experiments, instruments & measurement book

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.

The Classroomless Class


By Cyd Weissman

This week, TIME magazine featured the Paperless Classroom. Students equipped with iPads don’t need paper to write, or books to read. Just a click and a stylus makes learning magical. As much as I appreciate the trees that will be saved from this innovation, it is an innovation barking up the wrong tree. Paperless is not the answer. What we need is a Classlessroom Class.

I recently visited a progressive elementary school. Every 20 minutes the children had another assignment. I left thinking if I had to spend seven hours per day following the rules and confined to schedules, I’d run away from home. What was the difference between the regiment the students were experiencing and the prison on Orange is the New Black? That confining feeling of someone watching your every move, trying to sneak a chat  and always following orders, or be punished is cringe worthy.

empty classroom

I am recommending we forbid learning within the walls of the classroom. No more children staring at cinder block walls. Hard, cold chairs in rows or even placed in circles are to be banned. Pealing posters and florescent lighting should be x’ed out. The schedule and the rules of every 20 minutes, listen and now do this activity sheet should be quarantined.

In my work in NY we’ve created learning to spur teacher’s skills and imagination. The most successful experiences have been:
1. In a shopping mall – what does Jewish tradition say about buying?
2. In a restaurant – Torah learning and values go hand in hand with a meal.
3. At the NYC High Line – blessings said and understood when seeing true wonder.
4. At the art museum – where color and text and soul enliven.

We could have done any of these lessons in a classroom. Dance, music and drawing could have trumped the pen and pencil. But no amount of dance or storytelling, no amount of apps and programs could have made the lessons more memorable.

Jewish learning that is memorable and happens in real life, it is not meant for a classroom – as Dr. Jeff Kress says, “Judaism is not a subject to be learned ABOUT.” Living Jewish resulting from learning Jewish takes place in malls, restaurants, the garden path and museums… When we wake, when we walk and when go to bed at night. I have this idea on very high authority.

The iPad, TIME’s paperless paper would enable text, reflection to accompany and enrich the learning, but not define it.

What would it take for us to foster Jewish learning for children and  families that takes place where they are and not with the cinder blocks? I asked my students at H.U.C. while sitting on the roof of the building and  smelling limes to awaken the soul (Jewish teaching says smell is for the soul – whereas food is for the body) to write down the questions they have been pondering since the holidays. They said things like: How can I be authentic while living up to people’s expectations? How do I show love when I’m stressed during my days?

These are the kinds of questions our learners hold. And they can’t be addressed within cinder block walls if we want to penetrate the amount of “stuff” that comes to learners.

The Classlessroom Class speaks to the real life questions people are wondering about— and in the spaces that amplify not diminish learning.

What are the tools of the Classlessroom Class?
*Really knowing the learner – their interests and needs
*Family desire
*Apps at the ready
*Personal follow-up beyond what an iPad can do
*A chevra – no kid can believe she or he is alone on an island
*Some mentoring


What do you think? Could you imagine the Classlessroom Class?
I think this could happen anywhere just like a tree that grows in Brooklyn… Manhattan, Westchester, Long Island and wherever our learners walk.


The Lemon Story & Why It Matters


By Susie Tessel

People feel disconnected. But a community is only built with lots of connections.

Reinforced concrete has steel running through it. This reinforcement distributes any load placed on it throughout the adjoining steel and concrete members. The result is greater strength, because burdens are shared by the whole.

So it is with a community. By communicating frequently with personal and pointed observations, we can reinforce our connections to share the burdens of community members and thereby create lasting relationships. The importance of reinforcing these connections cannot be overstated. Many important steps are required, but all include the slow and methodical intermediate steps.

The most important of those steps is taking the time to share an insight, vignette or observation personally observed.

One of the best examples I knpen-blank-paperow of this was when I was teaching a sixth grade class. It was the beginning of the academic year, and the Jewish holidays fell similarly to the way they do this year. I wondered how to frame the idea of the etrog and lulav, and their meaning. What do they represent? To introduce this concept, I asked my class “If you were a fruit, what fruit would you be?” and “If the Jewish people were a fruit what fruit would we be?” One of the most impulsive students in my class was David. To control him better and to have better access to him, I put him near me. When I asked this question he started waving his hands wildly in the air and calling out “Pick me! Pick me!” Because he was waving his hand right in my face, I was distracted and inadvertently called on him. David answered, “If the Jewish people were a fruit, they would be a lemon.” My heart sunk. Making light conversation, I asked him “Why do you say that?” He answered, “Everyone knows that by itself, a lemon is really sour, but if you add a little sugar and water you get lemonade – and that’s really something special. That’s like the Jewish people. Without God we are nothing, but with God’s help we are really something special.” I was floored. It was so brilliant and beautiful. So I sent his parents a “Nachus Note” in the mail in which I described the assignment, and what David had said.

The impact it had on their family was unbelievable. His mother actually came to class at the beginning of the next session. She ran into the class, hugged me, as she said, “Oh my gosh I can’t believe my son said this,” waving the “Nachas Note” in her hand. “I’ve never heard such nice things about him before in Hebrew school. Thank you so much… ” She did not stop talking, thanking and making the most effusive comments about me and my class!

And, from that moment onward, everything was so much easier, and so much more enjoyable both with her family and with her son.

You too can send “Nachus Notes”! A nachus note is a postcard sent to the home of each of the  students in class several times during the year.  The content begins, this nachus note is sent to share with you… extolling and describing a commendable action or contribution the child made to our class. Look around look for nice things that you see people doing. Prolong these incredible but fleeting moments- they are all too rare. Take advantage of these opportunities. When you see something commendable, share it! This makes it more permanent than a phone call that a distracted parent may not focus on at that particular moment, but can savor when things are quiet. That is why I sent the “Nachus Note” via snail mail – but an email may have worked just as well.

Communicate the good, share insights and observations and connect and reconnect. You will forge friendships that foster growth and learning, and help create a community with lasting bonds.


Walking Through a Mezzuzah


By Rabbi Michael Mellen

Text tells us to: “Write these words upon the doorposts of your house.” The words, not just a scroll confined to a small box upon a doorpost, but words scrolling over doorposts, visible as you walk through from room to room or from inside to outside.

Walking Through a Mezzuzah

Imagine the words of the mezuzah scroll,
lovingly written on the doorposts of your house.
Words visible, scrolling like vines over the entryways into each room,
words like trees come to life, creating a pathway, brief as it may be,
through holy words as you move from room to room,
from inside your home, your space,
into the rumble of the world
and back again,
words reminding
and welcoming.

interwoven with the words of the mezuzah,
sit those teachings,
those texts and memories and loves and power
that carry you in life, that remind you
of who you are
of what you hope to be in the world…
tattoos of powerful, necessary memory.

Imagine walking through your values,
your dreams,
and the fire of v’ahavta,
of loving the spirit of the world,
of all your strength and might, walking through the quiet of LISTEN,
Shema, your ears attuned to God’s love and whispering, God’s spirit
mirchefet al p’nai tahom, hovering over the depths,
waiting patiently for your voice to find its way in the world,
to find it’s way in your home,
your voice in relationship with God, with work, with the mundane of life
and the holy.

Your voice calling out in silence,
in great gasps,
in even breaths of sorrow or joy,
of snow or sand or peeling thunder,
giving way to the rush of the presence,
of wings sheltering you, and me,
under the pathways of words twined together,
the words of generations and my words, your words,
our words on the doorposts,
speaking of days past
and to come
and today.


What Inspires you?


By Susan Ticker

This summer, I had an unexpected encounter with Poppin’ Fresh (the Pillsbury Doughboy) and was truly inspired. We met at the Mill City Historical Museum located on the historic Mississippi Riverfront. While our meeting was casual and brief, it changed the way I think about my everyday life and about my work as a Jewish educator.


As lifelong learners, we are always growing and stretching – as human beings and as Jews. This summer, my rafting buddies and I traveled to Minneapolis for the wedding of rafting-trip-organizer-extraordinaire, Rabbi Lynn Liberman. This year, instead of the usual rafting, kayaking and singing around a campfire, we danced and sang at Lynn’s wedding to her loving partner, EB.

The day after the wedding, I took a long walk with my colleague and friend Cindy Reich who lives in Minneapolis and consults to our Coalition of Innovating Congregations. Cindy recommended I take a field trip to the Mill City Historical Museum, a place that has taken great care in designing an immersive, learning environment.

Built into the ruins of what was once the world’s largest flour mill, it is a monument to the processing facility that stood there. It is also a place where all ages can learn about how wheat is processed into flour and made into bread products and baked goods. It brings visitors on an encounter with the history of the place and a simulation of the explosion that disrupted its activity. I enjoyed learning that story and appreciated the way Poppin’ Fresh and the rest of the museum staff brought the grand narrative down to the level of individual people, their voices, and stories. We felt the explosion, heard the history, saw the old equipment, and tasted fresh-baked bread.

I was struck by the intricacies of going from wheat to flour to table, and of the sacred task of the farmer, the farm worker, and the baker. It is incumbent on all of us who eat bread to give thanks to all those who had a hand in bringing it to us. I am similarly struck by the awareness that each educator is tasked with the awesome responsibility of taking the grand narrative of the Jewish people and making it accessible to every child, teen, and adult. And I appreciate that the Mill City Museum stands as an inspiring example of how that can be accomplished.

As you reflect on your own summer experience, think about where you went and what you learned. How was your learning supported by the setting and the people in it – both the real people and the mythic ones, like Poppin’ Fresh? How does that inspire you to bring your learners into an encounter with people and places, and how will you design learning that truly inspires?

Israel Timeline


By Barbara Saunders-Adams

Wondering how to make sense of the volatile situation that exists between Israelis and Palestinians today? The Timeline of Modern Israeli History can help you get the facts straight, give voice to your opinions, and become a better advocate for the Jewish Homeland.

Timeline of Modern Israeli History

Barbara is a Jewish educator and writer. She received her Master’s Degree in Jewish Education from JTS. Her area of concentration is Israel education. She currently teaches Kitah Vav (6th grade) at Shaarei Tikvah Religious School in Scarsdale, NY.


Teen Engagement


Video about teen engagement at Temple Sharray Tefila. Thank you to Hope Chernak for sharing!

geriatrics books