That Awkward Jewish Moment

There’s the overabundance of really potentially awkward moments that I encounter as an educator.

  • Moments when I’m standing in front of a group that I know includes children whose families are administrators in the Trump White House, and those who were staffers under Obama [an occupational hazard of working in the Washington, DC area].

  • Moments when I’m called upon to make teens feel safe entering Jewish speakers in the wake of the Etz Chayim/Tree of Life shooting, while holding the multiple truths that some of them are passionate about gun control and others may not be.

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Taking Off The Educator Mask

I thought I was doing my students a favor by being a blank canvas on which they could try out different thoughts and beliefs, but really I was scared to articulate mine. I wanted my students to see me as a ‘together’ person, not as someone with internal contradictions, figuring it out alongside the rest of them.

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Top 5 Takeaways from Limmud to Apply + How To Apply Them To Jewish Education

I'm coming out of five days of immersion in an alternative universe of Jewish learning. It's a place where rigorous text study, insider humor in the form of self-deprecating jokes, and a constant game of Jewish geography reign supreme. Where it would be really weird to roll your eyes at someone's passion for prayer, but not at all out of place to engage in an expansive conversation integrating Talmud, video games, and the #MeToo movement.

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When A Jewish Educator Travels Part II

For the uninitiated, Limmud is a celebration of Jewish learning and culture, which is meant to bring together the breadth and depth of the Jewish community for a shared learning experience. It started in the UK nearly 40 years ago, and has since expanded to have worldwide reach, with local communities around the world using the Limmud model of volunteer-driven Jewish experiential education to impact their populations. I’m going to the conference for the first time, representing the DC community, which is looking to launch our own first Limmud conference in the next year. But I’m also going to feed my soul.

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What's the Deal with Asara b'Tevet?

I’m assuming that I’m not the only one out there who doesn’t have the 10th of Tevet at the forefront of my Jewish consciousness, so I wanted to delve into it a little bit and to think about how we as Jewish educators can make this relatively minor remembrance day meaningful in a contemporary context. First, a quick refresher on the background of the day.

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Chanukah + Hygge

For the uninitiated, hygge (pronounced hoo-gah) is a Danish concept meaning a mood of coziness and comfortable contentment, which is credited with being the core reason that the Danes are regularly ranked among the happiest people in the world. It’s how the Scandinavian people get through their long, dark winters, by cultivating wonderful, family-focused in-home practices. And I’m positing that it’s why Chanukah, our own winter family holiday, has garnered such mass appeal. Yes, it’s the Jewish answer to Christmas tree FOMO, and, as a reminder, the commemoration of an ancient miracle/victory of nationalism, but it’s also a time of togetherness, comfort, and simple pleasures.

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Chanukah + Re-dedication

As educators and as human beings in general, this season is a time to think about what our priorities are, and to re-dedicate ourselves to the things that align with the values + intentions that we have for ourselves. What are you dedicating yourself to this Chanukah? How are you shining the light?

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Samantha Vinokor-Meinrath
Why I Give...Giving Tuesday for Jewish Educators

It’s getting to be that time of year. With a super early Thanksgiving, Giving Tuesday is right around the corner (November 27, 2018!), with Chanukah following, and, for many of us, the final weeks of our Annual Campaigns or fundraising years right around the corner after that. This is the season when, among many other things, people are asking for donations. And we’re getting asked - my inbox is currently full of requests from my various alma maters, every museum I’ve ever set foot in, and more organizations with a J in their titles than I know what to do with. It’s overwhelming, first of all, and it’s all too easy to opt out.

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Why Cemeteries Are My Favorite Educational Spaces

Dear Friends, I have a confession to make. When other educators talk about their favorite educational environments [campfires, Shabbat dinners, DIY escape rooms, not to mention classrooms] I tend to hang back because I’m pretty sure people will think my answer is crazy. But I’m ready to reveal all to you here:

I LOVE CEMETERIES AS EDUCATIONAL ENVIRONMENTS.

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How Do We Remember?

Visiting those parts of Europe still shrouded in the long shadow of the Holocaust means grappling with the issue of remembrance every step of the way. There are elements of the collective memory of the Jewish people - a visceral, cultural awareness that even if my personal memories don’t include certain events, they are nevertheless ingrained in me in a way that feels like a [hazy] memory.

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When They Come For The Jews - Pittsburgh Reflections

I was not ready to be standing in front of the synagogue where my great-grandfather once prayed when I received the news that a Jewish community that I called home for years was massacred in their own house of worship.

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When a Jewish Educator Travels

Next week, 30 + members of my extended family will be traveling to Berlin for the opening of a new museum exhibit that features our family. This has been in the works for a while - essentially, one of the people highlighted in this exhibition is my great-great uncle, and his whole branch of the family tree was planning on going for the launch of the exhibit. Luckily, we’ve remained incredibly close, and so my branch of the family tree decided to go as well. We’re taking off next week for a trip that’s part Holocaust memorial, part reunion, and all [anticipated] hilarity.

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Creating Rituals for Educational Impact

Rituals enable us to create community, develop shared meaning, and mark space and time as sacred and intentional. How can we as educators use Jewish + DIY rituals to create moments of impact?

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Judaism + Positive Psychology Part II

Positive Experiences - So much of what makes Judaism special for those of us who opt to actively integrate it into our lives are the visceral memories that rituals, songs, smells, and places bring up for us. I can be anywhere in the world but if I hear certain guitar chords I’m transported to youth group Shabbatonim, and when certain smells waft through the air I’m back at my childhood dinner table. Judaism, and the Jewish people, are more diverse than ever. While we can no longer assume that many formerly classic Jewish experiences are universal, we can create environments for our learners where their own formative, positive Jewish experiences can play out. How can we as educators make the experience of Jewish learning, education, and living a positive one that our learners will find value in?

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Advocacy + Activism + Jewish Teens

I believe that we’re missing a key piece of our mission as educators if we universally avoid tough issues and turn a blind eye to the realities facing our students, particularly high schoolers today. High school students are not the apathetic navel-gazers that so much of society stereotypes them as being. Rather, they’re ‘woke’ sophisticated thinkers, and they’re not waiting for our permission to take a stand on any and all issues. They’re jumping right in, on social media and in person, and we’re not doing them or ourselves any favors by leaving this reality outside of the purview of Jewish education.

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What is Your Vision of Success?

In the classic leadership book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey names Habit #2 as beginning with the end in mind. In order to know if we’ve been successful in our efforts, we need to envision what they are from the very beginning. And for educators, success is found in our students, and the impact that we’ve made on them through our work. So, today I invite you to join me in an exercise to identify the ideal outcomes for our learners so we can chart the course to success.

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Making Tefillah Meaningful - Top 6 Tips for Prayer Education

I recognize that for many of us, the expectations of tefillah education are enormous, and overwhelming. We need to find ways to teach the skills deemed necessary for a b’nai mitzvah service to be considered successful, to build relationships between our students and content that is at once age-old and expected to be personally relevant, and often there’s a musical component, all thrown together with learners who are figuring out what all of this means. Ideally, we want tefillah to be more than a performance - more than the rote memorization and mumbling of sounds that don’t translate for our learners in any kind of comprehensible way. Prayer is something deeply personal, yet in Judaism it takes on a uniquely collective nature. In order to meet the needs of the individual and the community, here are my top tips for answering the question of…

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My Jew Years Resolutions Reflections Part 3 - Action

Three weeks into Elul and we're finally up to the ACTION component of the Jew Year's Resolutions process. This year in particular, I've so appreciated having the designated time of Elul to set intentions before jumping straight into action. Too often, I find that my to do lists and packed schedules mean that I go from action to action without pausing to take a breath and think about the why behind the what. It's way too easy for me to act, and Elul is the perfect antidote to that in that it offers the time and space to get ready, spiritually, mentally, and even physically, before the chagim. 

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My Jew Years Resolutions Reflections Part 2 - Reflection

This week is REFLECTION.

After I prepared last week and set the space, I jumped into the questions. First, I focused on the positive by reflecting on my greatest achievements from the past year. This year has truly been an amazing one for me, full of growth and movement. Work-wise, the things I've been the most proud of have been building my professional portfolio and skill set, having my concept paper approved so that I'm one step closer to the completion of my doctorate, and the leadership roles I've been able to take on. Beyond that, this year has been all about healthy living for me, and I consider my new healthy lifestyle to be a huge achievement, particularly when thinking back to where I was a year ago. Physical and mental health have been a priority, and for me that means giving the relationships that matter to me first billing and reserving my time for the things and people that bring joy and added value to my life.

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My Jew Years Resolutions Reflections Part I - Preparation

My Elul PREPARATION:

First, I unplugged. I went outside, and in a rare move, left my phone and earbuds at home. I walked around my neighborhood, breathing in the damp post-rain smell, feeling the heat of the August sun, and listening to the sounds around me. My outside time is usually spent racing from place to place, with a phone call or a podcast in progress, so disconnecting was amazing for getting me into the headspace to be reflective.

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