Experiential Jewish Education: What We Are Doing To Grow It.

By Shuki Taylor

[This is an introductory article to a series dedicated to experiential Jewish education that will be published over the coming weeks.]

In recent years, the field of experiential Jewish education (EJE) has been subject to much attention. Many Jewish institutions have created new positions – or reframed existing ones – that focus on EJE. New master’s and certificate programs are being offered, and they attract a growing number of applicants. Opinions for and against the development of the field of EJE have been published – many of them on these pages – and many EJE-related achievements have been publically celebrated.

Most recently, I was struck by the words of Dr. Daniel Pekarsky who so profoundly described experiential Jewish education as an opportunity “to ensure that [learners] have experiences that are conducive to their growth, rather than leading them to turn elsewhere to satisfy their spiritual, ethical, and communal aspirations.”

This idea, and the centrality of ‘the experience’ in the process of individual growth and the formation of identity is a core foundation in Yeshiva University’s Certificate Program in Experiential Jewish Education – a rigorous in-service training program, which boasts alumni working in senior positions in a broad range of organizations across North America.

With support and visionary guidance from the Jim Joseph Foundation through the Education Initiative grant, the YU Certificate Program – which will be welcoming its 100th student in January 2015 – is shifting out of its pilot phase and looking towards its next chapter.

2014-15 marks a year of significant growth for the program – both in scope and depth. For the first time we will be running two cohorts per year. Cohort IV – a group of 21 exceptional educators – will graduate in January, and in February we will welcome Cohort V (application for this cohort begins today).

Training a total of 42 experiential Jewish educators per year clearly demonstrates how eager the field is for a high quality education – one that provides educators with a common language, with conceptual frameworks and theories, and with tools and skills that are specific to their practice.

This need – this thirst for training – has also lead us this year to launch an exciting new initiative:

Building on the success of the Certificate Program we are delighted to announce the establishment of the Experiential Jewish Educators Regional Training Programs. These programs are hosted and sponsored by local communities and organizations that will convene 10-15 educators from within their region for three seminars conducted over the course of three months. The seminars will feature various elements of the Certificate Program’s cutting edge and rigorous curriculum.

This spring, we will launch the program in two communities. The first, in San Diego, with support from the Leichtag Foundation.

“We are very excited to bring this program to San Diego, and particularly to our North County Jewish Hub, a collaborative co-working space of diverse Jewish organizations,” says Naomi Rabkin, Director Of Strategic Initiatives at the Foundation. “We believe a wider range of Jewish professionals, from fundraisers to program directors to farmers need to see themselves as educators and this program will provide the foundational skills and tools to approach their work from a learning perspective.”

A second Regional Cohort will operate in Canada. In his announcement of this initiative, Michael Soberman, Vice President of the Canada Israel Experience and Next Generation Initiatives at the Jewish Federations of Canada wrote: “There has been such tremendous interest around Yeshiva University’s Experiential Jewish Education program from professionals working in Canada, so much so that Jewish Federations of Canada in partnership with UJA Federation of Greater Toronto are set to launch the first Canadian Cohort of the program in early spring 2015. The value of this program is significant to practitioners in the field and the more people who we can expose to this training the greater impact we will be able to make in the area of experiential Jewish education.”

More Regional Cohorts are being planned, as are additional professional development opportunities.

Over the next few weeks, I hope to share on these pages some thoughts about why there is such a growing interest in the field of experiential Jewish education, along with thoughts and ideas about the theory and practice of the field of experiential Jewish education. I hope this series of forthcoming articles will contribute to an already vibrant conversation about the art and science of experiential Jewish education.

Shuki Taylor is the Director of the Department of Experiential Jewish Education at Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future.

Click here to apply to Cohort V of the YU Certificate Program in Experiential Jewish Education.