Posts in Jewish Education
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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Why I Love Jewish Education

As Valentine’s Day comes around the corner, rather than weighing in on the debate about how [if at all] Jews should acknowledge the day (for the record, I’m in favor of any holiday centered around chocolate, but otherwise have no strong feelings), I wanted to reflect on some of the many reasons that I love Jewish education + being a Jewish educator. I’d love to hear from others - what keeps you going? Why do you love the work that we do?

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Introduction to Complicated Conversations with Jewish Teens

I fully believe in the awesomeness of the honor and responsibility of connecting with learners at this formative stage of their Jewish and life journeys. As educators, it’s often hard to figure out the lines, the touch points, and the complexities of some of the most important conversations that we need to be having, and I hope that by providing a space to explore these topics, we can be empowered to be even better at our jobs.

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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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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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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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