experiments, instruments & measurement book

Express Innovation Network Westchester: Roofing our Houses

Posted by Ben Alpert in Express Innovation, Uncategorized

Rabbi Jennifer Goldsmith, Communal Educational Consultant, Westchester

We began our Express Innovation Network meeting this month looking at the text from Jill Hammer’s The Jewish Book of Days on Ivory Houses. We learn in a midrash that during the months of Tishrei, Heshvan and Kislev the Israelites would roof their houses with ivory. After some thought we decided we would “roof” our houses with everything from unlimited coffee, food, the changing leaves, administrative support, strength and  something that quiets to allow for thinking and breathing.

We then moved our attention from what we need to build our house on the outside to the inside. We concentrated on the idea of community. First talking about how bringing together families for powerful learning experiences at the beginning of the school year can help create community and shape the tone for the rest of the year. Our network talked about weekly family havdalah at the beginning of religious school, a parent lounge on Sundays with bagels and coffee, Sunday morning parent classes that are both Jewish and non-Jewish in content, parent-only first day ice breakers, and a student pumim book.

Our discussion on building community to fill our houses continued as we experimented with one of our social connector conversations. We began by thinking about our own lives and sharing times where we felt most connected to the people we love. After that we broke down the characteristics that made those moments so powerful. From having our families present, to a sense that we were tying ourselves to different generations, to a shared history, to a commitment to values. And that many of the experiences we hold so dear took effort, dedication, willingness and ritual. After reading excerpts from an article written by Sherry Turkle in the New York Times on April 21, 2012, “The Flight from Conversation,”   we concluded by making the following statement: I can make the commitment to increase connectedness to my families, with others and to the congregation by…hearing/listening more, making more phone calls, staying more connected and turning off the to-do list.

If you could roof your house of Jewish education, what would you use to make sure your house was a safe, warm, comfortable, and inviting space?

 

Powerful Learning in Alternative Spaces: A Walk in the Park for Living and Learning

Powerful Learning in Alternative Spaces: A Walk in the Park for Living and Learning
Posted by Ben Alpert in Living and Learning, Uncategorized

By Cyd Weissman

On Sunday Manhattan Jewish educators and directors will be walking up the marble steps of the Museum of the City of New York to have a powerful learning experience…yes Jewish learning…with the Janet Ruttenberg exhibit of Central Park.

We'll be exploring an essential life skill for a Jewish journey that is--To pay attention...l'seem lev.

We’ll be exploring an essential life skill for a Jewish journey that is–To pay attention…l’seem lev.

Busy-ness, as we all know,  has a choke hold on people of all ages. This techno-high-achieving bully insists children and adults do and then do some more even faster. So without the art of paying attention young people might get lost, take a wrong turn or not recognize how far they’ve come. They might just have a filled in calendar without realizing what has passed and what is next.

As Jewish educators, our work has to be to support young people’s pause, questions and ability to see anew. This is the “new curriculum” of Jewish learning, not just the facts but the skills to navigate a life journey grounded in the richness of Judaism.

I love that Hebrew for pay attention is “seem lev,” put heart on.  Why do you think that is?

In my own life to pay attention I:

1. Sing niggunim: slow me down, catch my breath, remind  this moment is passing

2. Pray: something is bigger here than me…don’t forget it’s not all about you-which is contrary to what the guy at the Craps table told me in Atlantic City when I rolled the dice “its all about you”

3. Ask: so much a mystery. Do I bug people with my Barbara Walters questions?

4. Friend: I saw the Ruttenberg exhibit with Jessica. “Look see the word SEX written in the building?”  Nope missed that one, thanks Jessica.

The art gallery is ideal space to learn how we ourselves pay attention and then how we can help our students  do the same..”hey, put that thing down and look over here.”

How different will this experience be because we are in a space that insists you quiet down, look and look again? How would the same learning be in a classroom…in my mind…flat………..

Ruttenberg, a woman in her 80's, never exhibited her artwork until now. The 17 pieces at the Museum of The City of New York represent her return and return again to the same place, Central Park, each time seeing something different.

Ruttenberg, a woman in her 80’s, never exhibited her artwork until now. The 17 pieces at the Museum of The City of New York represent her return and return again to the same place, Central Park, each time seeing something different.

If we’re successful the educators will have a powerful experience that can inform their teaching.

They’ll have a chance to critique the day and answer: To what extent did we design a powerful day of learning? How could it have been better? They’ll critique the experience by asking if we created learning that 1) had relationships at the center; 2) enabled inquiry reflection and meaning making; 3) spoke to real life questions; and 4) was content rich and accessible (if you want the Bible texts for the colors red, purple, blue, white and green I can give them to you).

I’ll let you know how the day goes..we’re doing it again in a museum in Westchester and then Long Island. Powerful Learning in Alternative Spaces: A walk in the park..not so easy but hopefully worth paying attention to.

ruttenberg4

 

 

Non-Profit Narishkeit: The Life and Times of an Intern in the Non-Profit Jewish World

Non-Profit Narishkeit: The Life and Times of an Intern in the Non-Profit Jewish World
Posted by Ben Alpert in Uncategorized

Week 8: The Last One

By Jonny Gottlieb

To my loyal followers, random Russians forced by Spam to read this and all others who fall somewhere in between. I want to thank you for sticking with me through this roller coaster ride of a summer. There were posters, spreadsheets and free eggplant wraps at every twist and turn.

It is hard to reflect on something so close to its ending, and especially in a public forum that’s mostly filled with office-supplies-jokes and sarcasm, so I’ll keep it short. Not to mention I had no quotes readily available for poaching and/or inspiration. This summer I was able to get hands on experience in a field that I very well might be trying to be a part of in year’s time. I was given responsibility unlike ever before while learning practical skills and a lot about myself. I built relationships with co-workers that I know will be beneficial both professionally and personally. I am so grateful for the opportunities I have been given and cannot wait to see where they lead me.

The Mugs for Summer Institute!

The Mugs for Summer Institute!

But so now I’ll stop rambling and give the people what they want… an awkward mug selfie.

Red Patterned Pants: Big statement or Big Mistake?

Red Patterned Pants: Big statement or Big Mistake?
Posted by Ben Alpert in Uncategorized

By Cyd Weissman

These are the pants I’m wearing to Wednesday’s Summer Institute. I haven’t worn red patterned pants since I was a toddler. The desire to set the stage for a day of play is the only thing compelling me to step so far out of my fashion comfort zone.

My new pants!

My new pants!

Task at hand: Visualize Jewish Education for Real Life in 2020

After four years of working in New York with a clear strategic direction it is time to identify what’s next. What is the work to sustain innovation in the Coalition? How do we extend our reach? What is the next frontier and how do we cross it?

I’m not answering these questions alone. Instead I’m on a steady quest to gather 500 voices. Wednesday is a full day with 150 voices of professionals and lay leaders from The New York Coalition of Innovating Congregations, NY networked congregations, folks from the movements, professionals from Philadelphia, Washington, and Boston. Board members and funders, artists and scholars are all in for a day of visualizing Jewish Education in the coming years.

Do you think the day is historic? Have reps from The Recontructionist, Reform and Conservative Movements sat together before to shape images of Jewish education in the future? In creating the visioning agenda one message was clear: The future is changing so rapidly that many visioning tools no longer work. To plan for the future, and to walk humbly–rapid change raises the risk we may be way off–, we’re trying some risky stuff. A traditional suit just didn’t fit the day. Note to fashionistas: These diamond patterned pants look much crazier in my size than they do in the size-0 worn by the model.

To face the challenge we are asking the 150 attendees to bring their playful creative selves. Ready to stir the right side of your brain? If we don’t get kicked out of UJA-Federation for making too much noise on Wednesday, we’ll be drumming, drawing, moving, story telling, and …yes one more thing to take us to the wild side–playing cards–not poker–Tarot cards.

Tarot cards, many people think, are used to predict the future. Actually Tarot cards are used to help people get in touch with their deeper intuition. So I checked for the kashrut on this slightly mystical game, and got permission to read Tarot cards (special ones made for Jewish education). What’s your kishka saying we need to attend to when looking toward the future?

With the creative energy of talented passionate people doing some unconventional thinking, what will we be talking about on Thursday?

Generative images of Jewish Education for Real Life 2020!
Or
The pants that should have been left on the rack at Banana Republic?

Non-Profit Narishkeit: The Life and Times of an Intern in the Non-Profit Jewish World

Non-Profit Narishkeit: The Life and Times of an Intern in the Non-Profit Jewish World
Posted by Ben Alpert in Uncategorized

By Jonny Gottlieb

Week 6-7: Phone Phobia

For the past two weeks I’ve really gotten into the thick of things with my research project. And by “the thick” I mean sending out hundreds of emails and getting a smattering of replies. I’m now in charge of having short preliminary conversations with various synagogues to get a better feel of the congregational landscape and see if we would be a good match in working together. I did eventually get through to some people and arrange a couple of phone calls, but now comes the problem of actually talking to them on the phone.

For some reason even thinking about talking on the phone for an extended period of time gives me anxiety. And I’m not a particularly anxious person. Something about not being able to see the other person’s face is very strange and off-putting. On top of an already established base of nonsensical phone phobia, I was slightly traumatized by my aforementioned PR job. Once in a while I got a quality client who I was instructed to pitch to the top stations. If these station managers did not like what you were saying, they were very comfortable interrupting you or even hanging up mid-call. As you can imagine this did wonders for my calling confidence.

My inner monologue

My inner monologue

Seeing as though I’d be typing up notes whilst conversing, a co-worker suggested I use a headset. Obviously I was thrilled. I figured that the distraction of new office supplies would be just enough to trick me into being comfortable on the phone. I had finally found a solution to years of the phone jitters. However, this headset high lasted but mere moments when I found out that the only unused option in the office did not seem to work.

Just as I was getting discouraged I thought to myself, “If only I was organically given a quote with Jewish content that could both offer inspiration and be used as a tie-in for my blog in a corny yet meaningful way…” As luck would have it I was soon presented with such a quote.

In between not getting emails and staring at the phone I was also helping the rest of my department work on a special event called the Summer Institute (aka the reason the mugs were brought into my life). It’s a full day of conversation and activities that brings together all the different congregations we work with. We discuss what we’ve accomplished and what we can continue to improve in the future. In other words, some stuff happens while people wait nervously to get their hands on The Mugs. I’ve been helping out when I can and that day I was to sit in on a planning meeting with our whole department.

Since this is The Jewish Education Project we started off with a bit of learning and discussed the quote, “The greater your goal, the greater the yearning you’ll need to achieve it,” by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. Rebbe Nachman was an amazing thinker who was most famous for reviving the Hasidic movement through the melding of Kabbalah and Torah scholarship. He was an incredible speaker and I’d bet money that if he had lived in modern times he’d be great on the phone.

After the meeting I tried to meditate on the words of the Rebbe on the walk back to my desk. He did seem to have a point. Everything worth fighting for takes that much more drive to get done. While I don’t know if cold calling shuls is on my list of things “worth fighting for”, doing a good job was important to me and something I definitely took seriously. I decided I had to get over my fear and face this task head on.

I'm going to be honest with you, I literally just typed in "confident phone" into Google Images

I’m going to be honest with you, I literally just typed in “confident phone” into Google Images

Once I got into the swing of things I discovered, not surprisingly, that talking to synagogue staff members is only slightly less intimidating than booking agents for top New York radio shows. Everyone seemed genuinely interested in speaking to me and couldn’t be nicer. Okay that was hyperbolic, but they were pretty nice. From now on I’m determined to leave as many awkward messages and learn as many Ed. Director’s kids names and/or college preferences as it takes to get the job done. Until then, I’ll see you next week!

Making Music and Visioning for the Future at Summer Institute

Posted by Ben Alpert in Uncategorized

As we create our vision for the future of the Coalition of Innovating Congregations we are preparing to march to a new rhythm. At Summer Institute, attendees will participate in a visioning process with Jewish thought leaders that will shape new initiatives for the Coalition of Innovating Congregations and gain tools to lead visioning in their own congregations. With the creative process in mind, we are excited to announce we have invited special guests who will add an inspiring musical flare at this years Summer Institute on August 14th. Musical IQ offers a rich repertoire of interactive and high energy programming, providing African drums and other musical instruments for every participant. Founded by Shmueli & Samantha Perkel in 2006, Musical IQ has grown reaching over 30,000 children per year in the NY tri-state area, and we are also in the middle of our latest expansion to South Florida & Southern California. Musical IQ ‘playshops’ explore music from around the globe, as well as numerous aspects of geography, history and musical culture. Jewish Drum Tales, a subsidiary of Musical IQ, uses the applies the general program formula to include Jewish themes and enrichment. We bring ‘music to life’ in a fun and creative manner, using percussion and rhythm and our unique interactive and hands-on approach. Many of our participants are Jewish children and their families throughout the different religious and geographic diversity of NY, who have experienced our programs.

Join us for our exciting and inspiring program and learn to live and love music in a whole new way. All the way from storytelling to team building workshops, and everything in between! For further information about Musical IQ please visit us at www.MusicalIQ.com and www.JewishDrumTales.com. Summer Institute will take place on Wednesday, August 14 at UJA-Federation of New York from 10-2:30pm.

Non-Profit Narishkeit: The Life and Times of an Intern in the Non-Profit Jewish World

Non-Profit Narishkeit: The Life and Times of an Intern in the Non-Profit Jewish World
Posted by Ben Alpert in Uncategorized

Week 5: Falling into Place

By Jonny Gottlieb

I want to start out this post by giving a shout out to my alleged 37 readers in Russia. Even though I am technically a quarter Russian, I’m not exactly sure who you are or how you found this blog. Feel free to comment and explain a little about how you got here or maybe just share your favorite borscht recipe. Either way happy to have you and пожалуйста продолжайте читать.
This week was filled with quite literal ups and downs. It started off with a bang, as the air conditioning unit above our floor slowly leaked into our ceiling and weighed down individual squares until they began to fall. Luckily no one was hurt, and after our blood pressure returned to normal and the obligatory Chicken Little jokes were made we were able to get back to work.

Accurate depiction of the office atmosphere

Accurate depiction of the office atmosphere

As I mentioned before, the other interns and I had begun having weekly lunches with assorted important peoples of the company. This week’s lunch was with the director of my very own department, Cyd Weissman, and now you will see me try to be appropriately complimentary to my own boss (Enter shameless plug for her blog here). Cyd gave us the opportunity to brainstorm with her on an idea she had come up with for some sort of post-grad position in the education department of various synagogues. Seeing her genuinely interested and excited for our feedback not only validated my lowly intern-level contribution but helped me feel as though I was a part of the bigger picture of this organization.

In a similar vein of zooming out, I was then given the amazing opportunity to attend the Malala Day Youth Assembly at the United Nations. People from all over the world, all under 25, came together to celebrate the 16th birthday of Malala Yousufzai, a Pakistani activist shot in the head last year by the Taliban on her way to school. After making a miraculous recovery, Malala decided to continue to dedicate her life to education activism and presented the UN with a list of demands written by the Youth Assembly. You can learn more and sign her petition here.

I realize now I probably should have spent my time finding the delegates from Russia and inquiring how I can reach the rest of their country, but instead I wasted my time on “meaningful” things like hearing the Secretary-General recommit his efforts for quality education. Aside from the missed PR opportunity, it was awesome to juxtapose my very specific, niche contribution to the effort for global education.

Me, being delegatey

Me, being delegatey

Now back at work with nothing to show for my momentary brush with international fame except for a neon-orange Nalgene, I find myself glancing at it every so often. Every time my eyes wander it reminds me of two important things: Even while sitting at a cubical with a hole in the ceiling in the middle of New York, I am part of a larger conversation on how to make education more accessible and more innovative to as many people as possible. Oh and that I really hate the color orange.

Non-Profit Narishkeit: The Life and Times of an Intern in the Non-Profit Jewish World

Non-Profit Narishkeit: The Life and Times of an Intern in the Non-Profit Jewish World
Posted by Ben Alpert in Uncategorized

Week 3-4: There Is No Antonym For Excel

By Jonny Gottlieb

Hi guys. The first thing I just want to put out there is that Microsoft Excel is sometimes kind of hard. This might be shocking to some and embarrassing to others, but I want this blog to be a safe space where we can talk about these sorts of issues. I’m well aware Excel seems logical and is mostly used for imputing simple information into neatly organized boxes. However there is more to Excel than meets the eye. There are all sorts of formats and formulas the average person simply does not have a grasp on. Now I don’t necessarily ever have to use all of these complex aspects, but my point is they are there and yeah.

The better part of my week was spent researching potential new congregations and organizing said research into workable documents for correspondence. This of course meant Excel, Excel, Excel. As I’ve mentioned before I don’t really mind doing less than thrilling tasks if I find the end goal meaningful. Plus, I’m able to tap into my (very) selective OCD and genuinely find pleasure in a nice, clean spreadsheet. However once you’re sitting at your computer for multiple hours, you surpass the parameters of a simple project and enter into what I would call “Next Level Excel”.

Next Level Excel involves tabs, “hiding”, and even the occasional custom coloring. Since I was working on multiple lists, I played around with the different possible ways to build matrixes. I tried to find one that suited me best, one that really spoke to the kind of person I aspire to be. Was I an alphabetizer? A color coder? I toiled over how to become the “right” kind of Excel user.

Taking Next Level Excel that one step further

Taking Next Level Excel that one step further

In an act of serendipity, I got a little break just as Excel fatigue was starting to set in. The intern coordinator for the Jewish Education Project had set up lunch and learn dates with various higher ups in the company. It was an awesome opportunity for us to get to know important people in the organization that we otherwise might not have that much contact with. Once in a while we also got a free lunch, and that didn’t hurt either.

This afternoon’s lunch was with one of the directors who also happened to be a Rabbi. After schmoozing for a while we delved into a bit of text study and discussed a pasuk from the Book of Proverbs. This teaching, Chapter 22, Verse 4, has recently become a trendy catch phrase for progressive Jewish learning. It roughly translates from Hebrew as “Educate a child according to his way, so that when he matures, he will never turn away from it.” Many interpret this as saying “since not all children digest information in the same way, we must accommodate their individual learning styles”.

Maybe I had been living in a spreadsheet for the past couple of days or because I’m only human I can’t seem to go that far without relating everything back to my own experiences, but I immediately thought of Excel. While the line was specifically about children, it’s clearly applicable to learners of all ages. There is no correct way to learn something. One must figure out the way they learn and stick to it. I breathed a sigh of relief remembering that if I tried my best and did things the way I know I can, I would not only be the master of all things graphed but could really get a lot out of this internship.

Disclaimer: I would advise asking your supervisor for their preferred method of doing things and then going along with that. But for the purpose of this post, I’m totally supportive of the whole finding your own path thing.

Meet an Innovator: Rabbi Jennifer Goldsmith

Meet an Innovator: Rabbi Jennifer Goldsmith
Posted by Ben Alpert in Uncategorized

Jennifer is a Communal Education Consultant for the Department of Congregational Learning at The Jewish Education Project focusing on Westchester County where she works to ignite and connect congregations on their paths toward innovation. Her work includes consulting to innovating congregations, building and supporting networks and helping direct the Express Innovation grant initiative.

I love that I get the chance to work in partnership with amazing congregations and colleagues to help shape the future of Jewish education by promoting innovative, engaging, creative models of learning in our area synagogues.

She started to work in the field of Jewish education at the age of sixteen when she taught her first class of 2nd graders at her home synagogue in Ann Arbor, MI. She felt like her supplementary Jewish education had not been as creative and engaging as it could have been so she was bound and determined to make the experience better for other learners. After working for a few years post college, Jennifer studied at HUC-JIR receiving rabbinic ordination and her master’s  in Jewish Education in 2007. She has worked as the Director of Life Long Learning at Larchmont Temple, has taught both children and adults at a number of Westchester County synagogues and teaches Torah to three and four year olds weekly at Kol Ami in White Plains.

 

Adult Bar/Bat Mitzvah – a Vehicle for Congregational Engagement

Posted by Ben Alpert in Uncategorized

By Linda Rich

Think of adult bar/bat mitzvah and what do you picture? If you imagined a dozen students in an intensive, contained clergy-led process, you wouldn’t be at West End Synagogue.

This Upper West Side Reconstructionist congregation found that demands on clergy time limited the availability of the rabbi and cantor to closely lead and manage a program to which it had committed. So West End dug deep to draw on other assets: a highly talented congregation, a willingness to experiment with new approaches, and a strong spirit of lay involvement and lay-clergy partnership. Thus was born Na’aleh, a process that enlisted a broad range of congregants as mentors, teachers and coordinators, and engaged the entire congregation as cheerleaders for Jewish learning.

The rabbi and cantor remained core to the program, each teaching the group once a month. In other weekly sessions a variety of congregants stepped up to share their areas of expertise: Jewish history, the Jewish canon, Reconstructionism, and more. The participants also divided themselves into sub-groups by interest, with each selecting relevant books to read and work on together, thus taking ownership of their own Jewish education.

One of the most compelling elements of the program involved learning how to craft a dvar torah, also taught by a lay leader. Each participant worked with his/her mentor to develop a highly individualized dvar, which was reviewed with the group before presentation to the full congregation across several months of Shabbatot.

Na’aleh turned out to be a huge success, exceeding all expectations. With fewer than 300 member units, West End saw 17 (!) participants complete the full program, among them several Jews-by-choice. In addition to succeeding as a learning opportunity, Na’aleh also created community for the participants who truly gelled as a cohort. And, it served as a wider engagement tool for the broader congregation, who waited expectantly for each dvar torah, delivered by many who had rarely before been heard from on the bimah. West End congregants became cheerleaders for this group of intrepid learners, took pride in their accomplishments, and considered whether to take part next time around.

With so many participants, Na’aleh bar/bat mitzvah ceremonies were scheduled for three separate dates. Each of these Shabbat celebrations was crafted by that dates’ participants, and included creative liturgy written by them. A yearbook commemorating the full experience and incorporating selections from the divrei torah is being produced to coincide with the final ceremony in September.

West End has now embarking on a process of evaluation to understand the transformative effects of the Na’aleh program, and to determine what worked best and what needs to be tweaked in future. Meantime the impact continues. Unprompted by others, the participants are discussing some very significant Jewish learning they want to pursue together going forward, and what they might do to “give back” to the congregation that afforded them this experience.

The Na’aleh program description is attached. Please feel free to make use of it or distribute it to others who might be interested in conducting a similar effort. West End Synagogue would be delighted to see other institutions take this work forward and build upon it. For questions about Na’aleh, please contact Linda Rich or Rabbi Marc Margolius.

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