experiments, instruments & measurement book

Why the Hero’s Journey?

Why the Hero's Journey?
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By Anna Marx

My Ordinary World

I was never very interested in “marketing.” It was a scary word I closely associated with something even worse – sales. The word “sales” still brings up images in my mind of Willy Loman and working tirelessly to convince people they need your product. The introvert in me still shudders thinking about it.

The Call to Adventure

So, I quite surprised myself when I signed up for a webinar on marketing and storytelling. I found myself enraptured by the presenter, Jonah Sachs, author of Winning the Story Wars. He spoke about a completely different kind of marketing than the stereotype in my head. He talked about “Empowerment Marketing” – inspiring audiences to improve the world through your stories. I immediately ran down the street to my local bookstore and ordered his book. I’ve always loved stories since I was a little girl listening to my grandmother tell me stories of her life and our family for hours.

Crossing the Threshold

A few chapters into Sachs’ book and I felt like a veil had been lifted. He spoke about two kinds of marketing: the broadcast marketing of my childhood, based on audiences’ anxieties, and empowerment marketing, based on audiences’ real values. Suddenly, everywhere I looked, I saw the broadcast advertisements and noticed how they were designed to incite negative feelings deep inside – Lysol commercials to scare me about how dangerous every surface of my house was to my daughter, Cover Girl commercials to make me feel badly about my skin. “Ha! Can’t scare me anymore!” I said. “I see through you!”

And then I started seeing empowerment marketing – that uses the hero’s journey – everywhere, too. Obama won his first campaign with empowerment (Yes We Can), while at the same time the Tea Party empowered conservatives who had had enough and wanted to see change (you can almost hear them saying “Yes We Can” too). Of course, the hero’s journey is everywhere in literature – Harry Potter, The Hobbit, Exodus. And it clicked when I went to see Les Mis that it, too, perfectly follows the Hero’s Journey (Valjean goes on a lifelong and difficult journey of morality and faith. Ultimately, he emerges the perfect hero, always choosing the seemingly impossible right choices).

The Struggle

Even though I saw these stories everywhere, Sachs’ message didn’t fully sink in until one night in synagogue. Following Shabbat evening services, we were invited to listen to guest speakers from Eden House – a two-year program designed to help women escape the sex trade and transition into life. A graduate of the program spoke to us about her experience. She was kidnapped as a 12 year-old girl, forced into prostitution and drug addiction. She spent thirty years as a drug-addicted prostitute. Imprisoned more than 200 times, a nun came to her in jail and invited her to join a house where she would be loved and cared for and could, for the first time, build a life for herself. She refused. “That’s not for me. Look at me. I’m no one. I’m nothing.” The nun was persistent and finally convinced the young woman.  She told us the story of the long, sometimes wonderful, sometimes unbelievably difficult two-year journey. Her life did not begin until she was 45 years old. And there she stood, right in front of me, an articulate, beautiful, strong, intelligent, African-American woman. I could not see a trace of the shell of a human being she once was, and yet, there she was. And today, she works for the program, doing outreach to other prostitutes, convincing them, “I survived and I emerged, and so can you.” I promise you, there was not a dry eye in the house.

The Treasure

So what does this have to do Sachs? This incredible woman told her real story to us and it followed the hero’s journey. Perfectly. The reluctant hero (“what’s so special about me?”), the persistent mentor, the long difficult journey, and the emergence as a real and true hero, one that we can all look to with great awe. Why does this story hit the heart? It’s not familiar to us. Do you know many prostitutes? I don’t. But, because she was the reluctant hero, because she was just a real and regular person to begin with, we can all see just a tiny bit of ourselves in her. And when we hear her unbelievable story, we can say, “She did it; she transformed. Maybe I can, too.”

The Road Back

And that is why we use the hero’s journey format to tell stories. Do all stories perfectly fit the template? Of course not. But in the very best stories, we can find the most important elements (a reluctant hero, a powerful mentor, a transformation that comes from great personal struggle). And if we tell the story with these elements, highlight them, tell the story in this particular order, we can give our audiences the same feeling. “She did it; she transformed. Maybe I can, too.” And that’s what we’re all about: transformation.

Another Call to Adventure

We are on a journey together. It’s not easy, no journey worth taking is. It’s new. It’s different. It’s uncomfortable. How do we find stories that “fit” the hero’s journey? Why should we anyway? Please, let me be the persistent mentor. Let your consultant be your mentor. Follow us. Come on this journey. Take your best stories and see which ones fit the elements of the hero’s journey. Start telling these stories. See which ones make your audience’s goosebumps pop up.  Come with us. The treasure at the end is well worth the dragons we will slay along the way.


Story Wars

Posted by Ben Alpert in Uncategorized
By Cyd Weissman

Our world is badly in need of solutions in so many spheres – economic, social and environmental to name just a few. The ability to dream up and spread these solutions lives or dies on the ability to tell great stories that inspire people to think differently. Nothing is more urgent than that right now.
Winning The Story Wars, Jonah Sachs

How are we doing in the Story Wars of Congregational Education?  Until we craft a new story that is on the tip of everyone’s tongue we can’t break down the limitations of imagination. Without imagination, without lifting our eyes and hearing what’s possible, we’re in mitzrayim – a narrow place. You can’t just tell a new story. You have to earn one. In New York we are earning a new story: one life at a time. So at our Yachdav yearly Gathering of the Coalition of Innovating Congregations, in May, at the City Winery, each of the fifty congregations who have created new models of Jewish education are telling the story of one person or one family whose life has changed because of the powerful educational and communal experiences they have had.

We’re telling the story in a way that sticks. Anna Marx, the media and marketing project director for our department, gave us a template for story telling used by the experts in story changing. The template, known as the hero’s journey, is regularly used in literature, and advertising to show struggle and triumph. That’s the key, to tell the story so the reader can experience the lows and highs too.

Try it with your team. What’s the struggle and the triumph? What’s enabled it?  And this is a story about changing people’s lives now. We don’t know where a child or family will be in five or ten years.  At least I’m going to humbly say I don’t. But we can say over six months or a year, we know someone well enough, we’ve been involved deeply enough to say we’ve invited them on an adventure, supported them and watched them grow so that they are richer than when it all started. That’s a story we are achieving. That’s the way to win the Story Wars.

See the detailed instruction template for how to tell your heroes journey to prepare for Yachdav on May 9th.

Yachdav 2013 Telling Your Story (PDF)
File Size: 527 kb
File Type: pdf

Shul-in! Feeling Like Family

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by Pamela Barkley, Temple Beth Abraham

(The following is reprinted with permission from our upcoming March Bulletin.)

“I feel thankful this morning because …..I have so many nice Hebrew School friends.”
“I feel thankful this morning because …..last night I learned a lot about other people that I didn’t know as well before”
“I feel thankful this morning because …..I slept in a place with Torahs in it”
“I feel thankful this morning because …..I am here with friends spending time together.”
“I feel thankful this morning because …..I got to have fun with my grade.”

I could go on and on and on. Because each of the anonymous answers to “I feel thankful this morning because…” was genuine and heartfelt . All of these were written by 5th graders the morning of their shul-in. For those of you who don’t know, for about 10 years now we have invited the 5th grade to come to Temple on a Saturday night and sleep over. We start with havdalah, we play games, we eat lots of junk food, we watch movies, we hang out. And most of all, we form a community. There is one for the 6th grade as well and while all shul-ins tend to be fun, I must admit this past 5th grade one was in a class by itself.

Some of you may have heard about this new program we pioneered in the 5th grade this year. There are many components to it, but I am going to focus on one in particular. Since September, parents and children been coming to Temple on a monthly basis to learn and celebrate together. Sometimes this has been done during regular school hours, and we have parents and children working with one another. Other times, we have invited entire families to celebrate Sukkot in our sukkah, or Shabbat dinner on Friday night. What has become very clear is that by coming together frequently, and intentionally focusing on building relationships, we have in fact accomplished our goal of the 5th grade truly feeling like one, big family. And that is why this particular 5th grade shul-in was so special.

We always do a good job of helping the kids interact with kids who they don’t already know from school. But with this 5th grade, it was as if we didn’t even have to say anything – the kids themselves already were friends with one another across school district lines. They were already a cohesive group. They came primed to have fun with one another, accept one another, and take part in all that was offered. I have to say it was pretty magical. This 5th grade made me feel as if I was truly amongst a kehillah kedosha, a holy community.

I am eagerly looking forward to seeing what this amazing group of young men and women accomplish the rest of this year. They will soon be running a Yom Haatzmaut (Israeli Independence day) program for the entire K-4 school. They are going to take their enthusiasm, their newfound love of Israel, their incredible ability to work as a team, and help younger students learn about this important Jewish holiday. I cannot wait to see what they come up with!

Pam Barkley is the Director of Education at Temple Beth Abraham in Tarrytown, NY. She is often described as the girl with a loud voice and curly hair!

How To Learn? Experience. Mistakes. Ownership.

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by Michael Mellen

Experience. Mistakes. Take it to the streets. Live your learning. Make it happen. 

Knowledge no longer resides in the school or with the teacher alone or even in the encyclopedia on my shelf.

Knowledge is accessible, all over the place. So, how do we play a role, an important role, in education?

Guide Experience. Provide Ownership. Give Voice. Look for sparks. Be Authentic. Go for in-the-moment learning.

Move from information scarcity to information surplus and serve as a guide, a counselor, a madrich, a coach.

Check this out… (Thank you, Diana Laufenberg.)

The Power of Popsicle Sticks

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By Tara Siegel, Coalition Educator

PictureIt has been a few weeks since the first Family Learning network of the year took place in Great Neck on Long Island, but I have not stopped thinking about it and I am anticipating the next meeting! Suri Jacknis is the hostess and facilitator of the Family Learning network on Long Island and I am honored that she asked me to share this experience. I was also proud to stand next to Shana Zionts, my fellow Coalition Educator as she led this powerful family learning workshop. Shana brought us back to Sukkot, as this particular holiday lends itself to discussions about stability, foundations and “home”, all critical facets of family life and family learning.

The activity part was both physically and spiritually engaging; there was a lot of laughing, oohing and ahhing, and deep sighs of thought…Participants (education directors, teachers, cleargy, etc.) were asked to build a sukkah out of popsicle sticks, and were allowed to use any other resources they had on the table or could find in the room. Easy for Michael Whitman who, as our host at Temple Beth El, Great Neck, knew what was in all the cabinets in the room we were working in!  While he may have had the advantage, every group came up with a creative and impressive way to build a popsicle stick sukkah. This very workshop has been done with both adults and students, each group coming up with a new strategy and emotional symbolism.  Shana assured us, and we all agreed that students are able to think freely when engaged in a meaningful experience that they can relate to and imagine multiple possibilities.

PictureEvery group in our learning network had a structure that could have held up in real life, but more importantly they had meaning behind their construction and worked as a collaborative group to implement the physical and spiritual aspects of a shelter.  There was of course a debrief of the activity which took us in all sorts of directions. Gerry, a music teacher and educator in Roslyn said, “building a sukkah every year brings my grandparents back into my home.”  While others commented on the larger picture of family learning, as Cantor Gustavo said “Judaism is not a one person journey; working with families is powerful because they are on the journey together”.

Educators had an opportunity to ask each other questions and make suggestions about family learning.  In fact, we went over time and no one jumped up to leave as they were engrossed with the suggestions of their colleagues – this is the true picture of a learning network.  The hot topics of the reflection time were in regards to authentic holiday learning and the role of parents in family learning.  These are important topics to unpack as we strive to create bold and innovative learning experiences for our students, adults and families. I am looking forward to the next Long Island Family Learning Network experience on February 6th at Temple Beth Sholom in Roslyn.

Writing a Torah at Temple Beth Sholom: LOMED Design Principles in Action

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by Suri Jacknis, Associate Director of Innovation in Congregational Learning

A few weeks ago, I had occasion to visit Temple Beth Sholom of Roslyn on a Sunday morning as part of my regular work as LOMED consultant.  Although I was there to participate in a regular hour of professional learning which TBS teachers have together every Sunday, I came early at the invitation of Sharon Solomon, Religious School director to see some of the special learning going on earlier that day.  I saw many special and ordinary things, getting a feel for the richness of learning experiences happening for many target audiences.  However, most special was the chance to appreciate a “slice” of a year long project to involve the congregation in the 613th commandment to write a Sefer Torah.


Photo credit: Flickr user swimfast http://www.flickr.com/photos/swimfast/

I was welcomed into a large auditorium style room which was a large space transformed into a holy space.  There was a special atmosphere in the air, even at first encounter.  There was a welcome table where volunteers greeted me warmly…I began to understand that families had made an appointment to come here today at designated times for their special encounter with the Torah scribe to write a pre-arranged part of the Torah.  Next to the welcome space was a comfortable place to wait with materials to read related to the Mitzvah, and pages for the younger members of the family to color and learn.  I thought immediately of Ron Wolfson’s principles of welcoming people in to an experience and making them feel comfortable and open to what would follow.  I saw congregants genuinely interested in meeting and helping their fellow members feel cared about and welcomed into this special space.  I thought of making learning both content rich (there were materials on different levels presented in different ways…photos, art, etc.) and accessible…how user friendly these materials and indeed the whole experiential setting around us was.

When I looked around the room, I realized that there was a logical order to the arrangement of tables, with congregant volunteers facilitating the experience at each stop along the way. There was a netillat yadayim table with the bracha and a facilitator to explain and help families wash their hands in anticipation of their turn to write a Sefer Torah.  It was explained that just as the priests washed their hands in the holy temple before making a ritual sacrifice, so we wash hands to elevate an ordinary moment to an intentional and holy one.  The idea of preparing for an experience in order to heighten its meaning resonated with me as a LOMED principle of creating meaningful preparation for learning, meaningful pre-learning as a prelude to a learning experience.

Then as a family, they ascended a bimah and met the scribe in a holy space that was covered with a beautiful colorful chuppah…with intimate seating for each family to sit together huddled with the scribe for their private holy moments as a family in performance of this mitzvah….the experience was captured on video/in some photos….to document this holy moment as a precious memory for each family.  The “photographer” was also a volunteer congregant who was supportive and respectful to each family, adding to the holiness of the experience, not disturbing these special moments.  I noticed that the scribe involved the whole family (High Five, Engage the Family) and that he solicited and answered the questions of the individual family members in an effort to both personalize and elevate this experience for each family in a very natural way.

After the family came down from the bimah, they went to the l’chayim table where they celebrated together in an authentic Jewish way having arrived at this moment, having fulfilled this special mitzvah as a family….appropriate wine and non-alcoholic beverages were there for the whole family to have a toast, again with a congregant mentor cheering them on and helping them rejoice in this experience.

The next table was a clergy table.  I saw Rabbi Lucas sitting with a couple and simply conversing in an easy and relaxed way.  When I caught Rabbi Lucas in between conversations, he explained to me that he was engaged in simply asking each family about their experience with this Torah dedication, how they were doing at Temple Beth Sholom, how their family was doing, what special Jewish milestones or experiences were part of their current family life and if there was anything they wanted to share with their rabbi or that would make their experience at TBS more meaningful for them.  He was simply building a new or adding on to a purposeful and caring relationship with each family.  What struck me was the genuine joy he had in meeting with each family and the priority he placed on having this opportunity to interact on a one to one basis with as many families as possible.  How special it must feel as a member family to have this opportunity with their rabbi and to connect this experience with their personal experience with Torah.

After this, each family approached the table labeled “reflection.”  The mentor/guide had a written template to discuss with each family to help them process and reflect on what this experience participating in the Torah dedication means to them.  I saw some members of the family engaged in conversation with the mentor (a volunteer congregant) as well as others sitting and writing out their answers which were carefully collected as further documentation of the day. Of course, ‘Experience and Reflect’ is first among LOMED’s High Five of elements for designing powerful learning.

Other tables in the room included an opportunities for families to make/paint a Torah wimple and a fundraising table which gives each family the chance to give back to the synagogue in this way and makes this an honorable and transparent way that Jews know that they should support their synagogues.  I spoke to a few of the leaders about this aspect of the project and they were very deliberate in pointing out that they were reaching out to every member family and that while contributing was encouraged, families could participate for an $18 donation ….it was not about the amount, but rather the principle of giving back and nurturing their own place for community and learning and connection to Torah in their daily lives.  The leaders were proud to tell me that they were making as much effort to outreach to families to volunteer to staff one of the tables, enabling their fellow congregants to have this holy experience and help each other create important Jewish memories as they were making the effort to reach out to each and every family to participate in writing a Sefer Torah.  I saw a genuine joy in belonging to a community that offers a rich assortment of deep learning experiences and the chance to build relationships around things that really matter.

So, I came to TBS a couple of Sundays ago with professional learning on my mind and emerged with an important snapshot of LOMED principles in action that will stay with me as a benchmark of how to create powerful learning that will be a part of family and collective congregational memory for years to come.  Kol Hakavod to the clergy, educational and congregational leaders at TBS for their ongoing efforts to bring peak experiences of authentic Jewish living to their community.

Healing Service in the Face of Loss

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by Rabbi Lynnda Targan

The tragic events in Newtown last Friday have left us all shaken, dismayed, and deeply hurt. In the wake of tragic events, we often struggle for the “right” words to bring comfort. Jewish tradition has much wisdom to share on the subject of loss and, ultimately, healing. Below is a service, full of wisdom new and old, to help bring your community closer as we face this darkness together. Though the Chanukah candles have since gone out, may we continue to bring light into the darkness.

Healing Service in the Face of Loss (PDF)
File Size: 2314 kb
File Type: pdf

Download File

Learning Leading to Action

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by Shana Zionts, Coalition Educator

Picture this: it’s two weeks after Hurricane Sandy, and the 7th graders of Havurat Torah are sitting in a circle sharing their experiences in the storm. Rabbi Goldman and I introduce our new unit in our year of learning about hesed and tikkun olam – providing homes for those in need. It’s a timely topic as we share stories of staying in hotels and friends in other areas of New York who were still without power.

We spent our time together than evening talking about our Jewish history as a homeless people (during the Exodus from Egypt, the Spanish Inquisition, the Holocaust, pre-State of Israel, etc), and we played a game that illustrated the idea of what it means to be a wandering people, searching for a home. We studied Jewish texts together, arguing over whether Vayikra 25:35 is really telling us that we need to open our homes to strangers, or if this is a metaphor for helping those who are need. We argued passionately about these texts in a “fishbowl,” taking turns observing and participating in the conversation.

Was this a powerful learning experience? Definitely. Was it enough? No.

The following week, we made our own mezuzot, which are being donated to Jewish communities in Long Island, the Rockaways, and New Jersey through the organization NECHAMA, as a symbolic gesture of support during this difficult time. The next week we volunteered at Kids Kloset, which not only provides clothing for local kids in need, but is also dedicated to donating clothing to kids whose families were affected by the storm.

PictureOur sages teach us, “study is great, for it leads to action” (Kiddushin 40b). This is the underlying principle of the Havurat Torah 7th grade program. For each unit, our learning is grounded in Jewish texts, allowing learners the opportunity to engage in conversation with one another and with our tradition. Then, we leave Temple Israel Center and venture out into the world to put our learning into action. We partnered with Eden Village Camp to cut down our carbon footprint by making bicycle-powered smoothies. We went to the JCC of Mid-Westchester to meet with a chef who helped us cook a meal for a homeless shelter. At the end of December, we’ll visit seniors at the Esplanade and hear their stories about how they’ve changed the world in their lifetimes.

Neither learning nor action can take place in a vacuum; one without the other wouldn’t be nearly as meaningful. I’m looking forward to another exciting semester of learning and action with the 7th graders in Havurat Torah.

Chesed Relief Fund

Posted by icadmin in Uncategorized
by Evie Rotstein

Below is a copy of a letter that Dr. Evie Rotstein sent to alumni of The Leadership Institute.  We encourage you to read it and pass it on.


Photo Credit: Flickr user sweetonveg http://www.flickr.com/photos/sweetonveg/

Dear Colleagues:

I am writing to you today to say “Happy Thanksgiving”, and to send you heartfelt wishes for a sense of calm after the big storm.

Many of the alumni have reached out to ask if there were colleagues in need, and indeed, we do have friends who have suffered significant damages to their homes that are not being covered by insurance or FEMA.

With this in mind, we have decided to create a Chesed relief fund to help those in need.

We appreciate any contribution you are able to give by using the following link. http://leader-institute.bbnow.org/

Hamon todot,


Post-Storm Circle Time at Kolot Chayeinu

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by Ora Wise, Kolot Chayeinu

This post was originally published in the Kitah Daled blog from Kolot Chayeinu. It is a fitting follow-up to another recently published post, Study Materials for Healing After the Hurricane. We hope these texts and your community continue to bring comfort and strength to you as we recover from the storm.

Hello Kitah Daled & Hay Families,

We are all trying to balance self, family, work, and home with the tremendous need for support and supplies throughout our beloved city.  It is always disturbingly true that the daily lives of people in this city differ dramatically in terms of access to comfortable and healthy housing, transportation, food, education, and recreation. During disasters like this, these differences in our daily realities become even more stark.

I know some of our families are feeling the painful impact of this storm in different ways and some of us are personally less effected. However, we are all so connected and the damage and despair are palpable all around us.

This week during Circle Time, I led the Daled and Hay students in a series of activities facilitating reflection on our experiences of the storm, the connections (or disconnections) with the biblical story of Noah and the flood, and discussion of society’s response to such disaster and ideas for where to go from here.

Here is the program I facilitated and the materials needed for it in case you have the desire to share this with other Jewish educators or use it at home!

Onward, Ora






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