Romemanu Mi’Kol Lashon – Raising the Discourse of Hillel Educators

Michigan Hillel students evaluating programming; courtesy.
Michigan Hillel students evaluating programming; courtesy.

By Davey Rosen

Over 50 Hillel professionals met the first week of June at Capital Camps for the first Hillel Educators Kallah. Attendees represented the gamut of Hillel roles, directors, engagement professionals, campus rabbis, and more. Regardless of title or job description, we consider ourselves Jewish educators.

The retreat provided the opportunity to meet in smaller groups to discuss big ideas in Jewish education. I was part of a group that was charged with answering the question “What is (or should be) Hillel’s educational vision and approach?” Dr. Laura Tomes skillfully led our discussion. Our group recognized that we, as Hillel staff, working with emerging adults, have honed our expertise in the method of relationship based engagement. Within these relationships, we assume we are also being educators – because we have seen students have “aha moments;” we have seen our students grow: and we have helped our students to internalize a variety of Jewish values.

But we were stuck when asked if we really consider ourselves educators – what was our pedagogy? What was our method and practice? How could it be assessed, and indeed, are we even able to really demonstrate our successes? It became clear during our discussion that if Hillel staff, regardless of academic training, are going to consider ourselves Jewish educators, we need a method and practice that will merge the central elements, or commonplaces, of Judaism (God, Torah and Israel) with the central elements of education (subject, learner, educator and environment). What would be a curriculum that could be shared by Hillel movement? Even further, how would we measure the successful implementation of that content?

Thinking about this brought to mind the words of the festival Kiddush: romemanu mi’kol lash on – raising our people above other languages. Our prayers are a call to action – we need to raise our discourse and educational practice for the sake of our students. Reflecting on my own work at the University of Michigan Hillel, we continuously create, evaluate and refine new access points to Jewish life. To do so, our event planning and funding process asks students to consider the big idea that drives their program, what outcomes are expected and how will they know their measurable goals have been met. And in addition to asking students to share photos of the event, students are asked to evaluate the program, describe the interactions between event planner and participant. We challenge them to articulate how the goals set out in the first place were met.

This allocation and assessment process itself is a learning experience for the student planning and implementing the program, and working with student leaders to edit and refine the process is a learning experience for the students as well. Refining our process to show positive learning outcomes for 6,000 Jewish students at Michigan is not an easy task. Imagining what it may look like to have a Hillel pedagogy for hundreds of campuses across the globe would be a tremendous challenge. But we are up to this challenge to raise our discourse. We have been charged with the sacred task of providing the tools for all Hillel staff to increase their ability to create transformative experiences with measurable positive learning outcomes leading to each Jewish student finding their unique voice within the ongoing Jewish narrative and, ultimately, to strengthen our community and to repair the world.

Davey Rosen is Associate Director at the University of Michigan Hillel in Ann Arbor and holds an MA (’08) in Jewish Education from the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education of The Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.

For further reading on concepts discussed in this article the author suggests exploring Gleenings or