Posts in Education Inspiration
Teaching Lag B'Omer (Without Calling the Fire Department)

And then, one night, the flames took over. Pillars of smoke and fire came from parks, and backyards, and it was only once I saw the extra busses heading for Mount Meron that I figured out that it was Lag B’Omer. As I’ve written about before, despite my near-constant Jewish educational pursuits, I was woefully ignorant of the Omer growing up, and that extends to its 33rd day. I’m assuming that I’m not alone in this, so below you’ll find my handy dandy list of fun facts, combined with ways to teach the Omer, all without accidentally committing arson.

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Integrating Israel Throughout the Year

Just like how experiential education is at its best when it’s meaningfully and seamlessly integrated each and every day, rather than being intentionally held apart as a specific set of activities, so too is Israel education its most authentic when it’s actively linked to the rest of the Jewish education canon. Instead of having an Israel day, or touching on Israel during its specific unit and then relegating it to that requisite blue and white for one week, my goal is to explore ways to connect the larger Jewish calendar to Israel, giving us touch points throughout the year to connect with this integral facet of our overall Jewish experience.

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How to Teach the Omer

Teaching the ritual of the omer gives us a chance to engage our students in an ongoing aspect of Jewish tradition and personal practice.

With that, here are my top picks for how to teach the omer to otherwise uninitiated learners.

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O.M.G. - Omer Challenge

Counting the omer is taking part in a process of spiritual reflection and refinement, taking a period of transition and turning it into a time of action.

As we gear up for this sacred time, I want to hear from you. Do you have an omer practice? Do you incorporate it into your teaching at all? And finally, will you join me?

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What Teens Are Looking For

The years of adolescence can be many things - tear-filled, beautiful, dramatic, exhausting, hazy, defining. They are the time when individuals grow into who they’re going to be. When they can test out different facets of themselves, push their limits, and look both outward and inward to figure out where their authenticity lies. Of course, it can get messy. My own teen years were full of tears, of emotional toil that would make soap opera writers feel inferior, and massive amounts of awkwardness. But they were also the years that set me up for the life that I have today - they laid the foundation for my career as a Jewish educator, shaped the values that I seek in myself and others, and inspired me to prioritize teens in my professional practice and in my research. Which brings us to the question: what are Jewish teens looking for?

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10 Commitments of Jewish Educators

There are certain things that, no matter what setting you work in, or age group you serve, or denomination you affiliate with, virtually all Jewish educators have in common. Things like the constant struggle of leftover bagels that proliferate throughout the year [we call it the Federation 15 in my office], the understanding that you didn’t sign up for a 9-to-5, and the insider humor that no one else quite gets. And more serious, meaningful things, like the love we have for our learners, the commitment we have to our missions, and the honor that we feel as we carry out our work.

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10 Commandments for Jewish Educators

As Jewish educators, we serve the people who inspired the tongue-in-cheek joke of ‘2 Jews/3 opinions,’ so it’s no surprise that everyone [colleagues, bosses, students, parents, clergy, strangers] has strong feelings about how we should fulfill our missions as teachers and leaders. There are probably an infinite number of commandments that could be prescribed to the practice of education, but for the purpose of being concise and on-theme, I’m starting with this set of 10.

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Know Before Whom You Stand

When I think of the admonition to know before who I’m standing as an educator, I think about how important it is that my learners be treated as the complex, multifaceted individuals that they are. Rather than lumping them all together, or going in with a packaged lesson idea, or simply assuming that I know everything about them because they’re a group of teens from the suburbs, I need to actually get to know them, and to learn who I’m standing in front of. It’s the responsibility of us as educators to understand + connect with our learners on their level. Because knowing their details - their dreams, their struggles, the baggage they’re bringing with them - is the only way to truly reach them in meaningful, authentic ways.

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Shehecheyanu Moments

Personally, I’m constantly on the hunt for ‘shehecheyanu moments,’ times that I can make an extra effort to appreciate a new experience or a blessing that otherwise might have gone unnoticed. So many modern teachings on mindfulness and self care are about appreciation (KonMari method anyone?) and luckily, the Talmud itself gives us a lens through which to see it Jewishly.

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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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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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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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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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Putting the Jewish in the Fourth of July

As American Jews, how can we use American Independence Day to bring together these dual parts of our identities? Particularly in the current political climate, there are a lot of conversations happening about both American and Jewish values, including how they mesh with each other, what happens when they stand in contradiction, and how they each manifest for us individually, and collectively in society.

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What's Your Why?

Why do you give so much of yourself to your students, to your colleagues, to the Jewish people?

Why do you spend your 'free' time reading, studying, questioning, searching for more and more information and awareness of your content?

Why are you so proud of the work that you do, paid and unpaid, for the betterment of the Jewish people?

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