Sunday, July 31, 2011

Reflecting on the Past Two Years

In just over a month the founding members of this blog will be completing their fellowship with the Lookstein Center at Bar Ilan University and the Jim Joseph Foundation to create online communities of practice (CoP) for Jewish educators.

We were part of the first cohort of this new initiative, and so high expectations for the programs success, coupled with the recognition that there would be a steep learning curve for the fellowship's implementation, went hand-in-hand over the past two years.

Without question, I have been transformed by this opportunity. The program asked me to consider both my leadership and management style. It forced me to think critically about many of the fundamental assumptions about how the Jewish community should work and how Jewish professionals need to prepare themselves for the digital age. It has pushed me to incorporate emerging technology into my professional work both in and outside the classroom. It has exposed me, with greater sensitivity, to the diversity of our Jewish community and its professionals. It has helped me to create a broader network of colleagues and introduced me to people, places, and ideas that were unfamiliar.

Over the course of the fellowship, I often became frustrated by the challenge of birthing my community of practice and encouraging other JCC colleagues to participate. Even now, participation is not what I envisioned and the CoP still has a far way to go to be the resource for the field I believe it can be.

As is typical of new ventures, the process is often more fulfilling than the first product. I can't show you what I would consider a successful CoP just yet but, give a few minutes, and I can share with you a powerful learning experience that is certain to change the way I serve the Jewish community forever.

I am indebted to both the program's creators Rabbi Shalom Berger and Esther Feldman, as well as the Jim Joseph Foundation, for their innovative thinking in developing this first-of-a-kind opportunity.

Thank You!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Access Israel

A scene from "Not By Bread Alone,"
a play performed by deaf and blind actors at Na Laga'at
Marc Rosenstein has been blogging from Israel for the Reform Movement for years in a blog called "Galilee Diary." Rabbi Rosenstein made aliyah to Moshav Shorashim, a small community in the central Galilee, founded in the early 1980's by a group of young American immigrants. He is presently the director of the Israeli Rabbinic Program of HUC-JIR, as well as the director of the Makom ba-Galil, a seminar center at Shorashim that engages in programming to foster pluralism and coexistence. His blog arrives in my inbox every Wednesday as part of the Union for Reform Judaism's 10 Minutes of Torah

The Jim Joseph Fellows visited Na Laga'at, which he discusses. If we have not been discussing the needs of learners who encounter the world in ways radically different from the majority, we are not doing our jobs.  Discuss. This is cross-posted from the URJ Blog and to Welcome to the Next Level.
"You shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind. You shall you’re your God: I am the Lord."
-Leviticus 19:14
For years we had a subscription to the theater series at the Karmiel auditorium, which brought plays from the various repertory companies around the country. But we got bored with the selection a few years ago and decided to go it alone, and create an a la carte cultural schedule for ourselves. But long days and frequent evening meetings make it hard to keep up the resolve. We have been seeing more movies. And we just made our Second Annual Excursion to the Opera in Tel Aviv. The Tel Aviv Opera House is elegant and impressive.

On our way to a matinee of La Traviatta we went strolling in Jaffa port, an old area in the process of gentrification. One of the attractions there is the Na Laga'at ("please touch") Center which produces a play in which all the performers are blind and deaf, and offers a dinner served by blind waiters in complete darkness.

We stopped for brunch at their Kafe Kapish, where all the waiters are hard of hearing. There's a white-board and marker on each table. It was pleasant (and delicious), and brought to mind the large number of such enterprises one encounters scattered around the country: For example, Nagish Kafe (a pun on "we will serve" and "accessible") here in the Galilee, that employs persons with mental handicaps and illnesses, and the cafeteria at HUC in Jerusalem which is run by a similar foundation.

Then there is Lilith, a high-end gourmet restaurant in Tel Aviv whose kitchen staff are trainees placed by Elem, an organization working with marginal youth. Also, in addition to Na Laga'at, the Holon Children's Museum has both a "blind experience" involving a tour through a complex of different spaces, including a snack bar, in total darkness with a blind guide; and a parallel "deaf experience." The blind experience is so popular that reservations must be made months in advance.

In Old Acco one can shop at "The Shop for Meaning," run by young people with physical and sensory handicaps, for craft items made by the handicapped as well as various imported fair-trade products. Kivunim, the foundation that runs the shop, also operates a pre-army preparatory program for handicapped youth; we partnered with them last fall to operate a circus project for visually impaired Arab and Jewish teenagers. Maghar, an Arab village east of us, has a disproportionate population of deaf, due to in-clan marriages.

The answer of the director of the local community center? to host an international festival of theater of the deaf. A few miles away in Karmiel one encounters Alut-teva, a vacation village for families of autistic children, where they can relax in a setting where they are relieved of the tension and awkwardness that often beset such families on vacation in more public places.

And a particularly impressive story is that of Adi Altschuler, who, eight years ago when she was 16, was moved by her relationship with a neighbor with cerebral palsy to try to organize a mixed youth group of handicapped and "normal" kids. The project succeeded beyond her wildest expectations and today "Marshmallow Wings" is a national youth movement with chapters all over the country.

It has always been a source of some frustration that Israel, with its history of wars, and the ingathering of refugees, was not more conscious of the need for accessibility, and in general of the requirement to accept and integrate the handicapped. Perhaps our sensitivity was dulled by the strand in Israeli culture in its formative years that glorified strength and self-reliance, and was ashamed of helplessness and victimhood.

We still have many challenges in this regard. On the other hand, consciousness has risen a great deal in recent decades, and the number of heroes, both volunteer and professional, out there fighting on this front is really impressive, as is the creativity of their projects.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Summer Camps and Technology Go Hand in Hand

Once upon a time, Jewish summer camp was a place for beautiful Shabbat and Havdalah services, s’mores around a campfire, Shabbat-o-grams, and letters from home. Camps nowadays are all of this and more! You will be hard-pressed to find a summer camp without at least one climbing tower, outdoor adventures which include rappelling and cave exploration, experts coming for several days to teach everything from a capella singing to basketball to pastry baking. At my camp, Camp Ramah in New England, campers even have the opportunity to learn from an artist experienced in duct tape art!

And all camps have found creative ways to incorporate technology in to their daily operation. I remember “purists” ten years ago objecting to our wiring the camp for the internet. Now, security enabled wifi access points allow our 40 Israeli delegation members, our 20 Eastern European kitchen workers, and the other 140 staff members to be in touch with family, friends and the outside world.

We successfully walk a fine line: we do not allow campers to bring IPhones and other electronic gadgets to camp, but we use technology to communicate with camp families and to simplify their lives. Families register online, they send emails to their children which get printed out and delivered daily to their bunks. The director sends out a weekly d’var torah and updates from camp—with a spotlight on several notable events of the week. Families daily check the photo gallery to see pictures of their children—nicely arranged by division, and parents are informed of daily highlights by going to the camp blog. Today alone features news of the Amitzim (special needs program) talent show, the Machon etgar (15 year olds hiking and canoeing trip), the camp wide Six Flags trip, and the 14 year olds production in Hebrew of Alice in Wonderland.

Yes, technology in a Jewish summer camp has its limitations: rain storms bring the internet down, families come to expect more communication than we can offer, and more transparency leads to the occasional comment about: why is my son not smiling? (and the follow up, “doesn’t’ he have any friends?) Why is my daughter not in the bunk photo? (she was in the bathroom) or Why is my son (in the special needs camping program) putting tefillin on his left arm?—he is a lefty!

I’d like to think that Jewish summer camps will continue to find creative ways to use technology. Perhaps we will build on the already wonderful use nowadays--posting photos and blog entries, to the provision of year round on-line learning, video chatting on Jewish topics, discussion boards for parents, and more! Technology is empowering and has the potential to play a important role—year round—in the lives of Jewish summer camps.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Making Meaning Together

This will be in my synagogue's August bulletin. I submit it is an important lesson and invitation for all Jewish educational institutions.
I had the very good fortune to join a group of fifty synagogue educators in the Leadership Institute in learning with Dr. Larry Hoffman, a professor at the Hebrew Union College in New York. His lesson was a titled Limits, Truth and the Anxious Search for Meaning: The Changing Rhetoric of Leadership. He described different ways Judaism functioned through history, using the observance of Shabbat as a lens.
He described the period from biblical times through the middle ages as the age of limits. Essentially, Judaism was focused on rules. We observed Shabbat because it was required. In the book of Exodus (31:13-17) we learned that violating the Sabbath could lead to death or worse. Halakhah (Jewish law) consisted of rules that defined how we functioned as members of the Jewish community. It worked for a long time.
The age of enlightenment at the beginning of the 19th century brought something new. The freedom to be a part of the larger, non-Jewish world around us meant that the limits were not enough. We learned about how Jews in Salonika began hanging out in coffee houses on Shabbat. And what’s worse, they were ordering and paying for the coffee! Rabbi Hoffman described this as a symptom of a larger issue – namely that the game of limits was no longer working for a lot of Jews. Many Jews stopped believing that God would punish them.
The new game used the language of truth. We were in the age of Jeffersonian democracy, of liberty, equality and fraternity and of science uncovering all of the truths of the universe. Reform Judaism arose and introduced the sermon – an opportunity for rabbis to teach truth. We became the only Jews who rose for the Shema because it was the biggest truth in the service – and became known as “the watchword of our faith. There is much more to these concepts, but the exciting part comes next.
Rabbi Hoffman says that we are living in another revolutionary time right now. The game is changing from truth to one of meaning. Science has taught us that it cannot give us all of the truths in the universe. It tells us that our merely observing the world changes it.
The game of meaning means that we are interpreters of our world. Our task is to make meaning of the world and our experiences in it. We are active partners with God in the ongoing creation. We go back to Genesis and read that God created the universe and saw that it was good. God didn’t see limits or laws. God didn’t call it truth. God called it good. Rabbi Hoffman suggests that our role is to make it good.
We need to make up our our own life and worlds. It can be an overwhelming and daunting task. But if we believe that we have the freedom to try and develop the confidence to do it, we can create a beautiful and awesome reality. We are not interested in limits. Truths, he says are  a dime a dozen – you can find all you want on Wikipedia. We need to know that life is worthwhile. That we can make things better. That is what Judaism is all about.
The job of Jewish leaders (professionals and lay people – you) is to give our people real competence is areas of Judaism to use them to build their lives. So I want to invite you to step up to this challenge. As a member of B’nai Israel, your family is a part of a vibrant community. Among us are searchers and builders, teachers and learners, connectors and sticky people, those who like to pray, hang out or world repairers. Come in and talk to us, call, text, e-mail or tweet.
Come to services. Take a class. Join a committee. Meet someone new. Get together with someone you know well. Build a sukkah. Join a car pool. Let’s make some meaning together.

 Cross posted to Welcome to the Next Level

Saturday, July 9, 2011

In Israel, diggers unearth the Bible's bad guys - AP News

In December of 2009, our team of Jim Joseph Foundation Fellows were in Israel for our 12-day seminar. Bar Ilan University's Lookstein Center is the sponsor of our program and we spent a bunch of time on the Bar Ilan campus during our visit. But the highlight of our campus visit (dare I say for all of us) was the trip to the archeology lab where our tour guide (aka amazing educator) Amit Dagan works and studies as a PhD student.

Amit, and his boss Aren, showed us some artifacts they had recently found.
Including this rock with the name "Goliath" engraved on it in ancient Hebrew.

They told as all about their work at Tel es Safi.

They showed us other artifacts they found:

and even let us hold some.

Today, July 9, 2011 ... this article came across my Yahoo home page (click here). Imagine my excitement at reading in the main stream news about the work of our friends - which we had witnessed first hand (and now you get to see up-close photos of!). The irony, I am sitting here in the t-shirt they gave me from the dig ... with the words "Tel es-Safi" right on my chest!

memories brought to life!

Friday, July 8, 2011

8.2 Unsubstantiated Claims (and three questions) about the Meaning and Scope of "Integration" in Jewish and Non-denominational Educational Settings

This post was originally written by Rabbi Micah Lapidus on his blog: Rabbi Lapidus is the head of Judaics and the rabbi-in-residence for the Davis Academy in Atlanta, GA and is a doctoral student at Northeastern University and Hebrew College in Jewish Education Leadership.

8.2 Unsubstantiated Claims (and three questions) about the Meaning and Scope of "Integration" in Jewish and Non-denominational Educational Settings

Welcome! If you've made it past the unfortunate title of this post, then there's something wrong with you: you care. Caring is SO 1990!! Caring means responding, it means engaging in dialogue. It means lovingly denying the premise of the argument. It means sharing your thoughts with me or someone you like more.

Which brings me to the premise (AKA unsubstantiated claim #1):

(1) "Integration" is NOT about making cross curricular references between otherwise discrete and alienated academic disciplines. If that's the essence/ big idea of integration then "lame" on us!

(2) Integration is a noun and not a verb. It's not content specific. It's actually a "process" (really a series of processes).

(3) Integration is a series of processes that reflects a deep and natural human yearning: to be whole. The precondition for integration-- the thing that makes integration a necessary process-- is the fact that our world is fragmented and broken. The fact that teachers who share walls don't share goals is but one dim reflection of the shattered world which we are blessed to inhabit. Sadly it's not our biggest problem.

(4) God has many names: Truth, Good, Beauty, Love, Endlessness, Dwelling... Another name for God is "One." God is Indivisible Unity. God is Perfect and Seamless Integration. God is Process.

(5) The Divine image that resides within every human being remembers the experience of Oneness that we once self-consciously enjoyed (and still CAN enjoy) but more often than not fail to affirm. Healthy individuals integrate all the time and even have moments of joyful affirmation. Spiritually unhealthy individuals need to be guided back to an understanding of how to integrate. Healthy and unhealthy aren't meant to be judgments. I'm sorry that they sound like judgments and would love better vocab.

(6) Children know how to integrate IN SPITE of adults. Maybe it's because they're closer to the initial experience of Oneness. Maybe it's because they're children (but that would be a "tot"-ology). If we think that children are unable to integrate then we need to evaluate the conditions that we've imposed upon them that undermine this natural human process. I'm arguing that these conditions are generally unconscious, deeply embedded, and invariably lamentable and arbitrary.

(7) Two critical areas where the process of integration radically transforms social and educational experience (and therefore makes the world more integrated, whole, and healthy):

  • Home/School-- There is nothing more powerful than the integration of these two institutions. Nothing should be easier. Happens all the time right? Go figure.
  • Learning/Living-- The places where we learn and the places where we live (i.e. act, interact, impact) need to integrate. The school bell should never actually ring. Learning should be learning, learning should be living, living should be learning, living should be living, and this sentence should stop.
(8) Integration undermines the rigidity of roles and strips away the illusions that perpetuate the compartmentalization, departmentalization, Procrustian Bed-itization, Not In My Back Yard-itization, of the human experience. Teachers are students, students are teachers. We're all in this together. Kumbaya.

Three Questions:
If you've made it this far then let's ask:

(1) What identity markers am I so tied to that I can't experience the transcendent/grounded fullness of being a radically integrating, processing, striving, embracing creature of God?

(2) Why aren't more hugs initiated and received on any given day?

(3) Why do I say hello to some people I pass on the street and not others?