Snapshot: Experiment in Educational Innovation, Yonni Wattenmaker (Central Synagogue, New York City)
New York City's Central Synagogue is actively engaged in an effort to provide compelling learning experiences that deepen our congregants' understanding of and commitment to Reform Judaism, and to guide them toward lifelong involvement in the Jewish community. It was from this determination that the full-time teacher initiative was established for the 2004-2005 school year. This cutting edge program sought to tackle the constraints of limited pre-class preparation time and conflicts with full-time employment by allowing qualified, dynamic young educators to devote their complete attention to the education of Central Synagogue's youth.
With the vision of Rabbi Rubinstein, the financial backing of generous donors, and the support of the Central Synagogue clergy and lay leadership, this educational initiative began in September 2004 with four full-time faculty members [actually, there were five - ed.]. Since its inception, the Synagogue community has not only witnessed a renewed energy among its children, but also an increase in enrollment and a heightened reputation among parents as being a program of true quality and engagement in a field too often lacking both.
As we embark on the 2007 school year, nine full-time teachers are in our employment. Each of them serves as the lead for a particular grade, third through ninth, or for youth group, and all work under my supervision, as the Director of Lifelong Learning. Textbooks are used only for Hebrew support, and each lesson is created by the lead teacher for that grade with input from myself and the rest of the full-time teaching staff. In addition to their roles in the classroom and at school tefillah, these teachers assist at all of Central Synagogue's family events, from creating and leading high holiday services and assisting at Shabbat and holiday programming to functioning as Mitzvah Day staff, working with adult education, and creating 123 Central, a brand new magazine publication for all of our Religious School families.
The Full-Time Teacher Mission Statement, created this summer, is as follows. Full-time teachers are an integral part of the Central Synagogue community. They advance learning through a vibrant and organic curriculum; build relationships with students and families; model Jewish commitment and positive identity; invite exploration of Jewish culture in a relevant and accessible way; and lead the community with a clear vision.
We are most fortunate to have found success with this initiative, and in March 2008, we plan to host a kallah where we can share our work with others who are interested in exploring this model for their own congregations. For more information, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Monday, December 17, 2007
"British singer Lauren Rose has released a modern version of traditional Jewish song Hava Nagila, and gambling pundits have even given odds on the song to take the top spot in the U.K. Christmas pop charts.
"According the British newspaper The Sun, bookmaker William Hill has given 17-year-old Lauren Rose a 16-1 shot at having Britain’s best-selling song on December 25."
I couldn't find the original article on the website for The Sun, and am not convinced that Ha'aretz didn't pick up the story straight out of a Lauren Rose press release. In any case, you can follow the developments on Lauren Rose's myspace page or official website.
Oh, and why did she write this song? Here's a quote:
"I found out that the lyrics for the song were written 100 years ago so thought I would record an up to date version with English words as a Hanukkah present for my Grandfather."Ah, he must be schepping some serious nachas.
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
The Autumn 2007 issue of Contact, the journal of the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life just came out, and the topic is "Supplementary Jewish Education: What Can Be Done?"
Editor Eli Valley writes in his opening piece:
"... for the majority of American Jews, afternoon schools are and will continue to be the preferred venue of Jewish education. Instead of declaring the demise of Hebrew schools, the community should recommit itself to making afternoon schools work ... afternoon schools can take the initiative in creating innovative, dynamic and rewarding Jewish educational experiences ... that can help form the cornerstone of a revivified Jewish life."
Steinhardt's own contribution advocates for moving supplementary school out of synagogues and away from a curriculum oriented toward bar/bat mitzvah, in favor of home-based learning in small groups. The issue features several profiles of schools by their directors, including the Kesher after-school Hebrew programs in Cambridge and Newton, Tribeca Hebrew in New York City, and Prozdor High School in Boston. There are also more topical pieces on the role of community and vision in making Bar/Bat Mitzvah and family education meaningful.
Other articles include an overview by Nathan Laufer of the work being done by his organization, PELIE, to disseminate both the Kesher model and the model of the NESS program from Philadelphia's Auerbach agency, an explanation of the principles behind the Chai and Mitkadem curricula from the Reform Movement by Rabbis Jan Katzew and Daniel Freedlander, and one by yours truly on the full-time teacher model at Central Synagogue in New York. This is, to my knowledge, the first time that a description of this initiative has appeared on the web. I conclude:
"...It seems self-evident that having more qualified and better compensated teachers working longer hours with more responsibilities outside the classroom will improve a religious school program. The real value of such a shift, however, is the opportunity it provides to align the school’s curriculum, prayer experiences, and social justice activities with the vision and values of the synagogue as a whole. The integration of the religious school faculty into the daily life of the synagogue and the lives of its families provides new potential for building communities of learning and engaged Jewish living. True institutional transformation will come not only from improved pedagogy, but also from the creation of meaningful communal experiences outside the classroom."
The final word in the issue goes to Bill Robinson, who just two weeks ago became Chief Planning and Knowledge Officer for the BJE of NY. In a turn of phrase reminiscent of Douglas Rushkoff, he writes:
" ...in Authentic Jewish Education we will recognize and honor those who have wrestled with Judaism before us. We will also metaphorically kill Judaism every day by taking it apart, turning it upside down and pulling it inside out — constantly creating the new while remembering the past."
Of course, no issue could cover everything - for me, the conspicuous absence is anything relating to technology - but this issue certainly provides one of the most accessible overviews of new trends in supplementary education currently available. Enjoy!