experiments, instruments & measurement book

New Beginnings: Familiarity and Freshness


By Suri Jacknis, Co-Director, Congregational Learning

It is Hodesh Elul.  Time to prepare for the High Holidays emotionally, spiritually and physically.  It is a time for reflection on our lives and taking stock, for reconnecting with our personal vision for how we want to live.  It is also a time for connecting with and sending holiday greetings to family and friends, preparing for setting or joining a holiday table and doing some cleaning so we feel like we are making a clean and fresh start.  Doing these preparations connects us with the cycle of Jewish time as we remember with familiarity doing these things in other years.   This gives us comfort and continuity. At the same time, engaging in these pre-holiday activities is exciting and energizing as we anticipate the new start ahead.

As an educator, I feel like my Jewish self and my professional self are in sync as I also prepare for the start of the new school year.  I reflect on the past school year and the lessons learned and focus on the things I have decided to revise for the future.   I also think about my vision for myself as an educator and resolve to do certain things that will bring me closer to my aspirations. There are elements of familiarity and comfort with my rituals in leading up to the opening days of school.  At the same time, I can feel the adrenaline flowing and the anticipation growing.  I am a little nervous, but mostly joyful as I am lucky to be doing what I love.

This New Year in particular also brings the excitement of being able to build on Cyd Weissman’s amazing legacy for our Coalition of Innovating Congregations.  Cyd gave us the courage to work on new models for 21st century families, to attend to the whole person, to pay attention to outcomes and assessment and to embed the design principles for powerful learning. For many of us, these concepts are familiar and comfortable, as we have worked with and on them in past years.  Yet, they are also alive and exciting as there are new goals to set and new ways that we can deepen our work aligned to these important foundational ideas.

This year, I am excited to partner with my wonderful colleague, Rabbi Jennifer Goldsmith to lead the work in congregational learning as we continue some of our successful initiatives such as I*Express, Coalition Peer Networks, and Congregational Consulting as well as begin to imagine new possibilities.  Collaborating with Jennifer is helping me to grow, to hear new perspectives and to appreciate the great talents and strengths that she brings to this work.

I am also very happy to continue working with our congregational learning team of wonderful professionals including core staff members, Ellen Rank and Susie Tessel, our project manager, Catherine Schwartz, and our consultants Jo Kay, Mike Mellen, Susan Ticker and some other talented educational leaders that will be contributing to our work.  Our main goal remains to offer thought leadership and skilled consultancy to our congregations.

In honor of this New Year, I want to share something inspirational that has both familiar and new elements.  I read an interesting article on Edutopia about the work of Bernajean Porter, a teacher interested in digital storytelling.    Bernajean has a project called I-Imagine:  Taking My Place in the world.  She asks learners to produce “vision videos” in which they star as protagonists of the lives they are living, 20 years into the future.  This process includes asking learners about their hopes and dreams and what gives them joy and energy and “fires up their engines.”  Porter adds, “We ask students to tell the story of how they will shine their light for good in the world.”  Students reflect on what is special about them and what their gifts are.  http://www.edutopia.org/blog/start-school-year-awakening-your-dreamers-suzie-boss?utm_source=SilverpopMailing&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=081915%20enews%20ibl%20ngm%20remainder&utm_content=&utm_term=fea1hed&spMailingID=12173425&spUserID=NDYxNTY5OTMzODAS1&spJobID=601358453&spReportId=NjAxMzU4NDUzS0

This kind of a project captured my imagination as a wonderful way to start the year by building relationships with learners.  At its heart, it is about listening to learners share their hopes and dreams and what they are passionate about.  It gives us a chance to learn about each learner’s special gifts.  It gives us educators the opportunity to encourage each learner to embrace his/her own uniqueness and value in this world.

This kind of project is also about putting learners at the center, empowering learners to take charge of their own learning and their own lives. It is a way to develop the idea of having a personal vision for the way that you live your life, of having long-term goals and aspirations for yourself that can be about careers but can also be about Mitzvot, doing acts of Kindness and showing responsibility for others and for this planet.  And it can be about Midot, developing desired character traits/virtues and being the type of person that you want to be.  What a great way to start the school year both with reflection and aspiration.  How very fitting for this Rosh Hashana season in which we both rejoice in the familiar and welcome in fresh ideas and possibilities.

May this New Year Ahead, 5776, be one of good health and many blessings for each of you!  My best wishes for a Shana Tova U’metukah, a Good and Sweet Year!


Suri Jacknis

August 2015

Elul 5775

Jewish Educators: Dust or Angels?

Posted by Ben Alpert in Cyd Weissman


By Cyd Weissman

Educator – who are YOU? Are you just below the angels and (if we could get it right) could you grow the next generation of Jews? Or are you poorly-trained-trapped-in-a-box-folks who are as helpful in growing the next generation of Jews as the dust in your pocket?

The answer depends on who is standing on the soap box.

Beth Cousens’ piece, “Can We Disrupt Religious School” in yesterday’s ejewishphilanthropy seemed to describe Jewish educators as both – a bit above the dust of Philip Roth’s basement and just below the angels, single-handedly able to make seven-year-olds understand the depth and meaning of Judaism.

Points I feel we need to consider:

1. There is no Jewish educational experience that can counter familial and societal norms. Let’s humbly recognize that family values, practices and expectations, not educators, are the prime operating system for the Jewish development of 6-12 year olds. When families check-out and drop-off, there is no Holy Grail of education to counter the family.

2. Religion itself is having a challenging time in 2015 in the USA – ala Pew and the rise of the nons. America at large is not having a religious field day. By overwhelming numbers Jews are still proud, but their knowledge and participation is far less. Again, how could Jewish education counter predominate societal norms?

3. Synagogues, Federations and much of the existing organizational Jewish landscape is still standing for Torah, avodah and gemiliut chasadim, but parents are simply asking: How do I raise a whole child in a seemly broken world?

Jewish education is one component of the larger ecosystem that grows a child. The truth about families, societal norms and reshaping religious ideas that speak to people’s real lives is complicated. It is not as easy as pointing the finger at Hebrew school (the whipping boy of Jewish life).

At our best, using wisdom, rhythm and the comradeship of Jewish life, Jewish Educators are able to connect the questions Jews have when they wake in the morning and when they go to bed at night. When we are at our best, we make possible, each person’s birthright for children and adults to discover their unique path and responsibility of making our challenging world better.

Next month, I’ll have the results of interviews with 100 parents whose children participate in bolder new models of Jewish education emerging across the country. In these interviews, we hear parents who talk Torah with their children, change their hectic schedules to meet Shabbat, and act out Jewish teachings in their lives. I’m glad to add this new body of research to the narrative.

It is not helpful to say in the same breath that Jewish education can make all the difference and makes little difference. Let’s instead talk about addressing the complicated landscape that makes the difference in a child’s life.

Jewish educators are neither dust nor angels. At our best, we are… well what would you say from your soap box?

Synagogue Table for 22?

Synagogue Table for 22?
Posted by Ben Alpert in Cyd Weissman


By Cyd Weissman

Mark and Ilene’s suburban home is a hearth reflecting their heart and values. A big kitchen flows into a living area with a fireplace and dining table that seats sixteen and announces, “We’re really glad you’re here.” dinner-table-636

Last night, Ilene and Mark hosted potluck dinner for us and eight couples. Common among the couples enjoying soy-gluten-meat-dairy-free food (allergic reactions avoided) were a lot of hyphenated last names. These friendships that have flourished over twenty years. We also share belonging (belonged – ok we’re the exception) to the same synagogue since our children were tots.

Over the past two decades, we’ve witnessed our collective 22 children grow to be adults, some now have their own children. I know the 22 well. Each of them, I report, without hesitation, are menches.

Speaking for myself, and then brazenly for the others at the dinner table – we joined the synagogue for our children to get a Jewish education. We didn’t know at the time, that memberships would lead to friendships with people who would be there for one another in sickness and death, for crises, like 9/11, and for personal traumas, like scary diagnoses. We knew the memberships gave us a place to sit for the High Holidays, but we didn’t know it would include a circle of friends who would dance at simchas and celebrate with songs and flowers.

Back in the 1990’s, optimism and delusion led us to believe, with the right guidance book in hand, and our own cleverness, we could conquer all we would face as parents. We didn’t realize how necessary it is to have adults actively in ours children’s lives to model values of striving and caring lives. Those 22 kids grew to be mensches, in some measure, because of the loving hand and ear these dinner guests give, to one another’s children.

The synagogue, like Ilene and Mark’s home, made space and time for us to really get to know each other and celebrate together. We engaged in learning that bound us with a shared language. Torah helped us express and develop our values in word and deed. We loaded  buses to march on Washington, packed food baskets and raised funds for those in need. 1377000001000-A01-MARCH-ON-WASHINGOTON-63-20

The synagogue was like a hearth reflecting a heart – values, enabling surviving and thriving as parents and citizens of the world. In short, when we raised a glass of wine last night, we were toasting a group that has lifted up each other’s families in the good and from the crud. We were toasting people who had encouraged and inspired one another to live more intentionally.

Last night, someone said to me, “Our children’s lives are so different than ours. What will synagogues look like for them?” I’m sorry to say, even though I face that question every day as a professional, I don’t have the answer.

What we know is,  our adult children live in a challenging, and possibly more challenging world than we ever could have imagined. All the technology in the universe won’t be enough to help them conquer what’s ahead for them personally or what’s churning on the globe.

One wish, we all hold for the 22 is that they will grow to have a long table of friends to lift them up and navigate our crazy-ass world so they can leave it a little better and they can find wisdom, comfort and laughter. Our wish is for them to inherit their Jewish story, to enrich them, and the world.Capture

What’s the chance? What will it take?

Work in Review 2014

Work in Review 2014
Posted by Ben Alpert in Cyd Weissman


By Cyd Weissman

I’m busy writing mid-year reports for funders – never a fun activity. Yet, I’ve learned forced reflection is a helpful thing. We are so busy doing our work, we don’t always stop and ask:

What did we accomplish? What did we learn? What’s next-adjust?


1. More engaged with less resource.
Since July, the number of educational leaders engaged in the Coalition of Innovating Congregations has doubled-now 100 congregations are actively engaged in their questions around “How do we imagine Jewish leaning that matters in people’s lives?” The Coalition in NY participates in the following programs:

a. Peer Networks: meeting at least six times a year to address self-identified innovation questions
Thank you Suri Jacknis for your leadership

b. I*Express: launching educational pilots within 12 months by adapting new models of education created by educational pioneers
Thank you Rabbi Jen Goldsmith for your leadership

c. Private consulting for innovation needs; webinars; Innovation Boot Camp and In-SITE-ful Journeys (visits to innovation sites)
Thank you Rabbi Michael Mellen, Ellen Rank, Jessica Rothbart, and Susan Ticker for your leadership

This year, we have less staff and funding to support the tough task of re-imagining education. We’ve learned: leaders are propelled by their own needs to make change and benefit from small groups for emotional support and problem solving. Peer networks benefit from facilitation by well trained staff.

What we don’t know: With more self-directed innovation work, less financial and outside professional support, and with increased peer support, at what rate/to what degree will changes in the educational system occur?

2. Harnessing the internet to strengthen impact


Duh: No congregation can do this innovation work alone. The wisdom of each program needs to be shared. So we’ve started documenting the powerful stories of places that have truly re-imagined education. We are working with 12 congregations to capture their stories. What we don’t know is how best to tell the story on line so people are inspired to learn more and to act. We do know people want “little bites,” meaning easy access and quick to implement.

The innovation stories will be accompanied by demonstration of “learner impact and value.” We’ve started parent focus groups to hear: What do parents hope for? What impact do parents see in their children from the innovative learning? By spring, we’ll hear more than 100 parents’ stories.

In the spring we’ll do more testing of documentation work online. Does it spark and spread innovation? How can we do it effectively? Thank you Micheal Mellen, Leah Kopperman, Faigy Gilder, Anna Marx from Shinui, and Catherine Schwartz from NYU for your leadership.

3. Jewish learning Opportunities in non-congregational settings


With a generous grant from the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life we entered a new arena: non-congregational settings. Jewish learning is not just for synagogue members. The educational landscape is changing right under our feet. One size of education fits no one.

This grant enabled us to work with a JCC; a cultural center, a Chabad center, a synagogue offering non membership education, and a parent run co-op for children who attend Hebrew Charter Schools. In a charter school, children learn Hebrew and Israeli culture and history, but cannot engage in religious education because of church state separation. These programs therefore offer the “Judaism” component to kids who speak Hebrew and are connected to Israel.

Each of these sites has engaged parents in “hopes and dreams” conversations. The innovation work is not beginning with “what do we as leaders want for students,” but beginning with the energy and desires of parents. Parents engagement from day one, we believe will bring about greater imagination and impact. This assumption will be tested as we move forward. We are seeing there is great opportunity in these alternative settings. For example, the JCC and cultural centers are prime for experiential-hands on learning. Thank you Rabbi Dena Klein and Tamara Gropper for leading this work.

We’ve done a lot of work. We set up new systems and processes and taken on new challenges. This hard and inspiring work is possible because of a remarkable team that “jumps in and figure it out.” I appreciate the leadership of The Jewish Education Project for creating a place that always asks: What might we?

What did we learn?
What’s next?

The story of Jewish Education is unfolding. May we be blessed to slow down and reflect in June 2015 and write to our funders:
What we accomplished, what we learned, what’s next.

The Classroomless Class

The Classroomless Class
Posted by Ben Alpert in Cyd Weissman, KDBB


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.


First International Dialog on the Israel Educator

Posted by Ben Alpert in Cyd Weissman


By Cyd Weissman

I was fortunate to participate July 7-10 in the First International Dialog on the Israel Educator sponsored by WZO, the I Center and the Israeli Government. Jewish educators from around the world asked the question: What are effective ways to engage today’s learners with Israel? There was no debate that the times demand new ways of learning. The innovation group SIT led us through a creative process to create new ways of engaging to be presented to the Israeli government for possible funding.

What stood out for me? Meeting Jewish educators from around the world with common educational issues like: Parents care about Judaism, but the pressure for children to succeed in their secular studies pressures them. And then I heard what was not common: From France, Argentina, Brazil, and Spain I heard about the anti-Semitism that students are dealing with. “It’s not safe to say you are Jewish,” is a haunting comment. Ironically, one of the speakers the conference said, “We can’t teach Israel through the lens of conflict only.” Agreed, but it was a hard message to hold when all of us had to run to shelters.

A thought I’m taking away: We struggle to help learners connect to Israel. Yet, the world, as we see in the news, connects each and every Jew to Israel. This is a reality without choice. What does education look like that starts from this reality? From the painful events, from my own visceral experience, the whole subject right of Israel feels less far away, less hypothetical. On July 31 at 9:30 The Jewish Education Project is  inviting New York clergy and educators to our headquarters  to

Gather together with respect for our diversity, to hear and value one another in these difficult times.
To focus on the concrete things you can start to be doing for your community and your learners.

Hope to continue the dialogue


This note comes from organizers of the conference:
We know how difficult it is for those who are deeply connected to Israel to be out of the country during these terribly difficult times. We also know just how much you want to do something – anything – to be connected and, in these circumstances, to demonstrate your support for our right to defend ourselves. So we’re sending you this short guide as to how you might do that.

1. Stay informed. There is a huge amount of material available to keep you up to date on developments as well as a plethora of great background information. In addition to surfing the websites of Israel’s newspapers, check out the annotated list “Israel in Cyberspace” that we at the World Zionist Organization have compiled for your convenience.  One site that hasn’t yet made it on to that list is the regular digest of news being produced by the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM) which you can subscribe to at: bicom@newsletter-bicom.org.uk.

2. Share what you know with others. The “Israel in Cyberspace” document mentioned above also includes sites that offer numerous suggestions for sharing information and organizing activities. Find materials you are comfortable with on one of these sites and organize people to stand at the entrance of a mall and give them out to people coming in. If you happen to be working in, or have connections with an educational institution – including summer camps – that engage teenagers and young adults, we recommend you check out educational materials already produced specifically in response to the current situation at makomisrael.org/current-affairs/the-gaza-conflict. The WZO is also in the process of preparing such materials. If you are interested in receiving them as soon as they are ready, contact us at wzoinfo@wzo.org.il.

3. Demonstrate public support. Organize a rally, hold a teach-in, help an organization that you are affiliated with run a community event, ask your rabbi to dedicate his/her sermon to Israel, organize a “Buy Israel Week,” organize a letter-writing campaign to national political leaders, find or initiate a Facebook page dedicated to supporting Israel, come up with a slogan and print a bumper sticker. Respond as well to any media bias you come across. Write a letter to the editor or an op-ed to set the record straight. Register any protest you might have with those responsible for unfair reports in broadcasting media.

4. Visit Israel. Our hearts break with every announcement of the latest casualty on our side even as we are sickened by the suffering of the innocents subjected to the horrors of war by Hamas, yet morale here is high as we know this is a battle that is just and must be fought. Still, we are buoyed by every visitor who arrives, every solidarity mission that is organized, and every program participant who chooses to remain here despite the incessant shelling. We need you here during these difficult times. Your presence strengthens our resolve, bolsters our spirits and contributes to our economy, which is also suffering terribly as a result of the conflict.

5. Help us help others. The World Zionist Organization has been organizing numerous efforts to alleviate the anxiety of those subjected to the worst shelling in the south. We’ve been bringing performers to their communities and taking children away to areas that are calmer for days of rest and relaxation. We’ve organized engaging programs in the Herzl Museum free of charge for those looking for an escape from the constant running into shelters. You can help us in providing days of fun for traumatized children by sending a check directly to the World Zionist Organization, P.O. Box 92, 91000 Jerusalem, Israel, or, for a tax-deductible donation in the United States, to the American Zionist Movement, indicating that the donation is for WZO war relief.

6. Come home. If Aliyah has ever crossed your mind, now is the time to revisit the idea. Yes, the pursuit of peace is exhausting, but the sense of being at home, a home that is ours, is exhilarating – particularly in times such as these. In two weeks I will be celebrating 40 years of life in Israel. With all that living here entails, I can honestly say that there hasn’t been a single day – not even a single moment – when I regretted my decision to move here. Perhaps that is because the challenge of fashioning Israel as an exemplary society is every bit as invigorating for me today as it was when I first arrived, even as the need for safeguarding a homeland for the Jewish people continues to be a necessity.

The Mother Ship is Launching

The Mother Ship is Launching
Posted by Ben Alpert in Cyd Weissman


By Cyd Weissman

The work begins. For six months we’ve been working on The Jewish Education Project’s 2014-15 plans to support congregations and after school programs. I’ve documented the work of planning on this blog. Steps have included engaging funders, lay leaders, educators, clergy, parents and our own agency–we’ve called it listening to 500 Voices. Our Big and Ultimate work is to enable part time Jewish educational settings to create Jewish learning that moves to real life.

Our commitments to:
1) Build on success.
2) Push out the next frontier. Reality dictates we do our work with more limited resources. Here’s the Mother Ship (the plan for the year). Was it worth listening to 500 voices?

Goal 1) Expand & Deepen Educational Changes in the Coalition of Innovating Congregations:
• I*Express  – 21 Congregations (many new to the Coalition) will adapt & launch new models of part-time learning
• Peer Networks – 100 educators, teachers, clergy and lay leaders meeting in small groups throughout the year to “gain the wisdom in the room,” on innovation questions and needs
• Boot Camp  – Fall and Winter in person and online learning of Coalition resources and tools for new lay and or professional leaders in the Coalition
• In site-ful Journeys and Ambassadors – spring visits to pioneering places and with pioneering innovators who’ve created learning that impacts
• Private Consulting for sites who want to move at their own innovation pace and agenda can work with a Jewish Education Consultant privately

Goal 2) Document Success of Coalition to spread change in an Innovation Marketplace:
• Impact Now – Documents the stories 15 new models of Jewish part time education. The story includes written and video documentation of impact on the learner. We’ll test out how we can share that story in a Digital Innovation Marketplace
• Learner Outcomes – We’ll convene think tanks and tracking tools to help name and measure learner outcomes

Goal 3) Imagine new Jewish part time educational settings (non congregations):
• We’ll work with six communities across the country to hear the hopes and dreams of parents; build on children’s learning and interests to create new models of part time learning

We’re ready to launch. What do you think?


Worth your Weight?

Worth your Weight?
Posted by Ben Alpert in Cyd Weissman, Yachdav


By Cyd Weissman

Have you ever heard the phrase “Worth your weight in gold”?  Gold is very high right now and without giving away my weight, I will say according to today’s prices, I’m worth over 2.5 million dollars. Feeling pretty millionaire right now.

gold 2

Rabbi Shai Held, at Yachdav, taught over 100 educators, lay leaders and clergy that  self worth that is “comparative or competitive is fool’s gold.” Of course he wasn’t talking about comparisons  per troy ounce. Rather he was referring to the most common practice that each of us has. We hold a core belief of self that our worth comes from the  I’m smarter-more beautiful-more-successful-than-others-standard. Or the opposite is true as well. I’m less worthy because I’m less-intelligent-beautiful-successful-standard.

I still remember as if it were today, my minimal shameful value on that standard in seventh grade math. Mrs. Dyer would call out the test scores, Larry Shtasel, 97; Ricky Margolius 92, Cyd Gold –yes my maiden name is Gold–61. (I totally had a crush on Larry… tall with a smile and he could divide… had my first kiss with Larry even though I couldn’t divide)

“It’s fool’s gold,” said Rabbi Held to believe that your sense of self-worth comes from such a standard. He spoke about his experience as the Harvard Hillel rabbi. The freshmen class was regularly in his office suffering from the discovery that they were just average. As high school seniors they were the valedictorians. As Harvard freshmen they were just like everyone else. So what was their value?

According to Rabbi Held’s teaching of Jewish text, we can know authentic self worth by realizing 

  • No one in the history of the world until now, and no person in all the history of world to come will be just like you.
  • God, with a great love, created us uniquely- given each of us unique gifts
  • We are loved-greatly- by God in our singularity and uniqueness
  • This is our worth
  • Self worth is not something you earn… you have to attempt to live up to it… this is our responsibility in life
  • “God’s love is a call to service, and we answer not as human beings in general but as human beings in all of our particularity.”

In a culture that insists on comparisons, how can we possibly develop self worth based on our uniqueness?


Parents can make a difference, according to Rabbi Held.

“Next time someone asks, ‘How is your daughter?’ don’t answer, she got this so and so award, say she helped someone this week.”

“I tell my son,” Rabbi Held said, “that Abba and Mommy love him very very much. And knowing that in some way someday I will disappoint him, miss that mark of love in some way, I tell him that God loves him even more. In this way my son will always know that love.”

We as educators can also play a role. What would our settings look like if they were designed to help a child know his or her unique gifts? What would children experience when they entered the spaces of Jewish learning that expressed God’s love for them? What does Jewish space feel like that helps a child know a self worth that has nothing to do with trophies and grades, popular and not popular? Rabbi Held writes, “A real teacher works with her students’ individuality in two ways: She teaches in a way that the student can hear and learn, and she elicits from him his own unique insights and inspiration.”

That’s our exploration this year. Taking on the charge of Rabbi Held, The Coalition of Innovating Congregations will experiment, and learn what it takes to help children and parents have a language, an experience and an expectation of self worth without comparison.

Let’s start to play with this. What is one thing you could do to help a child flip his/her sense of self worth on its head?

To follow Rabbi Held’s teaching sign up for his weekly writings HERE.

I Don’t Speak to My Son

Posted by Ben Alpert in Cyd Weissman, Yachdav


By Cyd Weissman

My first urge was to resist the chat coming from the man who sat next to me on the train yesterday. I wanted my own space to read Shai Held’s book on Heschel which begins by identifying the callousness of modern man because of technology. Heschel says I am in a state of looking out for my needs and missing wonder in the world, which has me missing out on appreciation, and service, then anchoring myself in history so I can know transcendence. Ok, I put the book down and gave my attention to the man who clearly wanted to talk.

He started with the movie Noah— reviewed in the morning paper. My commentary, “It is hard for me to accept Russell Crowe in the role of Noah. Noah is supposed to be a righteous man, and that actor doesn’t seem quite right. On the other hand, according to the Bible, he is righteous in his age, which means he doesn’t have to be so perfect, just better than the others around him.”

From there he carried the conversation to his daughter’s 21st birthday where some of the girls got so drunk that they were doing things they would be very embarrassed about. “I told my wife, don’t repeat those stories.” “Yes, there is a teaching that once you let the feathers go from a pillow you can’t gather them up again, just like gossip, once you say it, those words can’t be taken back.”

Was it the Heschel or something about this man with glasses, and a nose that said he had spent a good deal of time drinking, that made me go preacher?

Lee, I learned, was planning a celebration for his 25th wedding anniversary. He had the minister and 50 guests coming as a surprise for his wife. He planned for them to reenact their wedding vows. “Should I bring her wedding dress which is sealed and have her change into it there? One of my sisters says, yes, and the other says, no. What do you think?” ” Really she can fit into it?” asking with amazement, because I’m not sure I could get my right arm into my own wedding dress.” “Yes, the same 105 pounds as when I married her.”

Lee quickly went from celebration to heartache. He had already told me he had made a lot of money in computer software, lived in a 5 bedroom house, and in the summer went to their shore house. Then: “I don’t speak to my son.”

“Anyone who knows me, knows I’m all about family. My son was my everything. He’s my oldest. My son is handsome and athletic. I went to every game he ever played. After he graduated college he thought I’d still be his scholarship, you know what I mean, pay for everything. That was two years ago. And last year I had to do tough love. He didn’t want to work, just take. I haven’t spoken to him in months. He won’t pick up the phone or answer my email.”

Back to celebration., he went on, “My son won’t be at our anniversary celebration. I know how hard that will be for my wife.”

“Did you invite him?”


In great detail he described how he missed his son. His son also blamed everything on him. He knew he was doing the right thing, yet wasn’t sure. “I heard he has two jobs now to pay his rent in San Francisco.”

“Can I offer some advice?” Hey, he had already asked me about the dress. With his permission: “Can you write him a letter? A handwritten letter that says:

I love you. I’m sorry for the pain.
I miss you. Mom and I are celebrating our anniversary in two weeks.
Our twenty five years together has been through difficult and good times. That’s love.
It won’t be the same without you.
I will send you a ticket if you can come.
Love, Dad

And this man who had, during a short ride, given me the accounting of his life, listing fifty guests, twenty-five years of marriage, five bedrooms, three children, two houses and a lost relationship with one son, started to cry. I went on, “You would send the letter without the expectation that your son will respond or come. Just send it so in his time of figuring this out he’ll know, you love him. That’s all. Every boy has to do his struggle to become a man. Eventually, forgiveness comes. That might be in a month or a year or five years. But it will come.”

“I can do that. A handwritten letter,” he agreed.

Lee had a ticket for the Acela express train and mistakenly got on the regional rail. When he left he said it was meant to be that we had sat next to each other. He wished me many blessings. One more parting, he added, “God bless you.” Is this what Heschel was talking about?

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