Riding the Wave of Change

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Amid the numerous studies and analyses regarding Jewish American life, a simple fact remains: Part-time Jewish education is the most popular vehicle for Jewish education in North America. Whenever and wherever parents choose Jewish education for their children, we have a communal responsibility to devote the necessary time and resources to deliver dynamic, effective learning experiences.

The only way we can do this is by creating space for conversations and knowledge sharing around innovative new education models. That also means making the necessary investments to further models that already have proved successful.

Such educational approaches build relationships between families, integrate technology and move the learning outside of classroom walls. This is big change we’re talking about, and big change takes partnerships and collaboration across the Jewish
community — partnerships with synagogue professionals and lay leaders, educational agencies, funders, and most importantly, parents.

Nancy Parkes, director of congregational learning at the Temple Israel Center in White Plains, N.Y., recently offered important recommendations to advance the congregational educational experience. We would like to call attention to two of her suggestions: “stop the negative narrative” and “be our partners.” Opting for part-time “supplementary” Jewish education has been a very good choice — indeed, the right choice — for thousands of families. But it’s time to tell a new story: one of experience, of possibility, of real impact. It’s time to work together.

Five Jewish education agencies from around the country — New York, Cleveland, Houston, Philadelphia, and San Francisco — are engaged in these important efforts through “Shinui: the Network for Innovation in Part-Time Education,” created with the support of the Covenant Foundation. The stories coming out of our communities are inspiring real change that other communities can model and adapt.

In San Francisco, for example, Shalom Explorers is a vehicle for families to form neighborhood learning groups and customize individual lesson plans. Now in its second year, the initiative has expanded to multiple sites in the Bay Area. More and more congregations around the country are trying new models to invigorate the educational experiences they offer. The Jewish community still must do more to help this change happen in a serious, sustainable manner. Fortunately, many are answering this call, and important changes are happening in Jewish education: learning experiences that involve the entire family, deepen connections to Israel, teach Hebrew in more meaningful and relevant ways and bring the summer camp experience into our schools.

We see these changes in the Shinui-affiliated communities, and we invite others to be a part of this change. Together, we can create and sustain major changes across the country.

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