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Jewish Education is Dead; Long Live Jewish Education

I wish I had coined that phrase: “Jewish Education is Dead; Long Live Jewish Education.”  But in truth, this is the title of the talk by Dr. Jonathan Woocher, the Chief Ideas Officer of JESNA, the Jewish Educational Service of North America.  Dr. Woocher, whom I have followed through his writings for years, spoke at the Union for Reform Judaism’s Education Summit 2011, as part of the URJ Biennial Convention 2011. (Yada yada yada.)

To quote one of my tweets: “I was so inspired by Dr. Woocher’s talk that I could barely breathe.”

Dr. Woocher, in his own piercingly insightful way, challenged us to allow old paradigms about Jewish education to quietly go to sleep, as we embrace new realities and new paradigms for the Jewish present and future.  His talk, combining the best of technology including real time polling and engaging videos, offered a compelling critique of the present and a glance into the future of Jewish education.

The Case for Change
Said Woocher, these are the elements that make the case for change:

  • Success of assimilation: we are assimilated. We have not given up our Jewish identities doing so. 
  • Hybrid identities: Our kids (and we) have multiple identities, are fully involved but are asking what Judaism means to them. 
  • We are many things at once. How does that Jewish component speaks? 
  • Diversity of our community. Enuf said!?! 
  • The “sovereign self” – we are all “choosing Jews” 
  • “Patch dynamics”. Never one thing happening at a time. Rather many things happening at once 
  • Prosumerism: simultaneouslsy producers and consumers of our experiences people want to co-produce their Jewish experiences 
  • Institutional loyalty is declining 
  • Constant Busyness and pressure to achieve – how can we carve out space for their busy learning. 
  • Technology – not cause of any of these changes but an accelerant. Helping us to be less dependent on intermediary institutions.


This is Abiding
Not everything has changed.  These factors still remain:
  • Our search for meaning and purpose 
  • Our desire for connections and relationships 
  • Our satisfaction from accomplishment and growth.


Necessary Paradigm Shifts for the Future of Jewish Education
We need to:

  • Put learners at center of Jewish education.  Not institution or leaders 
  • Empowering learners and families
    Educating the whole person. Not just the “Jewish” part. 
  • Educate whole persons, making meaning and impacting lives not jut imparting content and promoting continuity 
  • Engage multiple intelligences 
  • Emphasize relationships 
  • Widen landscape of learning: concerts, media, trips, radio, etc. 
  • Create multiple points of entry
    Bringing innovation in from the edges 
  • Redefine the role of educators as guides, help others to find their way on the Jewish journeys 
  • Break down the silos and forging synergies.


What Should We Do?
Dr. Woocher suggests these new models and collaborations:

  • Magnet programs 
  • Link camps and congregations and year round youth activities 
  • Explicit pathways from early childhood education to next stages of learning. 
  • Day schools as community education centers.
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  • Learner- and family-generated learning options 
  • Using technology anywhere and everywhere.
Conclusions?
How wonderful to be able to offer you now a clear, well thought out synthesis of Dr. Woocher’s talk.  Yet it is 1:00 am, and it is just the first day of this amazing Education Summit.
Suffice it to say that Dr. Woocher’s talk, and the whole introduction and subsequent sessions of the Education Summit goad me (and our lay leaders and other rabbi) to rethink the whole enterprise of Jewish education within our synagogue.

It is one thing to kvell about what we are doing.  It is another thing to be open to reexamining every element of our program and vision to dream about what could and what should.

Bravo to the Union for Reform Judaism, and especially Rabbi Laura Novak Winer and her team for all they are doing to challenge and inspire us!

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