Twenty leaders in Jewish education from across North America gathered to explore educational visions, share ideas and deepen their leadership skills at the first seminar of the new Educational Leadership Program. Held in person February 27 – March 3 at the Connors Center in Dover, MA, the seminar brought together leaders from Jewish day schools, synagogues, afterschool programs and national/regional organizations like Hadar, the Hebrew Union College and the Jewish New Teachers Project.
The fellows explored different visions of Jewish education, and used those visions to spark their own ideas for their organizations and for the field. Michal Fox Smart from the Institute for Jewish Spirituality shared her vision of Jewish education, which emphasizes spiritual practices and connection. She led the fellows in Jewish meditation and in the exploration of the middah (character trait) of hesed (loving connection) through journaling and hevrutah (paired study and sharing). Lisa Miller, a Columbia University professor, added another dimension to this vision, sharing her research on the relationship between spirituality and mental health.
Peter Geffen of Kivunim, offered a contrasting vision of Jewish education, emphasizing the importance of restoring the “lost link to the history of the Jewish people throughout the world by sharing the noble and creative story of Jewish life around the globe.” Geffen argued that Jewish education today neglects the inspiring story of the Jewish people’s mutually enriching relationships with other religions, cultures and worldviews, and brought the fellows on a virtual tour of Morocco and its Jewish community as an example of the kind of story he believes is missing from Jewish education. Fellows analyzed and reflected on these visions in small groups, and generated ideas for bringing elements of the visions to life in their own schools and organizations.
Fellows also sharpened their communication skills in workshops led by nonviolent communications coach Kathy Simon. As they attuned their awareness to their own deeply-held values, and to the deeply-held values of others, the fellows had the opportunity to practice moving difficult conversations in more healthy and productive directions.
Fellows also spent time learning about one another as educators, leaders and human beings, sharing their Jewish journeys with each other and connecting in small groups. The fellows left the seminar feeling energized and intellectually stimulated, and ready to bring new ideas to their schools and organizations.