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Express Innovation Network Westchester: Roofing our Houses

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?


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