Monday, February 26, 2007

Playing with Dolls

Jen Taylor Friedman's "Tefillin Barbie" broke out of the blogosphere to appear in Jewish Week this past week.

If you're bummed that yours is on back-order, or troubled by her wardrobe choices, check out the Gali Girls, "Jewish dolls for Jewish girls," three of which are paired with a supporting curriculum.
"The Gali Girls Jewish History Series is a fun and informative way to teach students about the cultures, traditions, and beliefs that the Jewish people have held in their respective countries and communities across the globe and across the ages.

"We offer a FREE SAMPLE CURRICULUM with your purchase of any Gali Girls Jewish History Series book. Gali Girl dolls are also available to add depth and character to each story, and they also make a fun addition to your classroom's Shabbat celebration!"

Either way, I think both would make a great companion for those mini-Torahs that you get on Simchat Torah every year.

To tie this all together, here is a list of ideas for playing with your mini-Torah, originally created for a family education program at Central Synagogue in NYC.

Older readers, on the other hand might, be best served by the Sigmund Freud hand puppet, which comes, of course, with a couch.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Top 5 Reasons Hebrew School Sucked

According to the current issue (Winter 2007) of New Voices Magazine:

5. All they teach you is that other people suffered and died, and that is why you should eat your grandmother's brisket

4. School from 4-6 o'clock = missing TGIF re-runs circa 1989

3. School on Sundays means you can't sleep in and you miss football

2. Hebrew school teachers seem to want to be there even less than their students

1. Hebrew school challah is the absolute worst

Published since 1991 by the independent, non-profit, student-run Jewish Student Press Service, New Voices is America's only national magazine written by and for Jewish college students.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Remembering Florence Melton

The great champion of Jewish education, Florence Z. Melton, passed away last week at the age of 95.

She was best known for her work with adult education through the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School, a pioneering program that has impacted on close to 30,000 adults. Based around an intense two-year curriculum and taught by outstanding educators, the Melton Mini-Schools paved the way for other serious adult learning programs (such as Me'ah). The Melton Mini-Schools comprise the largest pluralistic adult Jewish education network in the world, with over 60 sites located throughout the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia. More recently, they adapted the curriculum for the "Parent Education Program," whose goal is to show how concepts learned in class are relevant and applicable to the students' lives as Jewish parents.

Alongside her work in adult education, she also was, in the words of Rabbi Steven M. Brown (Dean of the Davidson School of Jewish Education), "a fierce advocate for the synagogue school. She saw it as one of the most important vehicles for Jewish education even in the face of a growing day school movement."

Ms. Melton was not only an entrepreneur, an inventor, and a philanthropist, but also a yoga teacher. In 1994, at the age of 82, she became Bat Mitzvah at Congregation Tifereth Israel in Columbus, Ohio. That same year, she wrote:

I’ve reached the age of eighty-two
And still look for a great tomorrow
But – don’t forget the here and now
For tomorrow is only borrowed.

May her memory be a blessing, and an inspiration, for us all.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Synagogue Schools and Congregational Agendas

Appearing in the January 2007 issue of Sh'ma, on the topic of Synagogue Organizing, is an article that I authored entitled "Synagogue Schools and Congregational Agendas." In it, I propose that a synagogue's education program may be the ideal place in which congregants can examine, challenge, and impact upon the synagogue's institutional vision. I further claim that this approach to education can revitalize and reinvigorate the function and purpose of the supplementary school and of bar and bat mitzvah:

". . . If we want congregants to see themselves as stakeholders in the success of the institution . . . there must be potential not only for the lives of the learners, but the practices of the synagogue itself, to be transformed through learning.

The [key purpose of the] supplementary school . . . is to transform young people into Jewish adults, able to make decisions informed by Jewish values and to knowledgeably and competently participate in Jewish observances. This can only happen when synagogue schools provide students opportunities to engage in learning that is informed by their lives outside the school. If not, anything they are taught will come across as irrelevant. All too often, though, students discover instead that their ideas have no place in the synagogue and, equally, that synagogue’s norms have no place in their lives once they walk out its doors.

". . . In many congregations, bar and bat mitzvah has become the point at which students end their participation in the school and the synagogue, and often, Jewish life. But what if the bar or bat mitzvah ceremony were reframed as an authentic demonstration of mastery of the skills that the synagogue expects of all its adult participants? Becoming bar or bat mitzvah would then require the young adult to share in the responsibility for the community’s outcomes and practices — not only by attending congregational worship or participating in its social action activities, but also by having a voice in setting its agendas."

Many thanks to Susan Berrin and to Sh'ma for permission to post the article in full. I would be delighted to read and respond to any feedback posted here.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

A Good Week for Tikkun Olam

Hot on the heels of their merger with the Shefa Fund last year, on Monday Jewish Funds for Justice (JFSJ) announced that they will merge with Spark: The Partnership for Service. This merger brings together, on the one hand, one of the major players in the movement to make social justice a normative part of the Jewish experience, and on the other, one of the most exciting, innovative, and successful social justice programs - with a particular focus on teen experiences. See, for example, their chart of the "ten elements of high quality Jewish service learning."

Spark runs three main programs, as described succinctly in their press release:

The Baltimore-based Spark was founded in 2000 to inspire a commitment to service as an ongoing part of each person's life and an important expression of Jewish identity. Thousands of students have participated in one of Spark’s three signature programs.
  • HeartAction provides intergenerational service to the elderly and the ill.
  • LiteracyAction creates ongoing relationships between educationally at-risk elementary school students and volunteers from Jewish groups.
  • Nitzotz, a four year-old summer program and partnership with BBYO, provides an intensive two week residential Jewish service learning experience for teens from across the country.

On the JFJS blog, Mik Moore writes that JFSJ had only recently begun to experiment with service learning trips, and this merger will greatly expand their ability to create such opportunities:

"It is impossible to travel to the Gulf Region, meet with people whose lives remain in turmoil, hear from local organizers, and not be moved to action. Integrate serious Jewish learning into the trip - as we do - and service has the potential to be transformative. Our expectation and intention is that service learning volunteers will become advocates and organizers, perhaps active in congregation-based community organizing through their synagogues."
The press release also quotes Michael Steinhardt, one of the five primary funders of Spark, extolling the benefits of the merger: “We are excited that the merger will enable us to take Spark’s innovative pilot to a larger scale."

This has been a good week for Steinhardt's initiatives -- the JTA reported yesterday that "America’s third wealthiest man" Sheldon Adelson "pledged $25 million to birthrightisrael." This donation will enable the organization to double the number of free trips to Israel that it offers Jewish youth.

The above image, by the way, comes from the Ziv Tzedakah Fund website. In addition to their incredible and ground-breaking work as a collective, they also provide a wide range of educational materials, ranging from a curriculum on mitzvot and tikkun olam to an inspirational educational video featuring Israeli "mitzvah heroes."