Education

Education

by Nancy Manewith

It all began with an amazing meeting – a discussion, really – with Susan Zukrow, the URJ’s project director for the Chicago Early Engagement Leadership Initiative (CEELI). This new program, funded by the Crown Family Philanthropies and facilitated by the URJ, brings together 12 cross-denominational Jewish early childhood centers from the Chicago area to strengthen their work of engaging young children and their families through program excellence, while building and sustaining meaningful relationships. Though not an educator herself, Susan painstakingly took the time to learn the history and workings of the Chicago Metro area’s Jewish early childhood community, in order to lead this groundbreaking early engagement leadership initiative.

For the past 18 months, the URJ supported three “Communities of Practice,” cohorts of congregations that came together to learn, discuss, and experiment in a specific field. Members from participating congregations have been asked to reflect about their process.

by Dr. Paula Sayag

As an early childhood consultant with Washington, D.C.’s central Jewish education agency, I had the privilege of interacting with Jewish educators on a national scale, learning about trends in Jewish communal involvement, and helping congregations respond to large-scale concerns. Still, I didn’t have the opportunity to put into practice the advice I was offering other educators – or, more importantly, to build close relationships with the families that educators serve. So I decided to become a school director.

I started working at the early childhood center in Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, MD, in July 2009. Unfortunately, it was the first time in 20 years that classes weren’t filled. It was challenging to learn the ins-and-outs of a new community, gain their trust, and begin to envision the future for a school with decreased enrollment, a declining economy, a reduced budget, and changing neighborhood demographics.

by Jack Wertheimer

With the new school year nearly upon us, Jewish educational leaders are scrambling to prepare their teachers to discuss this summer’s Gaza War. The most pressing challenge is to design age-appropriate conversations: At which grade level might classroom discussions include potentially frightening topics, such as the wounding of non-combatants, kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets? And how should teachers address the tough issues of civilian casualties in Gaza and the flagrant hostility toward Jews and Israel that has erupted in many parts of the world?

Every week I look for the “That Should Be a Word” column in The One-Page Magazine in the Sunday New York Times. The column, if you can call it that, has an amazing knack for coining a good neologism – a new word or phrase. The humor, smarts, and creativity of the words inspired me to create my own neologism – “congfirmation” (pronounced cong-fir-may-shun).

Let me explain.

I recently had the honor and pleasure to witness my youngest child affirm his faith as part of the confirmation process at our synagogue, Temple Ner Tamid of Bloomfield, N.J. After a year of study with our rabbi, each of the 14 students shared why Judaism was important to them and then publicly affirmed their faith in front of the entire congregation. I started to wonder: “Why, if they are affirming their faith, do we not call the process ‘affirmation’ instead of ‘confirmation’?” Then I asked myself the differences between the two.

by Cathy Rolland

How fortunate I was to be among a dedicated group of early childhood professionals who gathered last weekend in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains for a dose of spiritual renewal and time together with respected colleagues with whom I could share ideas, resources, and challenges around our sacred work to engage young children and their families in the joys of Jewish life. How blessed I was to attend the 2014 Early Childhood Educators of Reform Judaism Kallah.

Our adventure began at Congregation Beth HaTephila, where Rabbi Batsheva Meiri and the Kitah Hey class of talented fifth graders led a truly inspiring and meaningful Kabbalat Shabbat service. The next day, we spent time devoted to intentional Jewish practice in North Carolina’s beautiful outdoors.  Led by Rabbi Mike Comins and Shira Kline in the spring-like air and sunshine of the Tar Heel State, I felt true kavannah (intention) in my worship, joy in my singing, and that indescribable ruach (spirit) that happens whenever Jews come together.