Tag: Jewish Education

Turning to the Israeli Supreme Court

By Anat Hoffman, Executive Director, Israel Religious Action Center
Cross posted at IRAC.org

Education is fundamental to the Jewish soul. As a people we have fought to be able to continue learning even in the most difficult circumstances. In Israel, we are fortunate to have top-quality Jewish and secular education. Learning into adulthood is not feasible for most Israelis, but tens of thousands of men in the ultra-Orthodox community receive state support to continue their studies for their entire lives. This privilege is not available to all Israelis.

When I was a member of the Jerusalem City Council back in the 90s, I met a young woman who changed the way Israelis think about education. Jenny Baruchi was a student at the Hebrew University and, as a result of her mother being employed there as a cleaner, she was able to attend without paying tuition. In spite of this advantage, she was unable to finish in the usual period of three years; as a single mother, Jenny had to work at the same time to support herself and her family. Jenny turned Jerusalem on its head when she decided to sue for the right to receive the same living stipend that haredi men receive for studying in kollel (a religious school for married men).

She brought to the attention of many Israelis for the first time that thousands of married haredi men were able to study for a lifetime with state support, while students in universities who come from economically challenged backgrounds had almost no options for support. Many yeshiva students receive stipends for on-going study, and these stipends are not based on merit.

These stipends are a major contributor to haredi men not joining the job market in Israel. Allowing tens of thousands of haredi men to continue religious studies for a lifetime without developing any “real world” skills keeps them from ever breaking the cycle of poverty, and it robs the Israeli society of their contribution. In fact, the national budget for yeshiva students is more than twice the amount available for university students in financial need.

The Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) has been at the forefront of trying to stop this preferential treatment, and our recent petition in Israel’s Supreme Court is beginning to crack this long-established system. IRAC’s legal team argued that special scholarships for yeshiva students need to stop. We feel they are harming both the state and the haredi men who take advantage of them.

We were very encouraged by the questions and the general mood of the seven-judge panel. It is actually very rare to have so many judges hearing one case, and it is an indication of how serious they find this issue. We are now waiting to hear their verdict and we hope it will come in the next few weeks, although the wait could drag on for months. If we succeed, it will not end all abuses of the state education budget, but it will close one huge loophole keeping haredi men out of the workforce and stopping poor secular Israelis from being able to study in university.

Jenny Baruchi is a success story. After seven years, taking on debt, and working long hours, she got her degree and is now a motivational speaker in Israel. She helps women from disadvantaged backgrounds understand that education is the key to breaking out of poverty. We are keeping our fingers crossed that the Supreme Court Judges will agree with us that equal access to education is a Jewish value that should be shared with all Israelis.

How You Can Help

  1. Learn more about our Israel Religious Action Center
  2. IRAC’s Mission
  3. Sign up for the IRAC’s Pluralist eNewsletter

Putting the Edge Back into Education

Educator Avram Mandel and Rabbi Julia Weisz

Seven other educators, Rabbi Julia Weisz and I sit together with convener Eve Fein as part of the Clinical Faculty meeting at the Rhea Hirsch School of Jewish Education of Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles. We gather a few times a semester to reflect upon the field of Jewish education and to improve our own work as Jewish educators.

This fall, we are focusing on studying Milton Chen’s Education Nation. [Read KQED’s interview with Milton Chen.]  Chen argues that we must “move the innovation occurring on the edges of our school system to occupy the center…”. Moreover, let’s “put the edge into education and create a sense that teaching and learning are exciting, contemporary and cool. As its most important enterprise, education should be on the ‘cutting edge of society, technology, and culture, rather than trailing other sectors.'”

Chen writes about 6 edges of education:

  1. Thinking edge – move toward a child centered approach 
  2. Curriculum edge – go beyond “subject matter silos,” and embrace project-based learning 
  3. Technology edge – face the “death of lectures” 
  4. Time/place edge – learning happens beyond the classroom walls, beyond discrete time periods, beyond a specific time of day 
  5. Co-teaching edge – increase teacher professional development 
  6. Youth edge – they have mobile computers in their pockets, how are we using them? 

These edges, Chen says, should be drawn into the center of educational thinking and work.

A worthwhile read, Chen’s Education Nation, pushes educational innovation in our public schools. Similarly, his perspectives necessarily shine light on the practice of Jewish education.  It raises many helpful questions to reflect back on Or Ami’s educational process. (A great institution – whether business, educational or religious – should always be reflecting upon its own work, vision, processes, successes and failures.).

  • How might we place the child at the center of his/her Jewish learning, especially as our teens? 
  • In what ways might the synagogue introduce project based learning into our curriculum? 
  • We usually tell our kids to unplug when they enter the synagogue. How might allowing them to plug in more deeply deepen their bonds with their synagogue and Judaism?

Have you read Chen’s book? What have you learned from it?

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.
  • Learner- and family-generated learning options 
  • Using technology anywhere and everywhere.
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!