By Cyd Weissman
This Thursday, April 30th, at our annual Yachdav Gathering, over 130 educators from The Coalition of Innovating Congregations will gather in NYC to listen. What an odd activity for a group known for doing. The Coalition is known for creating new models of Jewish Enrichment, such as learning that happens in homes, and in yoga studios. We’re known for creating Jewish learning that makes bunks, tribes, buddies, and havurote instead of classrooms. We’re known for making madrichim, chiefs, morei derech, and counselors instead of teachers. Our reputation is for designing Whole Person Learning that speaks to knowing, doing, believing/valuing and belong, not just learning for recitation or fun. We’re not known for sitting. What emerges when makers and shakers sit and listen?
Josh Nelson, performing song and leading text study, will set the kavanah for Yachdav with a passage from Talmud:
“And it shall come to pass, if listening you shall listen” (Deuteronomy 28:8): if you listen, you will continue to listen, but if not, you will not listen.
והיה אם שמוע תשמע וגו’ אם שמוע תשמע ואם לאו לא תשמע
I confess, I have the bad listening habit described in the latter part of the text. Often, way too often, I only hear the first part of someone’s story, or comment. I hear something said, and my mind starts sparking. I get excited. I have a counter thought. Instead of listening to someone’s full comment, I’m ready to respond mid-way through their sharing.
If I have a dollar every time I heard my husband say, “Let me finish.” I’m not fully listening. I’m engaged. But that’s not good enough.
Thursday’s listening schedule will include:
1. The Innovation Marketplace – A new space for folks who care about Jewish education to listen to one another.. .to shop around like in any marketplace for good ideas and tools for educational change. It is a place to hear a voice and share your own.
2. Teen Voices – Funded by The Jim Joseph Foundation, the Jewish Education Project went to Boston, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Denver to listen to 150 Jewish teenagers. These teens ranged from high to low engagement in Jewish life. What did we learn from their stories? What do they value? What can you hear in their struggles? What we hear should make us pause before we design one more program for them.
3. Parent Voices – Thanks to UJA-Federation, we hired ICW Consulting, led by Ilene Wasserman, to conduct focus groups with 100 parents across New York. These parents send their children/often join their children in the new models of Jewish Education. Oh my, what we heard! There is a new story to tell about parents. Their voices we’ll urge us to walk through new doors as educators.
4. New Research – Prof. Steven M. Cohen, has heard a new generation of parents and learners. He no longer is quoting a study that says one-day-a-week religious school harms, not helps Jewish identification. He has powerful new research that will equip us for a new trajectory of education.
Educational leaders will hone their listening skills in sessions about listening when God is present; listening as a community organizer; listening for advocacy; listening as a designer and listening for the whole story. Experts can help us have helpful listening habits.
We’re a busy Coalition. We’re constantly on to the next innovation. What happens if we shift the energy from creating to listening? What gets created in that listening? How different is the creation, once we listen? What will emerge if you really listen?