experiments, instruments & measurement book

Who Will be our Modern Day Midwives?


By Susie Tessel

The Jewish People are charged with the task to be a light onto the nations. Our actions proclaim our values. We are also The People of the Book. One of my favorite examples of the marriage of those two identities is the example below of someone impacting countless lives with action propelled by inspirational words.

Two unsung heroes of the Passover story are the Midwives. In A Different Night by Noam Zion, he poses the question “Who will be today’s Midwives?

One Sunday morning in 1941 in Nazi occupied Netherlands, a mysterious character rode up on his bicycle and entered the Calvinist church. He ascended the podium and read aloud the story of the midwives who saved the Hebrew babies and defied Pharaoh’s policy of genocide. “Who is today’s Pharaoh?” he asked. “Hitler”, the congregation replied. “Who are today’s Hebrew babies?” “The Jews.” “Who will be today’s midwives?” He left the church, leaving his question hanging in the air.

But, he did not stop there. This man traveled throughout the Netherlands tirelessly encouraging people to take action. During the war (1941-1945) seven families from this little church alone hid Jews and other resisters from the Nazis. The number of lives saved is reputed to be in the hundreds.

We are not living during those tumultuous times, but the question remains, who will be today’s Midwives?

For me, this inspirational true story is a call to action!! Who will be our modern day midwives? Share this story, and ask your students, their families, and other congregants to look for opportunities to act and make a difference.


Think Jewish Camp is out of reach this summer? Think again.


Every child should have the opportunity to experience the magic of summer camp. After all, summer at overnight camp is the adventure of a lifetime.  It’s where kids discover who they really are, build connections and create memories they’ll hold onto for their entire lives. And, it also happens be a whole lot of fun.

But finding the right camp for your child isn’t always easy—and affording that perfect summer can be difficult too.  Foundation for Jewish Camp offers several opportunities and tools to ensure that every child in our community has access to an unforgettable Jewish summer experience.  There’s a camp out there to match both your child’s interests and your family’s budget.

BUNKCONNECT is the newest, easiest way for qualified families to find great summer experiences at over 40 overnight camps offering special introductory rates (40-80% off!!!)  To find out more about BunkConnect and search for the right Jewish camp for your child, visit BunkConnect.org.

Alternatively, One Happy Camper (OHC) offers need-blind grants of up to $1000 for children attending nonprofit, Jewish overnight camp for the first time.  One Happy Camper is run in partnership with local Jewish organizations – such as Jewish federations, foundations, individual camps, and The PJ Library.  These partners provide support and a local perspective to help you find the right camp for your child.  Visit OneHappyCamper.org to find your local OHC partner and apply for a grant.

Now that camp is within reach, finding a camp where your child will be comfortable – no matter your practice – is easy using FJC’s Find-A-Camp tool with over 155 camps to choose from, ranging from traditional sleepaway camps to specialty camps.  Discover the perfect summer camp experience for your child at JewishCamp.org/FindACamp.

Summer is less than 100 days away!  Will your child be One Happy Camper?

Happy camping!

I Don’t Speak to My Son


By Cyd Weissman

My first urge was to resist the chat coming from the man who sat next to me on the train yesterday. I wanted my own space to read Shai Held’s book on Heschel which begins by identifying the callousness of modern man because of technology. Heschel says I am in a state of looking out for my needs and missing wonder in the world, which has me missing out on appreciation, and service, then anchoring myself in history so I can know transcendence. Ok, I put the book down and gave my attention to the man who clearly wanted to talk.

He started with the movie Noah– reviewed in the morning paper. My commentary, “It is hard for me to accept Russell Crowe in the role of Noah. Noah is supposed to be a righteous man, and that actor doesn’t seem quite right. On the other hand, according to the Bible, he is righteous in his age, which means he doesn’t have to be so perfect, just better than the others around him.”

From there he carried the conversation to his daughter’s 21st birthday where some of the girls got so drunk that they were doing things they would be very embarrassed about. “I told my wife, don’t repeat those stories.” “Yes, there is a teaching that once you let the feathers go from a pillow you can’t gather them up again, just like gossip, once you say it, those words can’t be taken back.”

Was it the Heschel or something about this man with glasses, and a nose that said he had spent a good deal of time drinking, that made me go preacher?

Lee, I learned, was planning a celebration for his 25th wedding anniversary. He had the minister and 50 guests coming as a surprise for his wife. He planned for them to reenact their wedding vows. “Should I bring her wedding dress which is sealed and have her change into it there? One of my sisters says, yes, and the other says, no. What do you think?” ” Really she can fit into it?” asking with amazement, because I’m not sure I could get my right arm into my own wedding dress.” “Yes, the same 105 pounds as when I married her.”

Lee quickly went from celebration to heartache. He had already told me he had made a lot of money in computer software, lived in a 5 bedroom house, and in the summer went to their shore house. Then: “I don’t speak to my son.”

“Anyone who knows me, knows I’m all about family. My son was my everything. He’s my oldest. My son is handsome and athletic. I went to every game he ever played. After he graduated college he thought I’d still be his scholarship, you know what I mean, pay for everything. That was two years ago. And last year I had to do tough love. He didn’t want to work, just take. I haven’t spoken to him in months. He won’t pick up the phone or answer my email.”

Back to celebration., he went on, “My son won’t be at our anniversary celebration. I know how hard that will be for my wife.”

“Did you invite him?”


In great detail he described how he missed his son. His son also blamed everything on him. He knew he was doing the right thing, yet wasn’t sure. “I heard he has two jobs now to pay his rent in San Francisco.”

“Can I offer some advice?” Hey, he had already asked me about the dress. With his permission: “Can you write him a letter? A handwritten letter that says:

I love you. I’m sorry for the pain.
I miss you. Mom and I are celebrating our anniversary in two weeks.
Our twenty five years together has been through difficult and good times. That’s love.
It won’t be the same without you.
I will send you a ticket if you can come.
Love, Dad

And this man who had, during a short ride, given me the accounting of his life, listing fifty guests, twenty-five years of marriage, five bedrooms, three children, two houses and a lost relationship with one son, started to cry. I went on, “You would send the letter without the expectation that your son will respond or come. Just send it so in his time of figuring this out he’ll know, you love him. That’s all. Every boy has to do his struggle to become a man. Eventually, forgiveness comes. That might be in a month or a year or five years. But it will come.”

“I can do that. A handwritten letter,” he agreed.

Lee had a ticket for the Acela express train and mistakenly got on the regional rail. When he left he said it was meant to be that we had sat next to each other. He wished me many blessings. One more parting, he added, “God bless you.” Is this what Heschel was talking about?

Diverse Voices in Problem Solving


By Elaine Kleinmann

Are we open enough to bring diverse voices to our educational work and our problem solving?   Have you seen new possibilities emerge when new people are invited to work on a team? This article discusses the value of empowering a diverse group of people in a team approach to problem solving.

Managing the team to realize maximum potential requires a blend of openness and discipline as well as a shared vision of why we are here. When we invite new voices to participate in our innovation work, do we look for diverse backgrounds, skill sets, and passions? Do we coalesce around a shared vision? It can be challenging to invite people with diverse backgrounds to share in our work, yet it is key to addressing the changing environment in which we live.

Heschel, the First Fifty Pages


By Cyd Weissman

On May 8th, at Yachdav, our yearly gathering of the Coalition of Innovating Congregations we will learn with Rabbi Shai Held the author of Abraham Joshua Heschel: The Call to Transcendence. Shai, a Jewish celebrity these days, is the co-founder of Mechon Hadar and known as “an amazing teacher.” All sixty congregations will receive a copy of his book. My assignment: Read it first. Second assignment: Understand it.

Moving from thumbs scanning text messages and mind numbing news headlines to reading a book of deep thought requires adjustment.  I have to quiet down and focus. So I’m trying to use my usually silent train ride to read a real book that has pages that actually turn – No Swipe. Making my assignment more difficult is the man sitting next to me who hasn’t stopped talking to his female colleague across the aisle. She hasn’t stopped chanting “Right,” “I know,” and “ok.” (Is that all you want to hear? Apparently).

I realize I’m actively participating in the very technology deafening-leave-me-alone so I-can-do-what-I-want existence addressed by Heschel in the first 50 pages of the book. We live in a time, he wrote decades ago, where technology leads to us to live with “callousness.”

As a Jewish educator, I’m reading the book guided by the question: In what ways will The Call to Transcendence revive my soul and my work with children and families? As if speaking directly to me, I can imagine, while he pushed his up his glasses that are as au currant as his answer: “there is no education for the sublime. We teach the children how to measure, how to weigh. We fail to teach them how to revere, how to sense wonder and awe.” (p. 43)

Yes, I want to say, we know how to teach them to recite, to engage in activities but for what purpose?
He responds, “The task of religion [religious education] is to instill a sense of “perpetual surprise, a willingness to encounter the world, again and again as if for the first time.” (p. 30)

Without wonder, according to Heschel, we are consumed with self and then we are a “beast.. an animal” concerned only with self satisfaction. The world, the space on the train, and even God, is here to serve my need, we’ve come to believe. According to Heschel technology has led us believe “the only criterion of value is what is useful for the fulfillment of my own desires and aspirations.” (p. 39)

The logic I hear from the first 50 is that technology and routinization lead to us to take the world for granted. “The world is my toolbox.” The remedy for this “the world is my oyster approach” that leads us to turn so inward we lose connection to others is wonder.

With wonder, we have a sense of indebtedness. “In receiving a pleasure, we must return a prayer; in attaining a success, we radiate compassion.” (p.37 & 29). So if our purpose is to release a will to  wonder, which enables gratitude/indebtedness which can lead to faith. “What we lack is not a will to believe, but a will to wonder…we can will ourselves to wonder.” (p. 52)

What will we do differently if our work is to release a will to wonder?

What is the learning that moves us from “self enclosure” to a “deeper sense of compassion and empathy for others”?

What is the learning that intensifies our search “for meanings that somehow lie just beyond sensory appearances” (Fuller, p. 51) and overcomes “the exclusive realty to the stubbornly selfish ‘I’?” (Held, p. 51)

What learning might help me respond differently to the noise, (a.k.a. people)  sitting next to me? What do you recommend? Let me see if the answer is in the next 50 pages.


Are you Person A or Person B?


By Ellen Rank

Person A: “I’m so busy! I’d love to meet with colleagues, but I can’t find the time. I need to be at my office and get my work done.”


Person B: “I’m so busy! I need to speak with my colleagues. I know that they can help me get through these challenges, and then I’ll be able to work more effectively and efficiently.
I know that I do my best work when working and consulting with colleagues. At the same time, I recognize that making time to meet with colleagues isn’t always easy.” Thinking about our new I*MOVE Peer Consultancy, I decided to look online to learn about other peer consultancies and their effectiveness.

My favorite find is a youtube by the Coltrain Group entitled Managing Workplace Stress with Peer Consultancy Groups. This video outlines how peer consultancy groups (PCGs) can alleviate some of the great causes of stress: (1) feeling a lack of control,(2) being subjected to unpredictable conditions and (3) feeling a lack of social support. In a Peer Consultancy, participants bring to the group work that they will have some control over, participants decide which things they want to spend time and energy on, and participants leave with next steps and can-do attitude. A Peer Consultancy Group is a place of predictability where using a protocol leads to an actionable outcome. PCGs support participants in pursuit of best practices as colleagues give thoughtful, creative help to one another. Participants in a PCG build collegial bonds as they give and get help from one another.

Instead of working on your own and feeling overwhelmed by questions and uncertainties, you can be part of a PCG. The Coltrain Group describes how members of PCG leave a meeting feeling empowered and excited, feeling like the group is a gift to the participants.

So, if you are in the metropolitan NY area, and would like to reduce your stress, a Jewish Education Project’s Peer Consultancy Group might be just what you need! If you have not yet signed up to be part of a Peer Consultancy for 2014-2015, look on our resources page  and scroll to I*MOVE Applications for 2014-2015 and scroll to the Peer Consultancy Application. A gift is waiting for you.

Ideas on Wheels


By Jessica Rothbart

When thinking about Jewish education, do you start with the problem or do you get stuck with the obvious solution? Hopefully, wherever you are more comfortable starting, you end up in a more innovative and creative place than you thought you would. We’ve heard about thinking outside the box, and in the Coalition of Innovating Congregations, we talk about thinking beyond the classroom. In the book Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity by Keith Sawyer, he asks you to take a problem and before you try and solve it, try to formulate your question differently 10 times. Do you come up with different questions than you thought? Hopefully. But most importantly, it’s a first step in challenges the assumptions that each of us make when answering questions.

Cole Galloway, a researcher in the infant lab at the University of Delaware faced the problem of mobility in children with cognitive and physical disabilities. His mission is to fill  “’an exploration gap’ — the difference between typically developing children and those who suffer from mobility issues due to conditions like cerebral palsy and Down syndrome.” So he made being mobile a little more fun! Instead of using motorized wheelchairs for children younger than five, he is adjusting kids motor cars for every day functionality. The article, which you can read HERE, features a picture of a child who is driving the Disney film Cars’ Mater the tow truck (with improved safety precautions).  This creative solution in action isn’t just cute, it’s inspirational. The next time you’re stuck on a problem, try thinking about it from a different angle or questioning the assumptions you’re making about the solution. Or maybe just take a walk around a Toys “R” Us.


Banking on Strategies for Synagogues


By Cyd Weissman

“The train is crowded, mind if I sit here?” My usual Don’t sit next to me on the train strategy of coughing or eating smelly foods didn’t deter this twenty some young woman from sitting down.

She parked herself, her winter coat, her tote and package right next to me. “The commute has been wild with all the snow, hasn’t it?” Oh boy – I was in for a talker. Usually on the Amtrak, reserved train folks keep up their Northeast reserve. The unspoken understanding is you open your electronic device and act as if there isn’t another human within miles. However, this blond with the bubble in her voice hadn’t read the manual. As someone trying to figure out how to adapt Jewish organizations to meet today’s challenges, I’m sure glad she didn’t.

“I do this commute four days a week, Philadelphia to New York. I’ve never seen the schedules so off.” Attention. I had to put my device down because that’s my story too. As the conversation went from slithering sidewalks to how to recreate the work of a traditional organization, I asked her “Do you mind if I take notes?”

Was she talking about banks or synagogues? This is what I learned from the Wharton graduate who works for innovative products at American Express.

“People don’t want to interact with banks the way they used to, the way their parents did. It used to be that people built a history and trust with the bank over time. The bank was a constant in the community. People physically walked in. They had credentials, birth certificates and documentation and a longstanding relationship with the bank. But the demographics are changing. From our research, we learned that 30 million people can’t get a traditional account. And, we learned they don’t want one. Today people want it their way.

She continued, “I work on creating new products that help people connect with banks. I used to work for another international bank. They are big… so big that they don’t really care what customers want or which new products they need. But at American Express they need to care.” She explained a lot of her work is, “Soliciting feedback. We need to be asking enough questions to hear what people need. People are getting their banking needs (wow, spiritual/ religious needs) in other non-traditional places. People are turning to Google and Pay Pal because they are listening to what people want. There are no hoops to jump through and a low barrier to entry.”

She explained how banks now have offer different levels of accounts. So if you don’t want to sign up or answer a lot of questions, you can still get a service. People don’t want to hear a minimum balance is required or that you are only open certain hours. They value technology. They move fast. “When I worked at the other bank they moved really slowly. We couldn’t move fast because there were so many committees. At American Express we have enterprise in order to survive. We know people are saying, ‘I like my coffee this way and they get it. So they are also saying ‘I want my banking this way.’”

“How do you figure out what products to test market?” I asked (Hey I took a course at Wharton once).

“We work closely with partners like Walmart, Target, Zynga along with other gaming and travel services. The best partnerships happen when you combine. Positioning is very important. Where do you fit in the customers mind? (GREAT QUESTION… Don’t love the answers that come to my mind.) Where is my position in the market? How can we combine ourselves in the consumers mind; Target and American Express? She went on, “With partners you say, what do I bring and what you bring to the table? And does this meet our goals? This leads you to try different things. And we get an immense amount of feedback. Trying something new every two weeks, we found we’ve had to invest in the emotional part of the product. We think about what the Experience will look like and then we get ten people off the street to go through the experience and, ask ‘What do you think?’”

I could tell that my train companion really wanted to shift the conversation and talk about her upcoming wedding at the Kimmel Center. Her dress was gorgeous and wow what a handsome groom! But, I wanted to spend the time before we hit 30th street getting her advice about how to create ways for people to connect with synagogues. I also know people now want it their way, not the way their parents wanted it, and who can get it from other sources on their own terms.

She had given me the right advice?

  • Try lots of things … every two weeks.
  • Work with partners, and bring what you have together to meet your goals.
  • Ask. And ask again – get lots of feedback.
  • Hit the emotional connection.
  • Be flexible.
  • Don’t get caught in committee.
  • What else?

Let go of that Northeast reserve once in a while. Look up from your electronic device. Something worthwhile may be right in front of you.


Power in Numbers


By Tamara Gropper

Recently, I had the opportunity to hear about the work of Dr. Niobe Way, author of Deep Secrets: Boy’s Friendships and the Crisis of Connection (Harvard University Press, 2011). She has spent the better part of her career studying boys’ relationships with other boys in particular on the edge of, in the heart of and towards the end of adolescence.  What she shared both challenged my assumptions about boys and confirmed what I know to be true – that boys experience deep and rich connections to their closest male friends, connections that intensify during adolescence only to wane as they are expected to mature and go out into the world on their own.

As Dr. Way read aloud the words of adolescent boys, words which rang with love and trust and commitment, she also cited numerous studies that link healthy relationships to health and long life.  One in particular stayed with me.  It involved the perceived difficulty of a task.  Apparently, in multiple studies a person’s perception of a task shifts depending on who else is literally standing close by.  If asked to climb a steep hill with your best friend next to you, the hill hardly seems steep at all. If asked to climb a steep hill with a total stranger or even a new friend, the hill appears much more daunting if not impossible to ascend.  This got me thinking about the emphasis we’ve placed on learning grounded in caring and purposeful relationships.  Not only does the learning reach deeper when experiencing it with people whose stories you know, with people who you know to care about you, but also you are likely to take on more challenging explorations because they won’t feel as challenging.   It also helps explain why some congregations see opportunities to innovate as just that – opportunities, not challenges that can’t possibly be met.  No one person can make the kind of far-reaching, sustainable change the Coalition of Innovating Congregations strives to create. But, bring along a few good friends, colleagues who know you’ve got their back just as they’ve got yours and just watch the wheels of innovation turn – slowly at first and then picking up steam as the status quo gives way to innovation after innovation after innovation.

Dr. Niobe Way reminded me that when we make room in our congregations for deep relationships to flourish – learner to learner, educator to educator, parent to parent, and on and on – we tap into our most powerful resource, the deep and abiding strength of community.

Looking Out for One Another


By Susie Tessel

the barrel

Click to read The Barrel


Lot of things have been coming to mind recently about the importance of looking after each other. One core value of Judaism and a tenant of the Purim story is:  “Everyone is responsible for one another. ” This value is illustrated in The Barrel story by Rabbi Steven Z. Leder from Three Times Chai: 54 Rabbis Tell Their Favorite Stories. In the story each member of the village assumed they could get away with filling the barrel with water instead of wine. Plenty of examples have been seen throughout history of one’s tendency to turn a blind eye, not take action, or not do their part - assuming someone else will - especially when they are just one of many. We were reminded of one such event this week on the 50th anniversary of the murder of Kitty Genovese, a case made infamous for no one responding to her cries for help. Psychologists studied this tragic event and dubbed it, “The Genovese phenomenon,” or the Bystander Effect, when everyone assumes someone else will take action so they do nothing. In her case, as in many others, no one was prepared to assume responsibility. Judaism has plenty of its own stories to demonstrate this necessity of assuming responsibility. In the Purim story, Esther puts the needs of her people before her own safety. She is not sure whether King Achoshverosh will kill her when she tells him that she is Jewish, but after she decides the needs of the whole are greater than protecting herself, she is rewarded with safety for herself, her people, and the destruction of her enemy, Haman. What opportunities do you see as an educator to instill these values?


geriatrics books