Musings on Jewish Education and Jewish Living

Archive for September, 2012

Camp Every Day

“Camp every day?  What does that mean?”  At our Religious School Opening Assembly on September 9, I shared our new “camp every day” philosophy, endorsed by the Lifelong Jewish Learning Committee, with both its physical and substantive manifestations.  To recap:

  •  A more casual, camp-like dress code among the faculty and staff, conducive to a more active form of learning while at the same time, appropriate to our being in the synagogue.
  • Teacher have been encouraged (but certainly not required), to the extent that they and their students are comfortable, to go by their first names.  Parents who are uncomfortable with this should rest assured that none of us would ever “correct” a student who called a teacher “Miss,” “Mrs.,” or “Mr.”
  • We have essentially eliminated textbooks in most classes, the exceptions being Grades 8 and 9, who will use textbooks sparingly.  This allows us to engage our students in more active learning, such as projects, role-playing, discussion and debate, and more.
  • Teachers will be utilizing the entirely of our Temple building as learning spaces, depending on their activities for the day.  While each class has a classroom as a home base, they are no longer confined to them.  We will also be conducting our weekly T’fillah (worship service) in different places around the building, not just in the chapel as we have in the past.  In this way, our entire building becomes a beit k’nesset (house of gathering), beit t’fillah (house of prayer), and beit midrash (house of study).
  • We are considering carefully the structural groupings of our students.  We have not fully developed this idea yet, however teachers are already beginning to plan lessons together that combine and divide the students differently at different times.  We hope this will lead to greater socialization of students on each grade level.

Why are we doing this?  We have been discussing what we might learn from the principles of Jewish camping that make Jewish education in the camp so successful and apply them to our Religious School.  You may be interested to know that this discussion is not happening only here in San Antonio, but across the Reform movement.  We believe that if our children are comfortable, happy and eager to be here, we stand a much greater chance of helping them to gain the knowledge, understandings and attitudes that they will carry into their lives as Jewish adults.  A camp-like atmosphere encourages exploration of Jewish identity, ideas and practice in a safe environment.

What are your thoughts?  Are we on the right track?  What else should we be thinking about?

I would love to hear from you and invite you to join the conversation. If you are not comfortable responding here, please feel free to send me a private email at lgoldstein@beth-elsa.org

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A Yom Gleepur Message

Okay, I’ll admit it – that was a really bad pun.  I’ll also happily admit that I am a Gleek.  I love the music and dancing and I think the Glee actors are incredibly talented.  I especially love the way it speaks to a generation of teens growing up in a really difficult world.  I find its positive messages about friendship, diversity, sexuality, and embracing and loving who you are inspiring.  Although it can be preachy at times, more often than not, I find something meaningful and thought-provoking that helps me to understand a little better how to help our kids navigate through challenging times.

Take last night’s episode, for example.  “Tough love feels a lot like mean,” Brittany told Cheerios coach, Sue Sylvester.  I thought about that statement throughout the episode, in terms of Brittany’s situation as well as the “tough love” Rachel’s dance instructor lavished upon her.

Tough love probably does feel like mean.  I have often wondered who it is meant to help, the giver or the receiver.  Does tough love have the desired effect on the recipient?  Or is it meant to release the one enacting it from the pain and responsibility of the poor choices made by another?  Sometimes tough love is the right and necessary choice at least for one party, hopefully for both.

At the end of the episode someone said, “God made you and God doesn’t make mistakes.”  (I wish I could remember which character said it…!)  In Jewish terms, we are created b’tselem Elohim,” in God’s image, endowed with the God-like qualities of intelligence, compassion, creativity, and more.  As Yom Kippur approaches, it behooves us to remember that God created us and God doesn’t make mistakes.  No matter how far we stray, no matter how many bad choices we make, God makes no mistakes.  Each one of us is worthy of God’s forgiveness – and our own – and God awaits our return.

G’mar chatima tova – May we all be sealed for goodness and blessing in the coming year.  Ken yehi ratzon, Be this God’s will.

I would love to hear from you and invite you to join the conversation. If you are not comfortable responding here, please feel free to send me a private email at lgoldstein@beth-elsa.org

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