In this week’s cover story, Connor Graham sheds light on innovative, nontraditional educational approaches in the greater Baltimore Jewish community. From farm to classroom to camp to the JCC, more Jewish institutions seem to be moving in the direction of experiential learning. While the means and methods vary from place to place, the most common thread is instilling a sense of pride, responsibility and ownership in how students view their Jewish education.
Whether it’s the Pearlstone Center’s farm- and outdoor-based learning, Orthodox day school Ohr Chadash’s project-based learning that doesn’t include homework, the new JCC initiative My Tribe that groups families together for hands-on learning, Temple Isaiah’s restructuring of Hebrew courses, or Beth Am giving students a role in how and what they learn, these teaching practices are changing what it means to get a Jewish education.
And they should be. Judaism is a living religion, and learning should reflect its vitality. Just look at Israel — you can walk the sacred ground that Biblical figures walked, pray at what remains of the Temple and the tomb of King David. You can literally touch history in a country that doubles as a classroom.
As Rabbi Jessy Dressin, who is heading up My Tribe at the JCC, puts it, these nontraditional ways might not be as unconventional as they seem.
“In large part, we think of Jewish education as formal learning,” she says. “But inherently, organically, and holistically, Jewish education has always been immersive.”
And immersion is key. I remember all too many Hebrew school classmates who dropped out after their bar and bat mitzvahs. I was one of the “weird” kids who actually enjoyed Hebrew school — I met a lot of great friends I still have today and my synagogue encouraged free thinking and philosophical introspection. It was very appealing to be able to find my own way to the answers I was seeking.
Also in this issue, our coverage of behavioral health continues. While we’ve written before about the opioid epidemic, a community discussion held at Chizuk Amuno Congregation last week gave us the opportunity to cover another issue that gets brushed under the rug: suicide. As Jesse Bernstein reports, a panel of experts talked about all facets of the issue and the way it affects the Jewish community. As hard as it can be to talk about depression and suicide, it’s shame and secrecy that allows the problems to flourish.
In other news, Jesse reports from this past weekend’s Unite the Right Rally, which is also the subject of one our editorials. Read that report on page 16.