How Investing in Individualized Jewish Learning Stands to Build Stronger Jewish Organizations

By Ben Lusher

Could investing in Jewish learning make our organizations feel more connected to our work?

Not long ago, Moishe House decided to invest more in our staff and Board’s Jewish professional development. After reflecting on what it means to be a professional or lay leader at a Jewish organization we settled on something simple and straightforward: if Jewish learning and literacy are core to who we are as a Jewish people, it should also be core to us as an organization. Not only would this type of learning help our staff and Board become better Jewish leaders, but it would help us leverage Jewish thought and teachings in our organizational decisions.

Thanks to the visionary support of one of our mentors and supporters, we piloted a program to give every staff member and Board member the opportunity to access 1:1 Jewish learning with a trained Jewish educator. Participants can choose their focus, and the only guideline is that the learning must be done regularly and one-on-one. Since 1:1 Learning requires intellectual and emotional intimacy, these guidelines help to ensure that learners and educators are able to cultivate a strong connection.

Since we launched 1:1 learning two years ago, two thirds of Moishe House staff and more than half of our Board members have completed 795 hours of Jewish learning. We’ve summed up what we’ve learned and how we’re incorporating those lessons to evolve the program in our report, 1:1 Jewish Learning Exploratory Outcomes. While we consider this program to be overwhelmingly successful, we discovered new opportunities to grow and learned valuable lessons that will improve how this offering is rolled out in the future.

Since this initiative launched, 88% of participants reported that their learning experience helped expand their base of knowledge and made them gain confidence in their roles. Over half of participants reported that 1:1 learning influenced how they see the world, changed how they view themselves, and prompted them to reflect on their values. Many were reminded of how much they loved learning, although they might not have had the opportunity to be a student since they were in school themselves.

By making learning more accessible, respondents reported being more proficient at interpreting texts and that their critical thinking skills had improved. They reported that they cultivated their ability to hold multiple perspectives at the same time. Debate and conversation plays an important part in Jewish communal programming, and learning stands to make staff and board members better moderators and facilitators. Participants found ways to apply their learnings, shared what they learned with friends, family and colleagues and enriched their relationships to Jewish ritual and practice.

Looking back, there are also a few things we learned that we are working to apply to our program moving forward. First, we found that it is important to assign a designated staff member to oversee this program to keep things streamlined, organized and to act as a point of contact for staff and educators. Additionally, we’re working to ensure that staff workloads allow them to participate fully in their learning experiences, as some participants reported feeling like they were juggling too much.

Second, we’ve seen how crucial it is to support our learners at all points in their learning journey, both during their onboarding period and continually, so that they can continue their studies. Like any practice, like exercise or meditation, it requires a concerted effort to maintain over time. We’ve also recognized that learners need more opportunities to practice and experiment with how they learn and plan to incorporate small group discussions and introducing new and different educators.

Third, we found that there was a tangible benefit to working with a diverse pool of educators, as opposed to having a singular Jewish educator lead all of the 1:1 sessions. By offering diverse educators, learners have more autonomy over their experiences and the organization can alleviate strain on their educators, who might otherwise be pulled in many different directions.

Through investing in employee and Board member Jewish educational development, organizations can invest in the Jewish workforce and institutional community at-large. Our folks have not only reported feeling proud to work with Moishe House, but it’s also helped learners bring new potential employees in the door, showing that we’re invested in long-term growth. This is an investment that we know we’ll reap the rewards from for years to come.

One of our Moishe House board members said it best, “I’d like to think I’m a better leader because I’m coming from a point of substance. I want to be able to walk the walk and understand the importance of Jewish learning first-hand.” I think that’s especially true as we shape the next generation of Jewish leaders.

Ben Lusher is Moishe House Board Chair.