By Bradley Caro Cook, Ed.D.
The goal was simple: to create a pluralistic and inclusive curriculum, pulling from ancient and modern texts, geared toward Jewish young adults of varying Jewish backgrounds and text proficiency levels, to expand their Hebrew language understanding, illuminate the concept of “Tikkun Olam”, and deliver Jewish concepts in a way that would advance the personal and professional lives of the students. The curriculum would then be built into Project Beyond as we partnered with a handful of Hillels to deliver an innovative model of deepening the impact of the Taglit-Birthright Israel experience. Our experience this summer, and initial participant feedback, suggests that our goal is achievable.
The mission of Project Beyond is to increase the Jewish identity of Jewish men and women ages 18-36 through a deeper connection and understanding of Israel. This is accomplished by developing a 7 day personalized Israel trip extension program based on cultural immersion and career advancement experiences in Israel. In order for the curriculum to be successful, it also had to be relevant to the participants’ daily lives in a way that would encourage them to find a deeper, more personal connection to Jewish learning. In turn, they would have the inspiration and base knowledge to engage in future Jewish learning opportunities through their Hillel, Moishe House, synagogues, online, or through other local organizations.
I turned to an ancient source for inspiration and direction: my great-grandfather going back 12 generations, Rabbi Joseph Ben Ephraim Caro. Rabbi Caro, who lived in the 16th century, codified Jewish law in a work called the Shulchan Aruch (The Ordered Table) that was designed to help people live Jewishly. It was one of the few times in our history that Jews around the world all agreed on a common law (a miracle in no uncertain terms: millions of Jews, one opinion), and the work has remained the foundation for “doing and being Jewish” in the centuries since. While I certainly don’t have the ability to create a work like the Shulchan Aruch, I knew I at least had the genetic materials to potentially inspire others to find personal relevance in Judaism – particularly when my target audience is in Israel, fresh from their Taglit-Birthright Israel experience. I conducted much research and discussion, drawing on my experience as a former public school teacher, my masters’ in curriculum and instruction, and my doctorate in teacher leadership. Ultimately, I decided that character education would be the most dynamic and effective approach.
The curriculum begins with kavannah, (intention), which is the basis for all of our actions and deeds. In Jewish texts (Talmud, Rosh Hashanah, 28b-29), there is a discussion of whether mitzvot “count” if they are done without kavannah. (To illustrate: The purpose of eating matzah is to remember the exodus from Egypt. But if one is not thinking of the exodus while chomping on his Hillel sandwich, has he truly fulfilled the mitzvah of eating matzah? Or as one of my students so aptly put it: “Have you really lived your life to the fullest if you haven’t lived it with intention?”) And so we begin with a commitment to being aware of the world around us and to increasing our attention to our daily experience, (which means putting down the smart-phone) to observe the nuances of Israel, and get the most of our next 7 days together on Project Beyond.
The second trait we focus on is chesed (kindness). For the purpose of this instruction we look at a selection of ancient Jewish text – for example, “The greatest wisdom is kindness.” (Talmud, Brachot 17a) – and then discuss its relevance to our lives. What does kindness look like to us? What forms of kindness have we seen during our time in Israel? How does kindness apply in our professional lives, or at home with our families? Most importantly, how can we seek out kindness, and what should our kavannah be in doing so?
The focus of our third day is hakarat hatov, appreciation or gratitude of the good that has been done for you, a critical component of who we are as Jewish people. We dissect the word Yehudi, the Hebrew word for Jew, which was first used in Genesis 29:35 with the birth of Judah, whose root is hoda’ah, which means “to thank”: our matriarch Leah gave this name to show her appreciation. We discuss how does appreciation for all of our good apply to our daily lives? We also consider the role that acknowledgement and gratitude play in repairing the world, their connection to chesed, and reflect on what kavannah will enable us to actively live with higher levels of appreciation.
The fourth day’s trait is tzedakah. While the word is typically translated as charity, a more encompassing translation of tzedakah is social justice. During this session, we incorporate a 90-minute workshop called the “Amplifier Giving Circle Express,” in which participants learn the Jewish laws of tzedakah, identify their charitable giving profile, and award a grant to a specific organization that they review (said grant is funded by a portion of the participant’s Project Beyond fees, which is pooled with other participants’ as grant allocation money). This activity makes tzedakah and philanthropy real and immediate, not only teaching social justice in an innovative, interactive fashion, but also empowering Project Beyond participants to create their own giving circles in the future.
Shabbat is the centerpiece of our fifth day. The Shabbat experience is one of the highlights of Project Beyond, which we celebrate with a Shabbaton at Livnot U’Lehibanot in the mystical city of Tzfat where Rabbi Joseph Ben Ephraim Caro codified the Shulchan Aruch. The experience facilitates a natural dialogue while providing an interactive experience preparing for Shabbat with challah baking, and the ancient rituals to modern Shabbat customs of Shabbat from various backgrounds, beliefs, and geographic regions. For example, participants learn about the history of “Lecha Dodi,” the song written to welcome the Sabbath, while standing on a large terrace above the field where the kabbalists (including Rabbi Caro) would gather to welcome in Shabbat by singing that song. We reflect on the meaning of rest and ritual in our lives.
The sixth element is bein adam l’chaveiro, or “Loving your fellow (wo)man”. This is the foundation stone of Jewish peoplehood, which extends to kindness in the larger world. Here, we look at the diverse faces of Jews from around the world, both through stories of our international participants and staff of Project Beyond, and by visiting Beit Hatfutsot, The Museum of the Jewish People. Their video, “You Are A Part of the Story”, beautifully illustrates the unbreakable bond our people share with one another, while tying together the concepts of tikkun olam, chesed, tzedakah, and bein adam l’chaveiro. Naturally, we discuss how we each can incorporate our Jewish identities, and all that they entail, into our lives.
The final day in the curriculum is called chazarah, review, synthesizing kindness (chesed), social-justice (tzedakah), appreciation (hoda’ah), love your fellow (bein adam l’chaveiro) and how to bring kavannah to each.
Just as my great-grandfather, 12 generations ago, brought together the Jewish people for generations with the Shulchan Aruch. The initial feedback from Jewish leaders from of all denominational affiliations has been encouraging. The students have seen value in the curriculum as well. Healing the World in 7 Days is truly a pluralistic, and relevant accomplishment that when delivered after Taglit-Birthright Israel, can deepen Jewish awareness and relevance in the daily lives of Jewish men and women globally. With this, their kavanah will be to repair the world.
Dr. Bradley Caro Cook is the founder of Project Beyond and a 2014-2017 member of the Upstart Bay Area cohort. He spends his time between Israel, New York, Atlanta, and San Francisco. For those that are interested in learning more about the Heal The World in Seven Days curriculum or Birthright extensions for your local community members, Bradley can be reached at Bradley@Project-Beyond.com