still master technology and make it our own, no matter what our age.

Today it doesn’t matter if we are digital natives or digital immigrants; to be effective Jewish educators, we need to learn to speak and become fluent in the language of our children.

Recognizing the critical need to integrate digital learning into the Jewish education experience, the Partnership for Effective Learning and Innovative Education (PELIE) is demonstrating its commitment toward helping Jewish educators embrace online learning strategies by sponsoring three Kadima Technology Conferences a year. The goal of these conferences is “to help educators make an attitudinal shift about educational technology, from one of reluctance to one of excitement, and to give participants a chance to use technology in a safe space”. The first Kadima gathering recently took place over the summer, in Cleveland, where teams of educators engaged in the active exploration of technological learning possibilities. At the conference’s opening keynote Brian Mull, Director of Innovation at November Learning demonstrated how teachers can help students develop “online literacy”, the ability to separate out false or biased online information from the facts. In stimulating workshops Adena Raub, Information Manager at PELIE, shared how to use Twitter to create online communities of learners; Ronna Fox, Director of the Jewish Education Center of Cleveland Teacher’s Center, taught educators how to use Wikis as a tool for collaboration with other teachers; and Debra Srabstein, Education Director at Temple Micah described how her congregation took the teaching of Hebrew out of the classroom and into students’ homes through the use of Skype. The Kadima Conference provided a safe environment for participants to wrestle with digital media and reflect on how technology can best be integrated into the classroom.

Slowly but surely Jewish educators and schools are adopting digital and mobile technologies for Jewish learning. In some educational settings Twitter, Skype, Wikis, blogs, web searches, online learning courses and use of mobile devices at home and in class are becoming the norm. The Kadima Technology Conferences, along with the growth of Jewish education web resources (,, are building communities of practice where Jewish educators can learn more about and share their work in educational technology. As Jewish educators we need to embrace the use of digital learning and take full advantage of these online and face to face resources to expand our repertoire of teaching tools.

Jeffrey Lasday is a digital immigrant who is constantly wrestling with his digital accent. Jeff directs the Alliance for Jewish Education at the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit. To learn more about bringing a Kadima conference to your region, visit