experiments, instruments & measurement book

What voice would you give to the Chanukah story?


By Rabbi Jennifer Goldsmith

This week many of our consultants were given the chance to read verses from Shabbat on Chanukah and create their own modern midrash, giving voice to either a person or object whose point of view we do not otherwise hear. See some of our creations below and add your own!

MenorahFrom the point of view of the Lamp: The Greeks knocked us over and broke so many things in the Great Hall of the Temple. They left me on the ground, thinking me dead and useless. When Judah Maccabee entered, I was lovingly sat upright and the small cruse of oil was placed in my oil holder. Brighter, brighter – hope it lasts.

From the point of view of the Calendar: On the 25th day of Kislev commence the days of Hanukkah. The calendar asks: Why am I mentioned first? The Torah responds, because just as the calendar was the first commandment God gave the Israelites when they left Egypt, so, too, the rabbis start with the calendar as the first command.

Where did they find the oil? For the Greeks found all the other oil. This cruse of oil was hidden among the Greek statues, for no one would think to look there. A soldier among the Greeks had seen one priest with the oil and taking it for his own had hidden it and was then reassigned. The miracle was in the hiding, in the finding and in the light.

dreidelFrom the point of view of Hallel: Halleluyah! Sing out praises to God for the miracle of Chanukah—for the Hassidim who stood up for Jewish culture and tradition in the face of assimilation. Praise God! For all the individual acts of courage of women and men who dared to be different. May their spirit of courage keep the flame of those who support diversity in our day alive. Amen! Selah.

From the point of view of the High Priest: When I looked at the devastation surrounding me in the Bet HaMikdash I wondered- how can I fail forward? How can we memorialize all the death and destruction to make this moment feel triumphant for posterity? We can light the menorah. the light will bring inspiration and help take away the darkness and bad memories. We can institute the saying of Hallel in gratitude to the Almighty and our brave fighters. Lastly, we need to record and memorialize our triumphs- like The Battle of Emmaus, in which our few men used guerilla warfare to triumph over the mighty Syrian Greek army. (That Battle is still studied at West Point as a perfect example of guerilla warfare!!)

From the point of view of the lamp:
“Hey…it is so dark in here. Oh wait…I think I am about to be lit…”
“…really? That is all you have? This isn’t going to last the night!”
“Hey you…over there…did you get any oil?”
“Wait…so it is all my problem? I have to light up this whole place? We better get use to the dark…”

Shabbat 21b
What is [the reason of] Hanukkah? For our Rabbis taught: On the twenty-fifth of Kislev [commence] the days of Hanukkah, which are eight on which a lamentation for the dead and fasting are forbidden. For when the Greeks entered the Temple, they defiled all the oils therein, and when the Hasmonean dynasty prevailed against and defeated them, they made search and found only one cruse of oil which lay with the seal of the High Priest, but which contained sufficient for one day’s lighting only; yet a miracle was wrought therein and they lit [the lamp] therewith for eight days. The following year these [days] were appointed a Festival with [the recital of] Hallel and thanksgiving.

Activity: Take a minute to read through the text. Then create, a short (2-5) sentence modern midrash from the point of view of someone or something unexpected in the text. (For example: the point of view of the oil.)

Rational Reasons to Value Judaism


By Fred Claar

There are many things to teach about Judaism. Most common are history, holidays, Israel, Holocaust, Hebrew decoding, and prayer. All being taught is good, but none of them are rational reasons to value Judaism.Star_of_David.svg

If Jewish students reaching Bat/Bar Mitzvah could articulate what makes Judaism special and unique, Judaism might become a much more highly valued part of their identity.

The question today’s Jewish students ask is not “How to be Jewish” and not “How to create a Jewish identity”. Rather, they ask, “Why be Jewish” or “Why take being Jewish seriously”. These last two questions often have not been answered.

Most non-orthodox Jews today have a Jewish home experience limited to only several days of involvement per year. That is another vitally important topic in Jewish education. Bringing Judaism into non-orthodox homes is essential to properly educate Jewish students. That important topic is beyond these short remarks, and it is a much more formidable challenge than what I am highlighting here.

No Jewish student should be allowed to graduate from school until they can articulate several unique aspects of Judaism that are special and rational to all of mankind. Below are several of many to make my point and to be food for thought within the entire Jewish teaching community.

hebrewWe focus on this world. Our Torah is quiet on the hereafter. Judaism believes in an afterlife, but it is not emphasized. Judaism focuses on this life. Repair this world.

We struggle with God. Abraham and Moses argued with God. Jacob wrestled with God. Israel = struggle with God. Some religions require surrender or faith. There can be satisfaction in growth through struggle.

We elevate critics into our scripture. Our prophets severely criticize Jews for not being good enough. We are the only religion to include critics in our Bible.

We are a people and a religion. All Jews are connected. We speak out for others. Some religions are silent on destruction of coreligionists or easily kill other coreligionists. Religion alone could be private, but Judaism is a connected peoplehood.

Our view of human nature. We are born neutral, neither good nor bad. There is a tug of war between our Yatzer Tov (good impulses) & Yatzer Hara (bad impulses). It is normal to have bad thoughts. It is our actions, not our thoughts, which are most important to Judaism.

The five concepts, plus others, very briefly outlined above do not suffice as Jewish education. They are important steps in answering questions about the value of Judaism to any individual, whether Jewish or not.

Visrael: Innovation in Israel Education through Video


By Amy Schilit Benarroch & Noa Mofaz with an introduction by Suri Jacknis

Hi, everyone. As facilitator of some Coalition Peer Groups, I have been working with the Long Island Family Learning Network to explore ways that we can connect our families to the Israel of today. Network participants have shared stories of a great “disconnect with Israel” among their constituent families and have been searching for new ways to go beyond associations of danger, war and violence or camels, desert and pioneers to make modern Israel accessible, relevant and real to this generation. I am fortunate to have gotten to know Amy Schilit Benarroch, one of the two partners in the Visrael project, through her participation in one of our other Coalition Networks for Full Time educators. Amy is a very thoughtful and creative educator with a special passion for Israel. When she shared this special project with me, I knew that it is something so needed and valuable. Please feel free to reach out to Amy or Noa for more information and to let us know your reactions and suggestions. -Suri Jacknis

It’s hard to talk to American kids about Israel. Recently, American children hear about Israel through the lens of the news, through violence and tragedy. Death and war cannot be the only story about Israel. We have to do a better job to teach children about the Israel many of us know and love. To our children, the story of Israel should of music and food and entrepreneurship and kibbutzim living and more.

So we developed Visrael, a video-based curriculum to teach Israel to 21st century learners here in America. As an Israeli video artist and an American Jewish educator, we knew there were opportunities to innovate in the way children learn about Israel. Our program features a mix of stop-motion animation and live action documentary to create positive connections with Israel for children living in the diaspora. mm

Fifteen years ago, Dr. Avraham Kadar, changed learning in public schools by producing short videos on a variety of topics through his program, BrainPOP. Inspired by BrainPop, which is used in tens of thousands of public and private schools across the country, we set out to create a “Jewish version.” Our goals are to revolutionize the way Israel is taught in day schools, congregations, camps and homes.

Not only do children love to watch videos in class, but research also shows that animation and narration enhance comprehension and memory. According to an SEG Research report funded by BrainPop, “Multimedia learning is most effective when the learner can apply their newly acquired knowledge and receive feedback.” In that spirit, we’ve also created tools for educators including teacher’s manual, worksheets, creative activities and flashcards.

In classrooms and congregations, teachers can integrate Visrael into formal units that focus on Israel. For families, it can be used as a tool for children to learn about Israel with their parents. And at camps, Visrael can serve as a unique, informal way to inspire and assist all Israel-focused activities. Daphna and Gilad

Building Visrael has been an exciting journey thus far. We have just begun to scratch the surface in sharing this innovative programming with American students. We hope you’ll take this journey with us. Please visit visraelschool.com for more information and to get in touch with us. Bahai Garden

Noa Mofaz and Amy Schilit Benarroch are co-directors of Visrael, a video-based Israel education curriculum for students living in the diaspora. Noa is an Israeli-based video artist and Amy is a NYC-based Jewish educator.

One Educator’s Response…


By Tamara Gropper

Yesterday morning, I began my day by reading Nancy Parkes’s piece, One Educator’s Response…On the Findings of the Pew Report and the Jewish Future. I have had the honor of being one of those working with Nancy as her Jewish Education Project consultant through her many years of innovation at Temple Israel Center of White Plains. Nancy succeeds in changing the conversation about Jewish learning within her congregation and without. She seeks out and accepts opportunities to get out the message about what’s possible in supplementary Jewish education when the right resources are allocated to it. In naming key supports needed to create successful, sustainable innovation – collaboration, consulting, mentoring, more educators in the field, and real partnership between clergy, lay leadership and educators – she once again raises her voice for the rest of us. What do you hear in her words? Which of these key supports would make the difference for you?

 Read full article here!

The NEXT Program’s Boot Camp for New Teachers (and those with minimal formal training)


By Rabbi Erin Hirsh, Director

Too many new (and new-ish) supplementary school teachers wake up in the middle of the night worrying about setting up a classroom, planning for the first day, organizing lessons, using textbooks and keeping everything engaging. These dedicated teachers invest time and energy in their classes every week. Unfortunately, some lack formal training in education and working with children. We can remedy that by providing effective and targeted professional learning opportunities for them. Whatever support the Jewish community gives these teachers, the impact on children in supplementary schools will be tenfold.

If the first step to becoming an excellent supplementary school teacher is that enthusiasm and dedication, the NEXT step is surely substantive professional learning. Gratz College’s NEXT program is designed to fulfill that role. The content of our on campus and online professional learning classes includes ongoing education about pedagogical practices, Jewish content, ones’ own Jewish identity, and the needs and desires of ones’ students.

The NEXT Program’s Boot Camp for New Teachers (and those with minimal formal training) is a class specifically designed to address the challenges of supplementary school teachers without a formal background in education. The Boot Camp is a self-paced online class that we now offer year-round for supplementary school teachers. The class features 8 two hour modules on topics including: child development; multiple intelligences; special needs; instructional learning strategies, classroom management and kehillah (community) building. Syllabus, unit and lesson planning are covered in depth. In the fall, the Boot Camp will be expanded to include a module on higher order thinking and questioning and discussion skills. Participants are invited to join an online Community of Practice following the course.

The NEXT program is funded by the generosity of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. All NEXT classes are free to teachers in Philadelphia, but teachers everywhere are welcome to take the classes for a modest fee. The Boot Camp tuition is $150. The need for high quality professional learning online is growing and NEXT’s response has been heard so loudly and clearly that central agencies and federations in Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, Hartford, Miami, Milwaukee and the Greater Palm Beaches are now partnering with us to bring our online classes to teachers in those areas at subsidized rates.

Check out their facebook page here.

A Request from the Grieving Widows & Families


Our hearts are heavy with the images of praying rabbis wrapped in talitot and tefillin being slaughtered in an Israel synagogue. As we enter Shabbat, the words of their families can help lead us to healing and hope. Below is a letter from the Levin, Goldberg, Kupinksy, and Twersky families:

A request from the grieving widows and families:

From the depth of our broken hearts and with tears over the murder of the holy victims, the heads of our families, we turn to our brothers and sisters, every Jew, wherever you are, and request that we all join together as one, to bring heavenly mercy upon us. Therefore, let us accept upon ourselves to increase our love and brotherhood with each other, between each of us, between different groups, and between different communities.

We request that each person endeavors this Friday afternoon before Shabbat Parshat Toldot to sanctify this Shabbat (Erev Rosh Chodesh Kislev) as a day of causeless love, a day on which we all refrain from talking about our differences and grievances against others, and refrain from any slander or evil gossip.

Through this may there be a great merit for the souls of the fathers of our families who were slaughtered for the sanctity of God.

May God look down from above, and see our grief, and wipe away our tears, and proclaim ‘enough with the suffering!’, and may we merit to see the arrival of the Messiah, may it happen speedily in our days, Amen.

Chaya Levin, and family
Brayna Goldberg, and family
Yakova Kupinsky, and family
Basha Twersky, and family

Translated by Rabbi Pini Dunner, Young Israel of North Beverly Hills

The Neuroscience of Giving


By Susie Tessel

An important Jewish precept is that one person can make a difference. We are all created in God’s image, and when we emulate God’s qualities, each of us can make a difference. This concept is evident in the biblical stories, which are both their stories and yours. In each case we see the dramatic effect of a single individual.

In a couple weeks we will celebrate the holiday of Hanukkah. There too, Mattathias and Judah Macabee made a difference – and changed history. That’s a crucial component of the Hanukkah story. A new book provides a contemporary proof. A Path Appears, by Nicholas Kristof (a columnist for the New York Times) and his wife, Cheryl WuDunn (a columnist for the Wall Street Journal), details fantastic examples of extraordinary, life-changing programs which were started by one person, to the benefit of the many, many beneficiaries. Each vignette merits careful consideration. Many of us are involved in service-oriented models in which our students and/or their parents participate in text study, followed by an activity and finally, reflection.


Inspired quotations begin each chapter. These can be used beneficially (as do the authors) as the points to initiate textual studies. The book has seemingly countless examples and a very thorough glossary of different types of projects one can support.

Kristof and WuDunn also provide a section detailing the neurological benefits of helping others. The latest neuroscience proves the maxim “money can’t buy happiness”. A growing body of research in science and psychology suggests that altruism is good not just for the beneficiaries but also for the benefactors. Helping others makes us happy, and even leaves us healthier and able to live longer lives. People feel happier when they connect with a cause larger than themselves. Research suggests that altruists seem disproportionately likely to age gracefully and maintain their health, and the researchers have found that willingness to help others seems more important to longevity then cholesterol levels.

Through the miracles of MRIs and the latest neuroscience, they demonstrate how the “happiness boost” (of oxytocin) that a person receives from the efforts made to help others exceeds what one would get from an equivalent effort to help one’s self. They emphasize that compassion is natural, and that we may even be “hard-wired” to be kind to others. It is an integral part of our humanity. So why aren’t people more generous? They explain that we are subject to social and market pressures that distort our generous inclinations. The most affluent 20 percent of the population give a smaller share of their income to charity than the bottom 20 percent. They also suggest that we are further thwarted from doing good because we are so removed from poverty. We are never exposed to it, so we are insulated from their poverty. The most effective charitable activities are those that connect people with individuals, or better yet, face-to-face interactions. These promote the strongest flow of oxytocins. Personalized compassion facilitates the most effective giving. Paul Zak, a neuroscientist, has shown that acts of kindness are like exercising a muscle: Each such act strengthens the capacity for additional acts. For me, this book was a clarion call for action. Let’s flex those muscles and get moving!!

This book provides a plethora of opportunities to change lives for the better, including our own. “A life with meaning isn’t a destination. It’s a journey.”

What’s your itinerary?

Spotlight on Innovation and Change

How a Renewed Focus on Kehillah at Congregation Tifereth Israel in Glen Cove Became the Building Block for Growth & Engagement


By Ellen Rank

CTI Limud is Congregation Tifereth Israel’s congregation-wide learning model that is based on the premise that Jewish values, embedded in and learned through our stories (both modern and ancient), can be our guide in helping us to make our world a better place. Over the past five years, spearheaded by the vision and dedication of lay leaders Fredda Klopfer and Susan Friedlieb and their clergy Rabbi Irwin Huberman and Cantor Gustavo Gitlin, CTI has experimented with different types of experiential learning and over time have found the balance between experiential learning and content to create powerful learning experiences. The impact of their efforts can be seen in the growth of their school from 6 learners to about 75.

To get to where they are now, CTI listened to families and placed a new priority on creating learning experiences that spoke to their population. Today, all CTI learners and their families participate in hands-on experiential learning that takes place at CTI as well as out in the community. There are currently about 75 learners and 40 families participating and exploring topics such as community building, prayer, storytelling, Israel, camp connections, leadership and Torah study.

An important dimension to CTI’s high-impact model is the creation and building of community – Kehillah. On Sunday mornings, parents and children join together from 9:30-10:00 for Kehillah. This is made up of spirited songs and an interactive dramatically told story which ties in with CTI’s theme for this year. CTI also uses Kehillah as an opportunity to teach relevant, modern Hebrew words, per parental request. CTI’s Limud Teens are given opportunities to be leaders of Kehillah.

Empowering Teens has become a very important part of Limud which demonstrates  the tremendous belief CTI has in empowering students to take part in creating their own learning. The Limud High students create their own curriculum based on what they want to learn. They designed and created their own space – their own teen lounge– which they truly see (and use) as their special place at CTI. These teens, who are in the classrooms and know what is happening and how children are learning, participate  in the Education Leadership Team, sharing their insights with lay leaders, clergy and the education director.

None of this would be possible without the involvement of dedicated stakeholders and the creative use of social connectors to help get the word out and share their evolving story of strength and renewed connections with the entire community. Even mid-year, Limud continued to gain new students while CTI’s dedicated team of stakeholders continued to be reflective, set noticing targets for themselves, and keep their priority goals in sight.

“Get to” Judaism


By Anna Marx

Growing up the child of a Jew-by-Choice, everything about Judaism was a choice for us. For my mother, Judaism was a gift. She felt very proud to count herself among the Jewish people. She felt blessed to have the opportunity to do Jewish things. And she felt great joy in being able to give me Jewish experiences. To this day, she calls Jewish overnight camp, “the best investment I ever made.”

In our home, I don’t ever remember hearing the words “have to” when it came to Judaism. I only remember hearing “get to.” We get to light Shabbat candles. We get to go to synagogue. We get to remove the bread from our cabinets. We get to skip school, work and all the regular chaos of the week and spend a long day in Yom Kippur services. And, “You get to go to Sunday school.”

lighting candles

Truth be told, I didn’t know until I was a teenager that my experience was any different than anyone else’s. By the time I saw all the other kids at the synagogue, we were removed from the parents and we all had a good time. We laughed and played together. We told jokes and whispered secrets. I always felt best at synagogue and Jewish places. I always felt like I could just be me. I felt happy and relaxed and at home. I didn’t know that other kids were told they had to come, that they had to have a bat mitzvah, or that they had to come to a long service on Yom Kippur.

Today, I am a professional in the Jewish community. As many of us  in this field know, Jewish population studies play an important role in the organized community. Following a national or a local study, there will often be a flurry of activity – meetings and committees, lots of decisions made about money and areas of focus, new programs, new grants, and new goals. These studies look at the kinds of experiences adults have had in the past and the kinds of Jewish behaviors they do today, like lighting Shabbat candles and attending services. They then link for us what kinds of experiences in childhood are most likely to produce Jewishly-engaged adults decades down the road. And they have bad news for us. They say we’re a shrinking group with less and less engagement.

I see a fundamental problem in this concentration. We don’t have control over who people will become. In a day and age when people have ultimate choice and are exposed to every option available, we cannot say what the magic formula is to create the adults we want to have tomorrow. And besides that, who are we to say who these adults should become? Any decent parent will tell you that their children are who they are and there’s very little they can do make them anyone else. All of us can point to families where siblings, from the same home and same parents, are vastly different adults.

We can’t control for all these variables. We can’t “make” our kids become anything. And why should we want to? We’re addressing the wrong goals. These behaviors that we pay close attention to – lighting Shabbat candles, attending services, keeping kosher, et cetera, et cetera – they are not the ends; they are the means.

We need to start asking a much more important question, one that should change the framework of what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and how we interact with one another. Let’s start asking this question: How are we making a difference in people’s lives right now? Not 25 years from now, not next year, right now. Right. Now.

When a child walks in the door of her synagogue, I want to know how we are working to make her feel safe and secure. I want to know when a teenager comes into the synagogue how we will make sure he has friends there. I want to know how all of our kids will feel like they can and should ask big tough questions in the halls of our congregations. Not the simple straightforward questions, but the big ones about bullying, sex, violence, pain, joy, and God. And even more importantly, I want to know what we are doing to make sure that when those kids walk back outside those doors of our synagogues, they feel more equipped to face the world head on.

I feel very lucky as a Jewish mother that I have the tools at my disposal to help my children face the world head on. All these teachings that may seem so ancient at first glance, they can help us understand and face the most seemingly modern of problems. The cyber bullying. The Wall Street injustices. The body image issues. The wars and crimes. All of it.

We have a gift. We are the carriers of an ancient tradition that offers the tools to live resilient and joyful lives, right now. We get to do Jewish. We get to. Lucky us.

The Value of Anywhere, Anytime Learning


By Ben Alpert

I just finished watching a web panel on Anywhere, Anytime Learning, offered as part of a year-long series by the Harvard Family Research Project, featuring expert panelists actively engaged in efforts to advance opportunities for, along with recognition of, education beyond the classroom. The panel explored the following:

“Children and youth learn anywhere, anytime, not just in classrooms during school hours. How can families, afterschool programs and community organizations work together to offer children meaningful learning opportunities outside of the school setting? What is the role of families in anywhere, anytime learning? How can we make quality after-school and summer learning opportunities accessible to all children?”

HFRP Webcast ScreenshotThe answer posed by participants was that it’s the responsibility of families and communities to extend, expand, and personalize opportunities for learning outside the classroom, through after-school programs, digital means, and by interweaving and complementing school curricula with opportunities available through public and community organizations. This idea of kids learning outside the classroom, and not uniquely during school hours, is not novel, nor is the want for students to engage in learning after school-hours unique to modern parenting. Panelist Gregg Behr, the executive director of the Grable Foundation in Pittsburgh, acknowledged as much, saying, “Parents have always embraced anytime, everywhere learning approaches. It’s just the term that’s new. The key is to identify those trusted adults in parents’ and caregivers’ lives… and equip those people so they can help be the guide for adults and children.”

The essence of Anywhere, Anytime Learning is that education is a community effort requiring a modern take on the age-old proverb that “it takes a village to raise a child.” In order for the model to be truly successful, parents, educators, and institutions need to encourage and draw support from a variety of otherwise unrelated persons, institutions and organizations to complement a student’s learning in the classroom. Libraries, after-school programs, community groups, and public resources all have important roles to play in a child’s development, and have massive potential for supporting families in their efforts to raise educated children.

Where do Children Learn HFRP ScreenshotIn terms of Jewish education, this concept’s potential is multifold. First, there is the emphasis on engaging not just students, but also families. In order to teach students about Jewish culture and learning, in-class efforts should be complemented in the home and outside of school. Digital resources, community organizations, after-school programs and summer camps are all incredibly helpful tools in this effort. Perhaps just as important, Jewish after-school and congregational educators have an important role to fill as complementing instructors for students’ classroom education, by putting subject matter into Jewish perspective with commentary on Jewish values, culture and history.

I’ll finish this post with tips from the web conference for engaging students and families in Anywhere, Anytime Learning, which could be helpful for educators interested in trying to incorporate this model into their lesson plans:

  • Pay attention to where, when, why, and how kids learn, and create appropriate learning experiences.
  • Co-develop with families a learning plan for each child that spans grades, ages, settings, educators, and learning supports.
  • Guide children and families to use libraries, museums, and other institutions that offer innovative opportunities for learning through digital media.

Interested in the Harvard Family Research Project webcast on Anywhere, Anytime Learning? Find it here.

geriatrics books