Posts in Resources for Educators
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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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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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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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 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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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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