Thursday, November 22, 2007

No Jewish Education?

Let me say right off the bat that I have busy indeed these past few months, and the backlog of things I would have liked to write about in this space has grown longer than I ever imagined it could. If you are curious about some of the things keeping me occupied on a professional basis, I would direct your attention to the website of Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York. If you'd like to know what's been happening on the home front, well, Liz has been doing a far superior job keeping that blog updated than I have here.

Nevertheless, the long pause since the last update to this blog shouldn't be seen as indication that nothing of note is happening in the world of Jewish education. Quite the contrary: these are interesting times indeed!

First, I suspect that 5768 will be remembered as the year that interest in Supplementary Jewish Education reached critical mass and hit the mainstream.

  • Following on the heels of Jack Wertheimer's Recent Trends in Supplementary Jewish Education last Spring, CAJE has announced that the Summer 2008 conference will largely focus on questions of synagogue education. An online discussion has already begun at the CAJE 33 wiki.

  • Mindy Schiller, writing for the not-exactly-alternative World Jewish Digest, authored a front-page article entitled "What's Wrong with Hebrew School?" for the October 2007 issue. Nothing is really said that wasn't written about in Sh'ma (and other places) as far back as March 2002, but hey, this article does quote me.

  • The Steinhardt Foundation's posting for a Program Officer included as a job responsibility "Developing a plan for rethinking supplementary Jewish education," and this will be the subject of the Fall 2007 issue of their journal, Contact. I expect that in the coming year we will increasingly see postings for congregational positions featuring phrases like "educational innovation" and "visionary leadership."

This past Fall also saw mainstream Internet sites becoming part of the general Jewish educational experience. We've got:

  • Rosh Hashanah videos on YouTube, like this one (which appears to be some kind of low-key birthrightisrael viral marketing campaign.

  • It certainly seems to be the case that every Jewish educator I've ever known is now on Facebook. Teens, run in terror!

  • And of course, 2Life magazine, celebrated the one year anniversary of Jewish life in Second Life, with its sixth issue featuring articles on the first virtual brit milah.

And of course, this Fall has seen the controversial opening of the first Hebrew-language public school, Ben Gamla Charter School, in Hollywood, Florida. Opinion is split as to whether this is a "genius" or "disingenuous" means to use public money to provide children with a Jewish, er, I mean "Hebrew" education. Nevertheless, expect to see others trying to replicate this model if Ben Gamla is deemed a success (and it survives any legal challenges that arise as it navigates the line between church and state).

All of this, and still so much more to say. Ladies and gentlemen, it is hard to believe it, but Jewish education is a growth industry. Who would've thought?

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