How can we reach our families outside of a traditional school setting?
Many congregations are thinking about new and different ways to reach the lifelong Jewish learning needs of their families. Today we have fuller schedules than ever before, but we also have near-constant access to information and an unprecedented ability to connect to other teachers and learners. Guided by Joseph Schwab's four commonplaceslearner, setting, subject matter and teacherwe will explore how to expand the time and ways in which your community can be involved in lifelong Jewish learning.
It's time to think about our learner as the whole family unit. Especially in a synagogue setting, we care about the entire family. Events in a family have an effect on the individual learner's curiosity, spiritual mindset and ability to be present (physically and mentally), just to name a few. On page four in the current issue of Torah at the Center, you can find an article from Temple Beth Shalom of Needham, Massachusetts, a congregation that is currently participating in the early engagement pilot of the Campaign for Youth Engagement. They describe "engagement cards," a tool they created to assess the needs and readiness of their families at different moments.
Being creative with when and where learners are engaged in lifelong Jewish learning has the potential to energize and expand the amount of time families spend learning. Temple Judea in Tarzana, California, has a "camp meets religious school model" called Nisayon, during which kids meet for two weeks in the summer and one week in the winter. Temple Shaaray Tefila in Bedford Corners, New York, takes its students on a service learning trip to Nicaragua. The URJ's Virtual Jewish High School meets online, and Temple Micah of Washington, D.C., offers Hebrew tutoring on Skype. Adults benefit from a retreat setting at the URJ's Summer Learning Institute, this August 8-12 at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, Ohio.
What inspires your lifelong Jewish learning experiences? The Jewish calendar? Local experts who can serve as teachers? A text book? Current events? What we teach sends a message about what we value, and content should be in line with your synagogue's values. The Reform Movement published goals for Jewish education back in 1977, and the Joint Commission on Lifelong Jewish Learning has just issued a revised set of goals in this online document. The goals are organized around the topics "God," "Torah" and "Israel." This document is designed to be a living one, so congregational leaders (professional and volunteer) are encouraged to post commentary and examples of the goals being put into action in the comments section under each statement. Try starting with studying this document when planning Jewish learning.
If we want lifelong Jewish learning to be excellent, we need to cultivate Jewish teachers and look for them in new places. In an innovative move to bridge formal and informal Jewish education for growing numbers of Reform-affiliated children and their families, The Leo Baeck Day School in Toronto and The Alfred and Adele Davis Academy in Atlanta are partnering with URJ Camps to collaboratively engage Nadiv Educators, Jewish educational leaders who work in both the day school and the camp year round. Actually, anyone committed to his or her own lifelong Jewish learning is a candidate for helping others to learn. The Adult Jewish Living and Learning Journeys Project provides free, complete, online lesson plans designed so that any avocational teacher should be able to teach them.
Try using the four commonplaces as a framework to broaden your thinking about when, where, how, on what subject, to whom and through whom you will facilitate lifelong Jewish learning.