Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Year of Jewish Music

Although it is arguably the entirely wrong time of year to be publishing retrospectives of the year in Jewish music (wouldn't Elul be more appropriate?), both Jewish Week and Jewschool came out this week with lists of their favorites of 2006.

Interestingly, the only album that was honored on both lists was the Klezmatics' mining of the Woodie Guthrie archive, Wonder Wheel. Pretty cool that there are enough good new albums to fill two different top-ten lists - it wasn't so long ago that we might as well have called it the "only ten" list.

Even more interestingly, neither list honored any popular Israeli artists (unless you count the "Rough Guide to the Music of Israel," which received honorable mention from JW). I can't claim to be an expert, but I know there's an Israeli radio station that ONLY plays religious music the entire time, so I've gotta believe there must be one album from Israel worthy of making a list of Jewish music. And in any case, Jewish content was hardly a requirement on either list (one of which includes Bob Dylan's latest album).

An early indicator that the top lists for 2007 might be different appeared in the December Bikkurim briefing, which reported that JDub Records plans to "launch a new Israeli artist initiative 'The Port" that will introduce rising Israeli talents to American audiences."

My favorite Israeli album of the year (although it was actually released in 2005) is the second from Shutei Hanevuah (The Fools Of Prophecy), Mechapsim Et Dorot. We saw them in concert on the night before Erev Rosh Hashana with an audience that was evenly divided between Israelis, Americans, and Brits, mostly in their late teens and early twenties, and before concluding the show the band told the audience, in English, to call home and wish their parents a happy new year. And my favorite music video is this one from the Festigal, although apparently this link doesn't always work from the USA.

UPDATE [Jan 5]: Shutei Hanevuah was the featured performer at birthrightisrael/Taglit's "mega-events" this past week, which should help increase their exposure to an international audience.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Coolest Prize for a Jewish Contest Ever?

The BabagaNewz Capture the Dream Contest asks students to design an original logo for a plane carrying passengers making aliyah. The Grand Prize winner's design will be reproduced on a Nefesh B'Nefesh plane to Israel next summer, and the winner will receive a free trip for two to Israel.

Detailed rules and an entry form are available on the BabagaNewz website. The contest is open to students in Grades 4 – 7 in the U.S. and Canada, and entries must be received by Monday, January 29, 2007.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

...and in the news this week...

Brooklyn has more upmarket preschoolers than it can handle, reports New York Magazine in "The Preschooler Glut:"

The brownstone-Brooklyn baby boom is causing a sort of educational crisis in the once easygoing borough, leading parents to wonder: When did this turn into Manhattan? A flood of would-be students has forced the area’s premier preschools (where tuition is five figures) to close their application season as much as three months early.

The Conservative movement's Solomon Schechter day schools are considering changing their bylaws to admit the children of non-Jewish mothers, reports this JTA article. More detailed analysis is offered by the Baltimore Jewish Times. Sue Fishkoff asks in her a follow-up article:

If Solomon Schechter day schools begin to admit children of non-Jewish mothers, will that draw students away from Reform or community day schools? [...] Zena Sulkes, day school specialist for the Union of Reform Judaism, said she does not anticipate an exodus from the 19 schools affiliated with the Progressive Association of Reform Day Schools. Since Schechter schools already quietly admit non-halachically Jewish children, those families looking for a Schechter education are already going there, she suggested. Others won’t be tempted.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Israeli textbooks, the Green Line, and Yuli Tamir

It is well known that many textbooks in use in the Middle East fail to show Israel on their maps, as for example in this map from a 4th grade Syrian civics textbook. Or Kashti reports in today's Ha'aretz that:

...on the Web site of the Israel Defense Forces intelligence division, in a section dubbed "the hatred industry," the site analyzes the textbooks distributed by the Palestinian Authority. The writers point out that the maps do not mention Israel's name. They complain that when the Green Line is marked, Israel and the territories are shown in the same color. That is one of the "sophisticated methods of bypassing the problem," the site says [link to the report that Kashti cites, by Dan Meridor].
What you may not know, however, is how the state of Israel is presented in maps in Israeli textbooks. In the same article, Kashti reports on a two-year old study by Dr. Nurit Peled-Elhanan of the Hebrew University's School of Education:
Peled-Elhanan examined six textbooks published after the Oslo Accords, including some that were officially sanctioned by the Education Ministry. Other books were adopted by many teachers even though they were not officially approved. Among the salient findings were the blurring of the Green Line, the ignoring of Arab towns in Israel, and the presentation of sites and settlements in "Judea and Samaria" (not the "West Bank") as an integral part of the State of Israel.

[editor's note: the map to the left is not, of course, from an Israeli textbook, but from YeshaHomestead, a site devoted to building settlements on land purchased from Arabs. If you should happen to be Haredi, rich, and willing to gamble on the future of settlements on the West Bank, you might be interested in purchasing a "big house" or a mansion in the mountaintop community of Givat Yakov. But I digress...].

This week, Minister of Education Yuli Tamir propsed that all maps in new editions of Israeli textbooks show the Green Line, and she wants the next budget to support private publishing companies in making the change. Akiva Eldar reports in Ha'aretz:

Tamir said Israel could not demand of its Arab neighbors to mark the June 4, 1967 borders, while the Israeli education system erased them from its textbooks and from children's awareness. "This is not a political issue, but rather an educational one," Tamir said Tuesday. "We teach, for instance, about United Nations Resolution 242, but we don't show students the Green Line. We cannot deny that there used to be a border that is still being debated today." Tamir defended the decision as the only way to teach students the basis of the region's politics.

Meanwhile, an organization of right-wing rabbis on Tuesday issued a Halakhic decree forbidding students from using schoolbooks featuring maps of Israel which include the pre-1967 Green Line border, Israel Radio reported.

Tamir's decision may indeed be partially political, but Or Kashti reports in another article that there is a pedagogic basis for the change: An improvement in the teaching of geography in Israel:

Education Ministry officials in charge of the subject are convinced the only way to make geography relevant and strengthen the subject's standing is to add current issues to the lessons - for instance, by marking the Green Line in school textbooks and on maps.

A new curriculum for 10-12th graders, which addresses the Green Line much more extensively, is set to be introduced in the next school year. In the new curriculum, students will discuss "the factors in the delineation of Israel's borders," including the 1967 Six-Day War, as well as "different approaches for delineating final borders."

The curriculum will present three primary approaches: a return to the 1967 boundaries, preservation of "Greater Israel" and various proposals for border adjustments and compromise. The students will be expected to recognize and understand the "different approaches for defining the borders of the Land of Israel and the State of Israel."

"The question of borders will become an issue that is debated in the classroom," said [Education Ministry's supervisor-coordinator for geography studies, Dalia] Panig. "The education system should not bury its head in the sand. There is a constant debate in Israeli society regarding the different approaches to determining the borders, and there is no reason it shouldn't take place in the classroom. It is unacceptable that a student should hear terms like 'the Green Line' and not recognize them.

As in Israel, many of the maps and textbooks that are in wide use in liberal Jewish settings in the United States don't demarcate the West Bank, Gaza Strip, or Golan Heights in any way. For example, take a look at this map from Behrman House's 4th-6th grade textbook "Welcome to Israel".

The chapter from which the map is taken addresses the diverse population of the State of Israel. It notes that Israel is home to one million Arabs and to a variety of religions that consider it a holy land. It asks readers to ponder questions of the nature of a "Jewish state," such as whether non-Jews should be able to hold Israeli citizenship and whether the prime minister should be a rabbi. It even includes a photo of Rana Raslan, the first Arab Israeli to be crowned Miss Israel [a kindergarten teacher, incidentally], and quotes her as saying " does not matter if I am Jewish or Arab, I will represent Israel as best I can." In short, the chapter does a fine job of depicting the pluralistic nature of the State of Israel and the questions such diversity raises. Yet, in the map accompanying the chapter, it is clearly "greater Israel" that is shown.

How does your school or educational program handle the question of maps of Israel? Do the textbooks you use or the maps you hang on the wall show the Green Line? Do you "problematize" the question of borders, as the Israeli Education Ministry now intends to do with its High School students? If you aren't clear on the answers to these questions - may I suggest that this is a good opportunity to take a second look at your materials, and to enter the same debate that Yuli Tamir has raised here in Israel.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Simon Maccabee: A Chanukah Story

My friends,

As Chanukah approaches, I'd like to share with you an original story that I wrote two years ago while Director of Education at Central Synagogue. I told this story at Friday night services as a lead in to the students in the 4th and 5th grades singing Debbie Friedman's "Not By Might." It is the story of Simon Maccabee, a lesser-known Maccabee sibling. Here is an excerpt:
I think most of us here know about Judah Maccabee . . . but not so many people have heard about his brother, Simon Maccabee. We don’t know a whole lot about him, but I think I remember hearing somewhere that Simon was a 4th or 5th grade teacher.

Simon wasn’t a great fighter, but he loved to cook. Each morning he would fry up some mighty tasty latkes. When his brothers would come home in the evening, they always had new people with them who had decided to join in the fight against the Syrians

. . . Soon, Simon was getting up earlier and earlier to peel the potatoes and fry up the onions, and long lines of soldiers would wait for the mighty tasty latkes. Simon started to arrive later for work and his students would all wait impatiently for him to begin his lessons.
The entire text is after the jump. Please feel free to pass it along and to retell it in your own words.

Happy Chanukah!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Proudly educating at JTSA

With the Conservative movement poised to make a decision about the ordination of gay and lesbian rabbis in the first week of December, I am pleased to share with you a program run by the Davidson School of Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTSA).

In Spring 2006, Elliot Glassenberg (a student in the Davidson School) approached several faculty members about organizing programming at JTS that would explore issues related to "Sexual Diversity in Jewish Education." Elliot worked with several students and faculty members to shape two programs that were open to the entire JTS community, and were sponsored by the Davidson School, Rabbinical School, Cantorial School, DSO, RSSO, and CSO.

The primary goal of this program series was to help participants think through how attention to the sexual diversity in our schools, congregations, and other Jewish institutions might enable an expanded inclusion of students, families, congregants, colleagues, etc. The guiding questions for each activity and discussion were framed to support participants in reflection upon the possibilities (and challenges) of changing a school/congregational culture, especially when there is a presumption in these institutions of a heterosexual norm.

With thanks to Dr. Steven Brown, Dean of the Davidson School, for permission to host this here, and to Dr. Shira Epstein for writing it up, New Jewish Education is proud to provide Elliot Glassenberg's program Engaging with Sexual Diversity as a Microsoft Word file. You have permission to use or repost this program as long as you credit your sources.

UPDATE Dec 6, 2006: Earlier today, the Conservative movement's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards moved to allow same-sex commitment ceremonies and the ordination of gay and lesbian rabbis. The JTA has the full story here.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A Transformative Summer Experience

They may not yet have a plan for educating their children (see "Who will teach the kids of Hadar?"), but boy, they sure have adult education in hand! Hadar has just announced that they are opening an 8-week long, full-time Yeshiva program this coming summer (June 3 - July 27, 2007). The program will offer 15 fellows:
"an intensive program in the heart of Manhattan's Upper West Side . . . Yeshivat Hadar will combine traditional text study, egalitarian prayer and social action with a special focus on personal religious growth. Yeshivat Hadar will create a community of learning which will include seminars, havruta (paired learning), and individualized projects. Students will complete the program equipped with greater textual competence and broader knowledge of the Jewish tradition as a whole. Students will commit to bringing lessons from their summer experience to their hometown community.

"In recognition of the intense time and energy commitment required by the fellowship, Yeshivat Hadar is pleased to offer a generous stipend, intended to cover the cost of tuition and living expenses. For more information (including student qualifications and a tentative schedule with course descriptions), and for the full application, please visit For any questions, feel free to email us at"

Sunday, November 26, 2006

New NYC Reform Jewish Social Action Newsletter

The Reform Jewish Voice of New York State (RJV), a committee of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, has launched a brand new e-Newsletter.

RJV e-Newsletters will provide updates on matters of concern in New York State as well as ways to become involved in statewide advocacy. Many issues of importance to the Reform Jewish community are being debated in our state legislatures, and we hope that you will help bring our Reform Jewish values to Albany through RJV.

Over the past few years, RJV has advocated on several important issues, including: support of same sex marriage, raising the minimum wage, providing emergency contraception and funding stem cell research, including embryonic stem cells. Additionally, we have opposed the death penalty and tax credits for private education. We expect that these issues will continue to be important advocacy issues next session as well as others!

The first issue is a little short on content, but future issues are expected to be a major route by which the Reform Movement will broadcast its legislative agenda and provide opportunities for activism. What I'd like to know is, what exactly are the "Reform Jewish values" that they plan to bring to albany?

Friday, November 24, 2006

Will Left Behind be left on the shelves?

Released in time for Christmas, the apocalyptic Christian-themed video game that stirred up the Jewish Week (see "Jewish Week not Pleased to be Left Behind") isn’t exactly receiving rave reviews.

Citing game-play design problems, the need for too much micromanagement, and weak graphics, rates it a 5.9, “Mediocre:”

In any case, the controversy about the game's message has been overinflated somewhat. Given the wide range of games that are inspired by religious, mythical and supernatural beliefs, it's interesting to see a game that presents the concepts of a modern religion like Christianity as core components of gameplay. True, the very idea that converting non-believers is the central activity in the game is likely to alienate some people but it really shouldn't be much of a surprise to people that a game with a picture of an angel and a warning about the antichrist on the box is going to have a Christian slant.

Underground Online gave the game a more generous B+ rating, finding it repetitive and a little dull:

When you give an order to your units, almost half of your Friend and Recruiter units' responses will be "Praise the Lord!" Which can get annoying to hear 50 times a minute.

This review also pointed out one of the more bizarre aspects of the game - rappers and heavy metal musicians are the enemy! (sorry, Corner Prophets. Well, I guess Ismar Schorsch might enjoy the game...):

As we mentioned before, the streets are filled with rappers, and anyone in your Force has to steer clear of them. Any person who walks too close to a rapper will hear their rap song, and anyone who hears a rap or heavy metal song will have their Spirit level lowered. So if you see a rapper or heavy metal musician, you can either shoot them dead to protect your people's faith, or counteract them with your gospel singers or other spiritual warfare units, who raise people's Spirit levels.

Finally, Just Adventure rates it a C+ but their review does offer a concise summary of Christian eschatology.

I'll make it fast in case we're running out of time...

Sue Fishkoff, the Jewish world's leading journalist on all things 20something, poses the question in the JTA today: Can the market sustain so many "New Jew" publications?

This year was particularly fecund for new print publications, with the arts quarterly Guilt and Pleasure launching in early 2006, American Jewish Life (formerly Atlanta Jewish Life) in September, and PresenTense in late October.

But some people wonder whether there’s a market to sustain all these ventures. One kid with a PC who doesn’t sleep much can run a blog, but a print publication — or an extensive Web presence sustained by advertising — requires real money.

Okay, full disclosure here: I have no intention for New Jewish Education to develop a huge web presence or create a print publication. But nevertheless, I wouldn't mind it if a few other insomniac kids with laptops would help share in the work, er, I mean, the JOY of updating the content here.

In any case, best of luck to you, Zeek, PresenTense, Nextbook, and the rest of you. May you live to one hundred and twenty.

Two quick web resources for teaching Israel

Just learned about each of these sites - they may be old news to you.

1. The website Maps of War hosts a 90-second Flash animation called "Imperial History of the Middle East" that summarizes with reasonable accuracy the rise and fall of imperial empires in the region, from Egypt through the contemporary era.

2. The photo-sharing resource Flickr hosts a variety of groups that are terrific for showing off contemporary life in Israel. For example, the Israeli Street Art group features over 1,000 photos of graffiti, stencils, and other forms of street art as seen on the streets of Israel, while the Florentin group has photos taken in this hip Tel-Aviv neighborhood. For thousands more options for photos from Israel - nature, cities, people, the war in Lebanon - check out The Israel Project group, or simply do a search for "Israel" in Flickr groups. Oh, and in the photo below, the Hebrew reads "love your neighbor as yourself" [Leviticus 19:18].

photo of Israeli street art

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Rethinking the Jewish Cultural Renaissance

The November issue of Sh'ma, on Jewish Literary Culture, includes a piece Stephen Hazan Arnoff and I co-authored. Entitled "Producers and Consumer: Rethinking the Jewish Cultural Renaissance," we suggest that

If the first step in the current expansion of the Jewish cultural landscape has been establishing modes for producing and delivering the work of culture makers to engaged consumers, the next step is expanding the nature of Jewish cultural production so that a much fuller range of the community is empowered to build a richer and more vibrant Jewish world.

In the same way that many educational programs are increasingly moving away from the model of frontal education (that places the learner in a passive role and assumes that he or she will benefit from the expertise of teachers) in favor of an active-learning approach (that encourages exploration, experimentation, and problem-solving), we believe cultural programs should adapt the approach of workshops, think tanks, and chevrutas – creating environments in which every participant contributes as both a producer and a consumer of learning and culture.

As Sh'ma does not have a direct method for responding to the articles they post, Stephen and I would be delighted to read any feedback posted here.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Will the JCC Host Steinhardt's New Jewish Day School?

The Nov 13 issue of New York Magazine features an article "Building the New Dalton" that discusses the demand for new private schools in New York City and the huge number of new schools opening in response. The article outlines the challenges of starting a new private school in Manhattan: The lack of real-estate, the need to get the support of a community of parents, and most importantly, the high costs. If you're looking for a quick-get-rich scheme, apparently investing in private education is not the path.

The whole article is terrific, as it shares the struggles of three new schools to become viable: the Harlem Academy (start-up costs: $500,000), the ideal School ($1.5M), targeted to have a 75/25 ratio of inclusion of students with special needs, and the top-shelf Wall Street area Clairemont school (a staggering $40M), whose head of school is Irwin Shlachter, former headmaster of the Rodeph Sholom Day School.

The article also follows the story of Michael Steinhardt's attempts to start a new school:

Steinhardt’s particular vision is a Jewish-inflected high school that would educate nonreligious Jews in their culture and heritage, but whose intellectual rigor would appeal to non-Jewish families as well. Hebrew would be taught, in the same way Latin is taught at schools like Dalton, “as a classical language to better understand history and literature,” he says. The student body would be one-quarter non-Jewish, possibly more.

Steinhardt struggled for ten years to get the school started, but with no luck. The article goes on to explain that

...the school became mired in debates over its mission — would putting Jewish and non-Jewish teenagers together lead to more interfaith marriages? — and eventually Steinhardt’s co-backer, who was planning to match Steinhardt’s contribution of more than $10 million, withdrew his financial support.

But the story is not over for Steinhardt's dream:

Instead of launching a high school, he is now pursuing the less ambitious plan of piggybacking an elementary school on an existing nursery school. Steinhardt approached the 92nd Street Y with the idea; it seemed like a perfect fit—an organization that bills itself as a New York cultural and community center first, an association created by and for Jews second.

But Steinhardt says his vision was “too Jewish” for them. He was worried that the Jewish Community Center would be hesitant to commit for the opposite reason: because his school would be primarily secular. But discussions with the JCC are progressing, and if they are able to come to an agreement, it would allow Steinhardt to start his school with a significantly smaller financial burden.

“If the school starts as an outgrowth of the JCC’s nursery school, and we begin with a kindergarten and a first and second grade and slowly grow it from there, it would not be an overwhelming cost, perhaps a couple million to start,” he estimates.

The not-exactly-for-the-proletariat New York magazine is actually a surprisingly good source for articles on the NYC education scene, or at least the upscale part of it. Some of their recent features include a round-up of the most influential people in NY education, a (somewhat leering) look at teen sexuality and the "cuddle puddle" at Stuyvesant High School, and an (adulatory) article on private investment in a public school in Queens (using the controversial "Success for All" curriculum).

Sunday, November 05, 2006

So NFTY really IS a cult after all?

I stumbled across this article by Daniel Rose at the Informal Jewish Education page of (an amazing resource for informal education and life-long learning - well worth browsing). The article ("the world of the jewish youth movement") describes the differences between a "youth movement" and a "youth club."

Broken down to its most simple elements, a youth movement is an organization that has a strong ideology, and focuses its activities and educational content towards that ideology. Every decision made in the movement, from programming to recruitment policies, publications to catering plans, first and foremost must centre on the ideology of the movement. In contrast to this, a club or organization has the participant at its centre, and their needs are first and foremost, even though there may also be an underlying, implicit agenda that runs the club, such as the development of good citizenship, or providing a Jewish social context for its participants.

Figure 2: The Pendulum Model of Youth Organizations[The above figure] describes various organizations and their members, and where their personal ideologies vis-a-vis the movements’/organizations’ ideologies are. Each x represents a member, with the arrow leading from the x, their personal ideology. This suggests that a true movement verges on a cult, and all the negative connotations that go with that. Conversely, an organization where each member tries to lead the organization on their own path, lacks dynamic leadership, growth, and “movement”.

This model, called the pendulum model, suggests that each organization oscillates between these positions, rarely finding themselves at the extremes. Classical Jewish youth movements would find themselves generally towards the right side of the pendulum swing...

OK, I eggagerated a bit in the header. NFTY isn't really a "classical" Jewish youth movement (along the lines of the Zionist movements of the last century, which the paper is really about), and of course the Reform emphasis on autonomy and personal choice somewhat mitigates the emphasis on a common ideology. But my parents certainly thought I was being brainwashed.

Anyway, I think the pendulum model is a helpful way to think about the natural development of Jewish organizations more generally. Founded by ideologically driven individuals seeking to actualize their own visions, over time either the ideology becomes institutionalized or various individuals try to push the organization in different directions. In either case, the organization can quickly become irrelevant - a successful one must manage the polarities of authority and choice. An organization without a unified sense of purpose provides no basis for affiliation, but one that fails to account for the needs of its stakeholders will lose its membership. A good, enduring, organization (like, say, the Jewish people as a whole?) will reflect upon - and rethink itself - in light of the demands of both collective vision AND the individual needs of participants.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Get paid for being Jewish!

That's more or less how the JTA described the rapidly-growing initiative Moishe House in this article:

"Say you’re a few years out of college, living with friends and working in a low-paying job for some do-good organization. You don’t go to synagogue but you miss the camaraderie of your college Hillel, and you like to invite people over for Shabbat meals.

"Imagine if someone was willing to pay you to keep doing it?"

Moishe House is a project of the forest foundation, who describes it as:

"...a collection of homes throughout the United States that serve as a hub for young adult Jewish community (with an emphasis on ages 18-28). The Forest Foundation provides a rent subsidy and a program budget for a handful of young, eager, innovative Jews to live in and create their vision of an ideal Jewish communal space."

The project embodies the pluralistic approach to Judaism that may rapidly be becoming the new norm for 20somethings. Moishe House Boston got a shout-out on Jewschool this week for its two-table approach to kashrut at shabbat pot-luck dinners - one table for hekshered food, the other for vegetarian. As the agenda is driven largely by the interests of its residents, some of the houses are more oriented towards social-action, while others organize poker parties, book clubs, and film nights.

So, what are you waiting for? If you would like to start a Moishe House in your area or believe you are a good candidate to live in a Moishe House near you, download the Moishe House Application Form.

What does a Jew - or a human - need to know?

For those who ascribe to an essentialist view of knowledge – in other words, that we could make a list of what is truly important to learn – here are two fascinating websites attempting, through consultations with experts, to map out the entirety of human knowledge and of Judaism (website in Hebrew).

On the first site, the links for detailed information exclusively attach to Wikipedia entries (there's no original content), but the map itself is interesting - although to my mind it privileges Western thought and religion in a strange and unnecessary fashion. On the Judaism map, there's no further description of any of the headings, although there is an explanation of the rationale behind the map and several published chapters of an upcoming book that go into considerably greater detail.

I won't keep you in suspense. Here, according to the website, are the content areas of Jewish knowledge:

  1. Philosophical and Theoretical Foundations of Judaism (if I understand correctly, focusing on such questions as "What is Judaism?" and "Who is a Jew?")
  2. Jewish Religion (including, for example, Torah, rabbinic writings, prayer, and mysticism)
  3. Jewish Culture (such topics as Hebrew literature and music)
  4. Jewish Society (such as folklore and demographics)
  5. Jewish Geography
  6. Jewish History

Of course, there is a great deal of overlap between these headings, with certain topics appearing under several headings. I'm not sure how the project will be able to sort this out in a useful way, but it is certainly an interesting start.

More immediately applicable may be their page on the question of "What is Judaism?" which identifies 8 different models for answering this question, incorporating definitions of Judaism as a religion, a culture, and as a people.

While we're on the subject of essentialist curriculum, it is also worthwhile to spend some time on E.D. Hirsch's Core Knowledge curriculum website, which hosts a huge reference library of related articles and a variety of FAQs on such questions as "isn't it elitist to suggest a body of content?"

Saturday, October 28, 2006

December means Eco-Retreats at Isabella Freedman

Two exciting and innovative retreats on the relationship between Jews and the environment are being held next month at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Falls Village, Connecticut. (IFJRC is the home of the innovative Adamah Fellowship that integrates Jewish learning and spirituality with organic farming.) How I wish I could attend!

Sustainiable Zion: An Exploration of Israel’s Environmental Crisis and Our Spiritual and Personal Connection to the Land will be held from December 1st – 3rd, 2006 and is targeted to 20 - 36 year olds [so I'm too old to participate anyway, ah well]. It is co-sponsored by the Green Zionist Alliance and the Conservative movement [one of the less ho-hum outcomes of the elections for the World Zionist Congress last winter]. Tuition (all inclusive) is only $100, with additional scholarships available for those on extremely limited incomes. More details can be found here.

Then, from December 14-17 will be From Latkes to Lattes: Hazon’s Conference on Jews, Food, and Contemporary Life, which will examine the intersection of Jewish life and contemporary food issues. The family-friendly conference will include "hands-on" cooking sessions, "a diverse and inclusive Shabbat and Chanukah celebration" and "delicious, kosher, organic food." More info and registration, right here.

While we're on the subject of food, my graduate thesis from the Davidson School, Teaching Birkat Hamazon: The Grace After Meals, is available on-line as a .pdf file thanks to the Lookstein Center. In it, I tackle how the prayer expresses connections between Judaism, food, spirituality, and the environment - an idea brought to fruition in a series of lesson plans written by Daniel Rose that are also available through Lookstein.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Jewish Week not pleased to be "Left Behind"

If last month's report on computer games on the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict wasn't sufficiently weird for you, then this article entitled "Jews in the Virtual Cross-Hairs" from the current Jewish Week might satisfy:

Based on the wildly popular Evangelical “Left Behind” book series, which details the struggle between good and evil once the Rapture occurs and true believers in Christ are whisked away to heaven, the game is due out early next month and poised, some industry analysts say, to sell hundreds of thousands of copies. As members of the Tribulation Force, the game’s protagonists, the player must roam the streets of a carefully rendered Manhattan and interact with passers-by, many of whom come equipped with “life stories” stressing their biography and spiritual state.

New York being New York, a large number of these computer-generated characters are Jewish. One of the game’s major goals is to convert as many of these characters, winning them over to the side of good. Although the game doesn’t mention Christ or Christianity specifically ... [it] offers, as a reward for completing each level, the opportunity to be directed to a Christian ministry’s Web site.

Being the computer geek that I am, of course I had to see how the game is described on Gamespot, a major site for reviews and insider previews of computer games. You can get a pretty good feel for the vibe of the game from the offical trailers, but their preview notes some unusual features of the game, such as:

  • "Like many real-time strategy games, Eternal Forces features a variety of resources that you need to accumulate to build units. One of these resources is your spiritual rating, which measures how good or evil you are. If your troops kill civilians and innocents, your spiritual rating drops, and if it drops too much, you may see your units defect (each unit has his or her own spiritual rating), and if drops too far, demons will show up."

  • "The game will feature biblical facts between levels, accompanied by tracks from Christian rock groups" (with in-game links to let players buy songs from iTunes).

  • "While you will play the single-player campaign from the perspective of the good guys, the multiplayer will let you play as either side. This will raise some eyebrows among some of the game's audience, but Left Behind Games felt it was important to represent both sides in the game."

The note that this is a "game that most people will have an opinion about, even if they never play it" is borne out by the user comments, which make the Ha'aretz discussion groups look tame (see the next article, below). The game is due to ship in mid-November. PS: I love the Gamespot mention that the game includes "Biblical facts."

Ha'aretz: Censorship on behalf of public discourse?

What happens when public discussion forums get a little out of hand? The English-language website for Ha'aretz has offered one approach with the publication of new guidelines for certain "talkback" articles. Bradley Burston explains:
In theory, the virtual no man's land of cyberspace affords a unique chance for common ground. But no. If anything, the Internet has become a powerful new weapon, widening to the ends of the earth the dimensions of the battleground in the Middle East conflict, exacerbating tensions and sparking new bloodshed with incendiary footage of atrocities real and doctored.

On a day-to-day basis, the battle is joined with gladitorial abandon, fervor, and bloodletting in the arena of the Talkback. More's the pity, since it is in the forum of the Talkback, more than anywhere, that a meeting of well-intentioned hearts and minds could truly take place.

In practice, Talkback forums have all too often served to provide a platform for the bully, the snide verbal abuser, the lockstep ideologue with no tolerance for the opinions of others. The reader sincerely interested in communicating with the other side may well refrain from responding, repulsed by the crude remarks of respondents who have found in Talkbacks a satisfyingly larger potential audience than they would have, had they scrawled the same thoughts on the side wall of a public toilet.

Writing that "censorship will be unapologetic" but that "political orientation will have absolutely no bearing on whether a comment is posted or rejected," criteria for deletion include racist remarks and slurs, comparisons of either Israeli or Arab policies with those of the Nazis, profanities directed at others in the forum, advocacy of violence, and "use of the phrase: 'There are no Palestinians' or derivatives thereof."

From my perspective, this seems to be a reasonable way of trying to create a forum for dialogue. There is a role for facilitation by a moderator, after all -- even if just to prevent a conversation from being dominated by one contributor. I have, for example, had no hesitation when deleting comments left by contributers that consist of nothing more than links to spam sites and do nothing to further discussion of, really, anything at all. Nevertheless, I'm curious whether readers of this blog see this form of Net censorship as a postive step or as overly intrusive.

I spoke too soon (and I'm glad)!

In an earlier entry (Who will teach the kids of Hadar?), I wrote that NYC's one-day-of-learning program "Lishmah" was now defunct. Apparently I spoke too soon: The program is continuing this year, now under the auspices of Alma NY. It will be held all day Sunday, November 19, at the Bronfman Center at NYU.

However, this change in leadership may still support the original concern that I raised - that it is tough (perhaps impossible) to mantain volunteer-driven programs without professional support.

You can get more information about Lishmah, including a list of the presenters and performers, right here. The cost is $18 for adults and $15 for students, including refreshments -- what a bargain!

Join us for: “Lishmah 2006” - a one-day celebration of the Book of Creation. Alma NY, in partnership with Storahtelling and the Bronfman Center, invites you to continue the tradition and join us for the 2006 Lishmah event. Lishmah is a day dedicated to highlighting the depth and breadth of Jewish learning. By creating an extraordinary one-day experience for Jews from across social, political, and denominational lines, Lishmah aims to inspire a revival in Jewish learning that touches the entire community. Lishmah means "for its own sake," a traditional concept that celebrates learning for the sheer love of learning.

Join Alma NY for a celebration of Jewish knowledge. Study, shmooze and have fun throughout a unique day of lectures, films, music and performances all focusing on Jewish texts. Top educators, artists and performers from New York and Israel will present an innovative, multi-disciplinary and intriguing approach to the Book of Genesis. “Fall for Genesis” is a day celebrating the fall season. We invite you to huddle with us at this time of year, not under blankets, but under another canopy – that of Jewish text and culture - thus creating a learning community. In the “spirit of Alma ” we will engage in learning which “dances” between Jewish text and other forms of culture and art.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Who will teach the kids of Hadar?

With all the attention being given to the success of independent prayer and study communities of 20 and 30 somethings, one cannot help but wonder how things will look several years in the future if these communities continue to thrive. Presumably, increasing numbers of the participants will become parents, and children will play an expanding role in the life of these communities.

Currently, when “independent minyanim” talk about learning, they mainly think about how to sustain and expand the study opportunities for their adult membership (see, for example, Hadar’s meeting notes from January 2005, outlining it's 3-5 year vision). I think it is not too early to ask: how will the next generation of children of the non-synagogue world be Jewishly educated?

This blog entry is intended to open up an ongoing discussion about this question and an examination of the different possibilites for Jewish education for the children of these independent minyanim. I hope that you will respond by challenging any of the assumptions or conclusions presented and by offering new insights into the topic.

Here's a sketch of the major options, as I see them:
  1. DAY SCHOOLS: Probably the majority of the parents will send their children to Jewish day schools, and the number of pluralistic/community schools are already growing at a tremendous pace. Many day schools already have a population spread over a number of synagogues, and adding a few independent minyanim into the mix will be no real change.

    This is probably, for the most part, good news for the day schools: Participants in these independent minyanim not only bring a culture of participation and volunteerism, but are also often Jewishly knowledgeable and strongly committed. A key concern to address here will be the high cost of day school education and making sure that financial aid will be available to those among this population who need it.

  2. SYNAGOGUE SCHOOLS: Some families will, of course, join synagogues so that they may enroll their children in their schools (especially synagogue nursery schools), participate in their “tot Shabbat” programs, or for B’nai Mitvah. Parents will have to weigh how to balance between their participation in the synagogue community and in the minyan. However, as the independent minyanim do not offer all of the services (worship and otherwise) that a synagogue provides, many of their participants may already affiliate, at least loosely, with a congregation.

    Certainly, a number of synagogues are moving to pluralistic models of community that can provide a home for those who attend independent minyanim. The fee for synagogue membership will be an issue, and synagogues may be reluctant to make it possible for non-members to attend their schools.

  3. INDEPENDENT SCHOOLS: There have always been alternatives to the synagogue school programs. For example, Workman’s Circle/Arbeter Ring still runs a number of secular Yiddish cultural schools (my mom went to one), and Chabad runs nursery and supplementary schools that target a diverse , unaffiliated population. Parents who attend these schools that want their children to become bar or bat mitzvah can either organize it privately or through a synagogue.

    An opportunity may exist here for the building of non-denominational and non-secular schools that would speak to the parents of independent minyanim in a way that cultural or Chabad schools would not – the question is, who would fund such a venture?

  4. GROWING THEIR OWN SCHOOL: Could the independent minyanim found their own schools as was done by, for example, by Kolot Chayeinu or Brooklyn Jews? Starting up an educational-program is complicated. Most of these minyanim are volunteer-driven; while folks may be willing to volunteer to lead a session at Limmud, most educational programs rely upon at least a few paid professionals. Could a part-time, volunteer-driven school model work, with perhaps a “community organizer” as the only paid position?

    Such a venture would take a lot of dedication and a lot energy on the part of the members of the minyanim, which might be difficult to sustain. On the one hand, these are to some degree the same folks who volunteer at Lishmah, Limmud, and other adult-learning opportunities, so they already have the experience and the know-how; on the other hand, the all-volunteer-driven Lishmah only endured for two years.

  5. What about alternatives to formal schooling altogether?

  6. TUTORING: An ever-increasing number of parents have their children tutored privately at home, often in small groups. Generally such programs (such as Partners with Parents) offer tutoring in academic subjects and test-preparation as well as Hebrew, Jewish studies, and bar and bat mitzvah preparation. This model allows for greater individualization of the curriculum, personal attention, and flexibility in scheduling, and enables the building of multiple-year relationships between teachers and families. Success is often predicated on the charisma of the teachers (although this may not be any different from any of the above models).

    A major concern here is the high cost of private tutoring. However, one advantage for participants in independent minyanim is that they may not need to worry about private tutoring being an isolating experience, as they already have a worship community.

  7. HOME-SCHOOLING: Certainly, a good number of the parents within the world of independent minyanim have the knowledge-base to provide their children with a Jewish education without needing to rely upon outside sources. Children in many of these families will learn about Shabbat, Jewish holidays, life-cycle events, and so on the “old-fashioned way” – by doing them.

    Already, websites like provide a good starting point, and there are both websites and active yahoo groups (often started by parents) in order to support one another. There’s plenty of technology available for home-based and individualized Jewish learning (for example, as in the JBOP software from JeMM.

    Finding the useful resources, however, can be a challenge, and once again, volunteer and amateur efforts (and those of small production companies) may be difficult to sustain. Another opportunity may exist here to provide parents with centralized resources and guidance. The participation of professionals and experts as community organizers and curriculum developers may be critical for the success of this do-it-yourself approach.

  8. “INFORMAL” EDUCATION: Programs such as youth groups, Israel trips, and summer camps are generally thought of as an add-on for a child’s Jewish education, and certainly could round out any of the above approaches. Could such programs build upon their successes and organize year-round, family-oriented opportunities, or would this diffuse their effectiveness at what they are already doing?

The good news is that there’s no lack of options already available for the families of the independent minyanim. The challenges, as I see them, are twofold.

On the one hand, the models that are built around a professional staff (such as day schools, supplementary schools and tutoring) can be prohibitively expensive. Families with a modest income may need financial assistance or the programs may require new kinds of funding in order to make them affordable to the full spectrum of the Jewish community. Could donors within the Jewish community make it possible for every Jewish child to have a free education, just as Taglit-birthright Israel provides trips to Israel?

On the other hand, models that are built around a volunteer base (such as home-schooling) are difficult to sustain and may require an expertise that not all parents share. Could the independent minyanim - or the larger Jewish community - provide easily accessible and inexpensive support for those parents and institutions that need the resources – both in curriculum and in community organization? And who would fund such initiatives?

I look forward to reading your thoughts!

Opening for Tenure track position at Davidson School

This just came in off the Davidson school alumni listserve:
JEWISH THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY announces a tenure track position in the Department of Jewish Education. Specialization is open but scholars with expertise in educational leadership and philosophy of education are particularly encouraged to apply.

The Department of Jewish Education forms the core of the Seminary's William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education. The Davidson School, the largest school of Jewish education in North America, prepares educators for teaching careers in day schools and universities as well as for leadership positions in synagogue schools, community centers, camps, and other informal settings.

The successful candidate will teach a range of courses to graduate (MA and EdD) and rabbinical students. A record of research and publication or evidence for potential is a must. Rank is open. Candidates already tenured at another institution may be considered for a tenured appointment to JTS.

Please send a cover letter and C.V. by November 21, 2006 to the Chair of the search committee, Prof. Barry W. Holtz, Department of Jewish Education, Jewish Theological Seminary, 3080 Broadway, New York, NY 10027.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Kinky Friedman . . . Good for the Teachers!

Kinky Friedman, the Jewish cowboy/folk-singer/mystery-novel writer and independent candidate in the Texas gubernatorial race, was quoted in The Pine Log (Austin State University's newspaper) as advocating the legalization of gambling in Texas in order to raise teacher's salaries. Staff writer Jesse Williams writes:
He said teachers had the most important job but are paid $6,000 below the national average. Friedman said gambling would bring $8 billion for teachers. Texans must go out of state to gamble. "We invented Texas Hold'Em, and we can't play it," he said.
Besides teacher's pay, he also said that what teachers instruct students should change. He said that Texas is one of the richest states but has the poorest student grades. Friedman said students should be taught things other than what's on the TAKS test. "We've created a generation of kids who don't know if the Civil War was here or in Europe," Friedman said.

With the campaign slogan "why the hell not?," it is hard to imagine how any dissatisfied Texan voter could resist voting for the man who wrote "They ain't making Jews like Jesus anymore." But if you'd like to be convinced a little more, check out one of his cartoon campaign messages on myspace.

UPDATE (10/3): Thanks to BZ for alerting me that Kinky might not be an all-around ideal candidate -- I'm not so comfortable with certain remarks that he claims were made satirically about Katrina refugees, for example, and he has some disconcerting views about illegal immigration and school prayer.

Of course, one might find the idea of using gambling proceeds as a way to pay for teacher's salaries troubling in the first place.

But should teachers be scared of the Zune?

Mike Elgan, writing in Computerworld, explains why Microsoft's new Zune mp3-player "scares Apple to the core." Available in the US beginning in mid-November for around $250, the Zune will have a 3 inch screen, an FM tuner, and a variety of other nifty features. Elgan notes that the new player will have a seamless interface with Windows, the Xbox, and Soapbox (their version of YouTube), a screen that can be turned sideways (to landscape) for watching movies, and that Microsoft has deals for video and television content from just around every studio you could name.

The most intriguing part, though, is the Zune's peer-to-peer wireless capabilities, making it possible for users to share songs, photos, and other data with other Zune users within Wi-Fi range. Users will be able to choose a "ZuneTag," which is a unique user name that others will see on a kind of "buddy list" when they connect via Wi-Fi. The device will have a "Community" menu from which users can select an item called "Nearby" to display all Zunes within range.

Elgan writes:
"Tweens, teens and twentysomethings have acquired the habit of feverishly sharing videos and songs. Today, they mostly have to wait until they get home and use their PCs to do so. With the Zune, students will be free to share music, videos and photos right there in class. They'll be able to pass notes to one another. The Zune isn't just a solitary music player. Think of it as a portable, wireless, hardware version of MySpace."
Wait . . . Pass notes to one another? In class?

With NYC schools already banning mobile phones, are schools going to need to become technology-free zones? How should teachers monitor student use of this technology?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Funding for Day School Technology Initiatives

This just in from the Lookstein Announcements list:
AVI CHAI is looking for new and innovative ways to apply technology to enhancing the teaching of Judaic studies in day schools. To that end, the foundation is providing seed funding for a diverse range of projects with the ultimate goal of learning about and identifying promising educational technology initiatives for Jewish education.

As a first initiative in this area, the foundation has allocated funding to support technological solution to pedagogic challenges. Competitive grants of $2,000 to $10,000 are available for those educators who have identified and developed innovative approaches to using technology in their teaching. Proposals guidelines and forms are available at and are due by November 25, 2006. For more information, go to, and follow the Educational Technology Experiments icon on the home page.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Breaking News from the JTA!

I just have to say that I love living in a world where this article is posted as "breaking news" by the JTA:

Comedian Sacha Baron Cohen substitutes Hebrew for Kazakh in his satirical movie “Borat.”

The anti-Semitic Kazakh television personality, one of several satirical creations by Cohen, a British Jew, for his “Ali G” show, appears in his own movie next month.

In it, Borat takes leave of his ancestral village, telling one resident, according to the subtitle, “Doltan, I’ll get you a new arm in America.”

In fact, Cohen says in Hebrew, “I’ll buy you some kind of a new arm.”

Borat also parries with his wife in Hebrew.

Appalled by the success of the character, Kazakhstan’s government has launched a counter-campaign extolling the Central Asian nation’s virtues.

New Graduate Programs for Day School Educators - Summer 2007

Two new graduate programs in Jewish education that are primarily based around summer study are being offered in Chicago starting Summer 2007.
The Jewish Education Leadership Institute (JELI) and the Loyola University Chicago Graduate School of Education are pleased to announce the inauguration, in the summer of 2007, of two separate Master of Education programs, specifically designed for day school/yeshiva teachers and administrators, which will be offered simultaneously.

The M.Ed. in Administration and Supervision comprises thirtysix hours of graduate courses over two summers followed by an independent study and practicum in the fall following the second summer. Each course in the program is oriented to the special interests and needs of a Jewish Day School/Yeshiva administrator and is open only to those accepted into this specialized program. In addition, the M.Ed. in Administration and Supervision coursework satisfies requirements for State of Illinois Type 75 Administration Certificate Endorsement.

The M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction comprises 30 hours (10 courses) of graduate courses over two years with intensive summer classes, on-line classes the first academic year and the final academic year involved in action research in the students' classrooms. Moreover, each course in the program is oriented to the special interests and needs of a Jewish day school teacher. Candidates who complete this program will earn a Master of Education degree from Loyola and a Master Teacher Certificate from JELI.
The full text of the posting, including a description of the course-work, can be found here as a .pdf file.

JELI is also the home of an international job bank for day school/yeshiva jobs, organized by regions.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

New Kivunim Homepage

Kivunim: New Directions has launched a new homepage to publicize their 2007-8 "gap year" program in Israel. Founded by Peter Geffen (who also founded Manhattan's Heschel School), the program is based in Israel but includes regular travel to other countries, including Russia, Morocco and India. Coursework includes daily study of Arabic, because (according to the site) "we believe that the future of Israel in the Middle East will be built only by increased engagement with and knowledge of the Islamic and Arab world." The program provides up to 30 college credits.

They also run a two-week teacher training program which includes along with Israel education over the summer, applications for which are also available online.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Should Supplementary Schools be located in DAY Schools?

Dr. Erica Brown, who is the scholar-in-residence for the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, posted the following question to the Lookjed discussion group this week:
What if we situated Hebrew schools in Jewish day schools and not in synagogues? Sounds preposterous? Never been done? All the more reason to give it some thought. Today, day schools in America are a fast-growing educational movement. People who never sent their kids to day schools are reconsidering, and synagogue movements that promoted public school education now have their own affiliate day schools. With all of the enhancements in recruitment, attendance and quality of day school education, there is a community educational orphan that we can no longer afford to neglect: congregational schools.
She goes on to write:
Instead of using weak teachers with little background in Hebrew schools, imagine having the elementary division of day schools using some of their finest teachers, resources and even day school students to participate in a much more content-rich program for public school students when the regular school day is done. Sure there are plenty of practical details to iron out, but many day schools use their facilities for Jewish camping in the summer or rent out auditoriums for community functions. Why not have the day school become the real educational center for the community at large?

You can read the entirety of her text, and the thread of responses, here.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: The Game

Wired News today reports on two new games based on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Global Conflicts: Palestine, scheduled for release in March 2007, puts you in the role of a Middle East journalist, while PeaceMaker, scheduled for release in December 2006, has you playing either the president of Palestine or Prime Minister of Israel.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Extreme Shul Makeover!

The JTA has posted seven articles on the movement towards independent minyanim, alternative synagogue models, and other experiments in community and prayer.

For a shul to prosper it must become more than a glorified bar mitzvah factory. To energize members and attract new ones, synagogues are turning to the personal trainers of the Jewish world, congregational makeover programs that aspire to help synagogues be all they can be. How successful are they?
The site is part of a huge discussion about new forms of prayer community being held across the Jewish blogsphere - for example, see this posting at on the question of the future role of rabbis in light of the independent minyanim movement, or this one at Mah Rabu on the "trichitza" model for pluralistic prayer.

100,000 Wikis in the Classroom

Wikispaces has announced that it is setting the goal of hosting 100,000 free, full-featured, wikis for K-12 classrooms:
These wikis are free, full-featured, can be public or private, and have no ads. The response to the more than 10,000 wikis we've given away so far has been incredible. Every day, we hear stories of students working together on their wikis in ways many teachers never imagined: collaborative essay writing, building study guides, sharing links and resources from across the web, and engaging in critical discussion. 100K is a big goal, and we need all the help we can get in spreading the word.
Friends, teachers, librarians, take a look! If you've ever wanted to experiement with a wiki in your program, this is a great opportunity.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Perfect Chanukah Gift for the On-The-Go Executive

Boing Boing reports:
"The Hannukit is a tiny, high-speed menorah made out of a piece of aluminum that you load with up to nine wooden matchsticks and set alight -- for people who like their holiday prayers fast."
You can order yours here.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Cycling for Peace, Partnership, and Environmental Protection

Registration has opened for the Arava Institute/Hazon Israel Ride 2007, a multi-faith bicycle ride from Jerusalem to Eilat to support the two host organizations and their projects.

From their website:
Find out more information about the ride, read the details of what to expect, and get answers to all your questions. Learn about the organizations that the ride supports, sign up today, or sponsor a rider!

I'm hoping to organize a Mandel Institute contingent for the ride, but have not yet received the official go-ahead. Stay tuned!

Microsoft presents . . . School ?!?

Yes indeed. The School District of Philadelphia and Microsoft have joined together to open the "School of the Future." Even though I myself use Firefox, there's a whole host of reasons to be intrigued (and not just scared) by the initiatives at this school, including their attempts to be a green institution, their promotion of a clear educational vision, and their development of a curriculum built around leadership competencies.

Of course, there's also the danger that the students, carrying their laptops, will be mugged on the way home...

Monday, September 11, 2006

And now a word from the Elders of Zion...

The Jewish People Policy Planning Institute (JPPPI) has released its 3rd annual "assessment of the situation and dynamics of the Jewish people," which can be downloaded as a .pdf file here. The report makes a number of policy recommendations, most of which are in-line with the primarily conservative agenda of the organization, such as:
"Once a democratic decision is taken by Israel; its choices should be supported by the vast majority of Jewish People organizations and leaders, whatever their views may have been before that decision."
However, the report also encourages investment in the use of cyberspace for learning and community building and, even more importantly, the support of grassroots initiatives "as a main recommended strategy." They specifically recommend giving financial priority to youth group initiatives, providing training and support to "would-be initiators," and to "take care to respect and encourage the autonomy of grass roots activities." Yippie!

Some of the key points in their 2006 report include:
  • Israel is now the largest Jewish community in the world, with a population of 5,309,000. The United States has a population of 5,275,000 (although with the caveat that this does not include "non-Jewish members of Jewish households"); the rest of the world, combined: 2,501,000 Jews (primarily in France, Canada, Russia, the United Kingdom, or Argentina). As Dennis Ross writes:
    "If nothing else, this means that the future of the Jewish people is more clearly linked to the fate of Israel, and Israel’s character, values and security will matter even more to those who live in the Diaspora."
  • "As opposed to a previous attitude of generic condemnation of genocide," 2006 saw the beginnings of the "acknowledgement of the Shoah as a major event in European and world history," as demonstrated by (for example) the declaration of an International Day of Holocaust Remembrance by the United Nations, the establishment by most European countries of a European Day of Memory on January 27, and the opening of several "highly visible Shoah Memorials, notably a large one in Berlin."
  • 39% of American Jews use the Internet for Jewish purposes (although its not clear how many of these are referring to J-Date).

Sunday, September 10, 2006

oy!hoo Festival begins today

The 2006 oy!hoo Festival begins tonight in NYC, a week of concerts targeted mostly to Gen X and Y Jews and those who love them. Don't miss Jewzapalooza, a free all-day concert in Riverside Park next Sunday (the 17th). Wish I could be there with you!

Also, in conjunction with the festival will be a two-day conference (Sept. 12-13) that "will expose participants to the next wave of Jewish culture and allow them to engage in didactic discussions with today’s leading cultural visionaries."

Michael Moore to the Rescue . . . or not

Michael Moore failed to save the day when the projector broke during a screening of Borat, the new film from Sasha Baron Cohen according to this article from The Daily Transom. Best quote:
Sasha Baron Cohen had arrived for the Borat premiere on a cart pulled by six women and a tiny pony, each of them in yokes, the women all in shtetl chic.

Not the same Jerusalem Fellows

As of this September, the Mandel Leadership Institute (site in English) will allow for varied lengths of participation in the Jerusalem Fellows.
Applications will be considered for one-year fellowships, for two-year fellowships, and for multiphase fellowships in which the Fellow participates for an initial block of several months followed by two or more smaller blocks over the course of the following two years.
This is good news for anyone who is interested in the program but wouldn't have been able to commit to the two years that were previously required.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Job Posting: Project Manager, Learnings and Consultation Center (JESNA)

JESNA is a continental nonprofit organization that is focused on improving Jewish education through a cycle of learnings, dissemination, and application. In short, JESNA figures out what works in Jewish education under what circumstances, actively disseminates that knowledge, and applies it in partnership with local communities and professional colleagues throughout North America.

JESNA seeks a highly-motivated, self-directed individual for a full-time position as Project Manager within its Learnings and Consultation Center (LCC). The LCC is the unit of JESNA that works to improve Jewish education by codifying knowledge about effective practices and disseminating and applying them through a variety of means including demonstration projects, consultations, conferences and colloquia, publications and the web. The Project Manager will work closely with the Director of the LCC (who is also JESNA’s Vice President for Programs and Organizational Learning) and the LCC’s staff of expert Education Consultants and Administrator.

  • Manage and oversee specific JESNA national educator recruitment and recognition programs
  • Assist LCC colleagues with project management and conference planning
  • Assist with management of agency-wide programs and projects
This entails:
  • Ensuring that projects are implemented effectively and in a timely fashion within their contractual frameworks and budgets, and consistent with JESNA’s goals and objectives;
  • Maintaining positive relationships and ongoing communication with project funders, participants, program providers and consultants, community leaders, as well as JESNA colleagues;
  • Maintaining databases tracking relevant information for each program;
  • Ensuring appropriate ongoing monitoring and evaluation of programs;
  • Working with JESNA’s department of Institutional Advancement (IA) to ensure appropriate project funding;
  • Publicizing projects and programs, in coordination and collaboration with JESNA’s Communications Director.
  • B.A., Masters degree preferred
  • Experience in managing complex projects and activities in the for-profit or not-for-profit sectors
  • Strong organizational skills including attention to detail and ability to juggle multiple tasks under deadlines;
  • Meeting and conference planning
  • Ability to communicate clearly and effectively, both orally and in writing with a range of groups and individuals (particularly educators, university students, community professional and lay leaders, funders and foundation staff)
  • Familiarity with the Jewish community and Jewish education
  • Skills in using word processing, spreadsheet, presentation (Powerpoint) software
  • Demonstrated resourcefulness, optimism, flexibility, and good humor in approach to project assignments and in working with colleagues and constituents
  • Commitment to JESNA’s values, mission and goals
START DATE: August 1, 2007
LOCATION: New York office

SALARY/BENEFITS: Commensurate with experience and capabilities.

APPLICATION PROCESS: Email resume and cover letter with position title in the subject line to Leora Isaacs, Director of the LCC, at Please note that due to the volume of applicants anticipated, we will only be contacting those applicants that we feel best meet our criteria for the position.


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Job Posting: Deputy Director of Communications at JFSJ

The Jewish Funds for Justice (JFSJ) is a national public foundation with offices in New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. JFSJ is helping to build a resurgent movement for justice with a significant Jewish presence at its center. Because of our innovative programming, more synagogues are building dynamic congregations, more working families own their own homes, more young Jews are becoming Jewish leaders, more volunteers are serving the common good, and more communities are organizing for social change. We are a rapidly growing, entrepreneurial organization seeking to hire someone in our New York office who shares our values and enjoys a fast-paced, friendly, collaborative and ambitious work environment.

JFSJ was created from the merger of three non-profits: The Shefa Fund, Jewish Fund for Justice, and Spark: Partnership for Service. Learn more at and

Position Summary: The Deputy Director of Communications will be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Communications Department. This will include increasing JFSJ’s earned media presence, contributing to – our blog and action center, and creating a JFSJ speaker’s bureau. The Deputy Director of Communications will report to the Director of Communications & Public Policy. Applicants should be comfortable working in an environment that is fast-paced but which also values personal development and work-life balance.

Requirements include a bachelor’s degree and a minimum of 3 years working in communications and/or journalism. Strong writing skills in various forms a must. We are looking for someone with an appreciation for and an understanding of the work of the social justice field. Experience in or familiarity with the Jewish nonprofit world is a plus. Jewish Funds for Justice is an equal opportunity employer that values diversity on its staff.

Major Responsibilities of the Deputy Director position:

  • Help program directors promote their programs in press
  • Develop JFSJ Speaker’s Bureau
  • Outreach to media (including regular press releases)
  • Maintain press calendar & “clip book”
  • Contribute to, our blog
  • Support work of Director of Communications
  • Salary: commensurate with experience. We offer a generous benefits package.

    How to Apply: Please send a short cover letter, two writing samples, and your resume to: with the position title in the subject line. We will not respond to all applicants. Only applicants considered for the position will be contacted to interview. We will review applicants on a rolling basis until the position is filled.

    Hours: Full-Time
    This job is salaried.
    Nonprofit organization
    Listed at New York, NY.

Job Posting: Deputy Director of Communications at JFSJ

The Jewish Funds for Justice (JFSJ) is a national public foundation with offices in New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. JFSJ is helping to build a resurgent movement for justice with a significant Jewish presence at its center. Because of our innovative programming, more synagogues are building dynamic congregations, more working families own their own homes, more young Jews are becoming Jewish leaders, more volunteers are serving the common good, and more communities are organizing for social change. We are a rapidly growing, entrepreneurial organization seeking to hire someone in our New York office who shares our values and enjoys a fast-paced, friendly, collaborative and ambitious work environment.

JFSJ was created from the merger of three non-profits: The Shefa Fund, Jewish Fund for Justice, and Spark: Partnership for Service. Learn more at and

Position Summary: The Deputy Director of Communications will be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Communications Department. This will include increasing JFSJ’s earned media presence, contributing to – our blog and action center, and creating a JFSJ speaker’s bureau. The Deputy Director of Communications will report to the Director of Communications & Public Policy. Applicants should be comfortable working in an environment that is fast-paced but which also values personal development and work-life balance.

Qualifications: Requirements include a bachelor’s degree and a minimum of 3 years working in communications and/or journalism. Strong writing skills in various forms a must. We are looking for someone with an appreciation for and an understanding of the work of the social justice field. Experience in or familiarity with the Jewish nonprofit world is a plus. Jewish Funds for Justice is an equal opportunity employer that values diversity on its staff.

Major Responsibilities of the Deputy Director position:

  • Help program directors promote their programs in press
  • Develop JFSJ Speaker’s Bureau
  • Outreach to media (including regular press releases)
  • Maintain press calendar & “clip book”
  • Contribute to, our blog
  • Support work of Director of Communications
Salary: commensurate with experience. We offer a generous benefits package.

How to Apply: Please send a short cover letter, two writing samples, and your resume to: with the position title in the subject line. We will not respond to all applicants. Only applicants considered for the position will be contacted to interview. We will review applicants on a rolling basis until the position is filled.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Job Posting: Life-Long Learning Associate at Congregation Emanu-El of NYC

Congregation Emanu-El, the first Reform congregation in New York City, seeks to hire a full-time Life-Long Learning Associate. This is a new position that is being created as an outcome of a year-long process of re-envisioning congregational learning.

The Life-Long Learning Associate will be responsible for the management and coordination of learning experiences throughout the congregation. Key responsibilities will include office administration, program management, financial supervision, communications and publicity. Additionally, the Associate will receive mentoring from the Director of Life-Long Learning in such areas as institutional change, strategic planning, hiring, and other aspects of life-long learning as based upon the skills and interests of the individual. This is a full-time, entry-level position that is appropriate for a recent college graduate interested in exploring a career in the field of education or non-profit management.

The Life-Long Learning Associate will:

  • Coordinate scheduling, logistics, and daily operations for all departmental activities.
  • Administrate the departmental office, including maintaining inventory and ordering and purchasing supplies, texts, and other materials
  • Handle internal and external communication and publicity, including departmental e-mail, telephone, and written correspondence and writing, editing and formatting sections of the congregation’s website.
  • Manage departmental information systems and databases for enrollment, registration, and other activities
  • Be responsible for bookkeeping, payroll, and accounts payable/receivable
  • Organize on and off-site facility use, including set-up and clean-up, technology, maintenance and security, and transportation
  • Staff and supervise activities in and out of the Religious School.
  • Provide daily coverage and emergency and crisis management.
  • Handle additional routine administrative tasks as needed.

The ideal candidate:

  • Brings new ideas and the ability to implement them
  • Has excellent interpersonal, writing, and organizational skills
  • Effectively sets priorities and manages multiple tasks organizational skills
  • Has a strong knowledge of applicable technology, including database management
  • Is a team player, working collaboratively with other staff and parents
  • Is familiar with Hebrew language and Reform Judaism
  • Is committed to professional growth
  • Is passionate, fun, enthusiastic, creative, and energetic
  • Thinks big picture about congregational living and learning

This is a challenging position that brings with it tremendous opportunity for achievement. We seek reflective practitioners who are committed to professional growth, are effective team-members, and who are able to share a love for learning and of Judaism with all members of our synagogue community. An advanced degree in Education and/or Judaic Studies is preferred.

The position requires evening and weekend work throughout the academic year. The ideal starting date will be July 10, 2007. Salary is a minimum of $30K+ based on experience. The Life-Long Learning Associate will be supervised by the Director of Life-Long Learning and will coordinate responsibilities with the Religious School Coordinator and administrative staff in other departments.

To apply, please send a cover letter and resume to Saul Kaiserman at