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The Learning is in the Reflection

Posted by Jessica Rothbart in Express Innovation


by Ellen Rank

As we finish up this year of learning in our congregations, we must take to the time to pause and reflect on what we have done, what we have learned and what we see as our next steps. The Express Innovation team has designed a set of questions for guided reflection. I have revised the questions so that they can be used by any education team. I invite you to share these questions with your team, to take a step back and reflect, and learn from your experience and your reflections.


10 Questions to consider as you think about the past year:

  • What are some snapshots, headlines, vignettes, or anecdotes that demonstrate your success, learning, or change?
  • What are you still trying to change?
  • To what do you attribute your success?
  • What didn’t work?
  •  What were the greatest challenges?
  • What did you (as an individual, as a team, and/or as a congregation) learn?
  •  What resources were most helpful?
  • What do you want to take with you from the past year?  What do you want to leave behind?
  • How have you implemented, increased, or experimented with professional development for education faculty (i.e. teachers)?
  • How have you applied powerful learning principles in your synagogue education program?

Questions to consider as you think about the year(s) ahead):

  • What questions remain? What new questions do you have?
  • How are you going to share success? How will your community learn about your success?
  • What do you think other congregations can learn from your successes and/or challenges?
  • What might you learn from other congregations?
  • In a perfect world, where would you go from here?
  • What will help you sustain/ take it to the next level?


We would love to hear what your education team has learned from reflecting.

A Day in the Life of the Coalition

A Day in the Life of the Coalition
Posted by Ben Alpert in Express Innovation, Lomed

By Cyd Weissman


Last week, we did a “reporters round up” with consultants from The Jewish Education Project who support New York Congregations in creating new models of Jewish education. Each consultant shared a headline from one congregation in the Coalition of Innovating Congregations. 

Ansche Chesed: A small group of teacher leaders met to identify worthy outcomes for learners. These teacher leaders have learned to use “whole person” assessment with their students. Now they are prepping to help other teachers on staff use assessment tools. Worth noting: the Director is out on maternity leave.  Rabbi Dena Klein, consultant, reporting: teacher leadership essential to changing teaching and learning.

Temple Emanu-El of NYC: Innovation planning. A focused team includes the Director of Education and lay leaders ask: “Because we’ve had great success with our new model Tribes for 3-6th graders, what’s next?” Imagination Kickstart. They begin to shape a brand new model for 6th graders strengthening relationships that are pivotal in the pre-bnei mitzvah years. Lay leader says “How lucky am I that my children go here where innovation is a value that is implemented.” Jo Kay, consultant, reporting: bold new models birth bolder innovations.
Congregation Tiferet Israel: Turn curriculum on its head. No longer is learning focused on covering subjects. Instead CTI is committed to learning that comes from meaningful conversation and story. Professional and lay leaders research and write the conversations that could have happened between Anne Frank and Martin Luther King. Parents and students will be in conversation with these stories next week.  Ellen Rank, consultant, reporting: new ways of learning aren’t isolated programs, they infuse all learning.
Anne Frank
Temple Beth Sholom of Roslyn: Prepping for Machenee Mania when 9 Jewish overnight camp partners will offer “tastes” of camp life for families. Camp connections are normal at TBS, like all the times Eden Village has come to TBS to offer learning for children. After the Mania day  Congregational and Camp leaders will lunch to discuss: “What have we learned from our partnership ? What can we do differently next year?” Suri Jacknis, consultant reporting: a 12 year curriculum is possible through partnership.

Community Synagogue of Rye: Juggling multiple innovations (camp like learning; Shabbat family experience, home learning, Skype Hebrew, Hebrew through movement..the list goes on) has said “The SKY IS THE LIMIT.” A team reviews the data: This is what we learned from all of our innovations. This is what we are learning from experiments around the country? Next year: a whole new redo. “We’ll launch again.”  Hilary Schumer, Coalition Educator reporting: innovation happens in a learning spiral-try, learn, try and do it all over again.

Temple Beth Abraham: leadership sat with the Torah portion Beshalach to uncover how the Israelites managed challenges. “Where will we get our pillars of fire?” they asked. Lay leaders are committed to continued innovation even in their transition when their beloved long term educator completes her tenure at year’s end. Tamara Gropper, consultant, reporting: to lift the spirit and to direct the hand when leading change, turn to Torah.

Congregation Kol Ami: Professional Learning Team meet to imagine how to reshape prayer for their new model. They used Keith Sawyers exercise found on p 37 in the Zig Zag book on creativity to come up with 600 different ways to alter how prayer can be experienced by 7th graders. Next senior staff will do the zig zag. Rabbi Jennifer Goldsmith, consultant, reporting: to lift the spirit and to direct the hand when leading change, a little fun and creativity goes a long way.  

And that’s the way it is!

Express Innovation Living and Learning Success!

Express Innovation Living and Learning Success!
Posted by Ben Alpert in Express Innovation

By Susie Tessel


What comes to mind when you think of hummus and lafa bread, camaraderie, raffles, creating a menu, laughter, warmth, connecting with friends and learning from each other?   An Express Innovation Living and Learning of course! Congregational teams gathered together for our Fall Living and Learning in Great Neck, New York held at the Persian Kosher Restaurant Colbeh. Along with the delicious Middle Eastern fair, Express Innovation educators and lay leaders reconnected to learn from each other, reflect on our successes and take-aways from the fall webinars, and dug deeper and explored issues of team building together. Express Innovation is an initiative of the Congregational Learning department at The Jewish Education Project that quickly brings new models of Jewish education to synagogues.

Our connection question, based on our communication booster, explored the way we liked to be contacted. This helped us all realize that to be most effective we must use all types of communication to reach our audience. To introduce the concept of team building, we adapted a Team building Activity to our Persian setting. Each table created a menu of Persian fare, suitable for four that could not exceed a budget of $175.00. With enthusiasm, participants jumped right in to create mouth-watering menus. Not surprisingly each table came up with something different. Lessons about collaboration and team building were easily deduced. To dig deeper we discussed the importance of assembling a team that works well together identifying key characteristics that help or hinder team building.

Our time together came to a close with peer consulting groups. Each group left feeling the wisdom is in the room, and was astonished by how helpful the process is for them.  As one participant exclaimed, I have participated in many different peer consulting networks.  I was skeptical about including it in Express Innovation.  To my surprise, it has been so helpful and on such a high level, it is one of my favorite parts of Express Innovation.

Throughout the afternoon, the festive atmosphere with allowed us the freedom to work productively in a relaxed manner. There were many take-aways from the afternoon…several lucky participants won Starbucks gift cards, each participant received a list of team building exercises, and a list of other team building resources. As people said their goodbyes they left recharged and ready to put to work many of the ideas discussed, shared and learned from this talented group.

photo (2) group photo 1

Express Innovation Network: Creating the Highway

Express Innovation Network: Creating the Highway
Posted by Ben Alpert in Express Innovation

By Rabbi Jennifer Goldsmith


Recently the Express Innovation Network of Westchester got together for our monthly meeting. Our post/pre-learning assignment was to host a mini-social connector conversation. We had stressed in our previous meetings the importance of getting to know each other and create a cohesive community.  We also underscored the importance of creating buy-in and support for the work we do encouraging our lay leaders to be our emissaries- not only wanting them to participate and volunteer, but also to encourage their friends to do the same. This was the perfect opportunity to put a conversation in place that would lay the groundwork for making these types of connections, for creating our own communication highways.


The Self Selected Focus Group
Beth El Synagogue Center, New Rochelle

Educator Jen Vegh wanted to explore more deeply what the family experience at Beth El could look like. She decided to organize a conversation about family experiences from multiple perspectives to help her shape the future path. Not only did she ask a series of questions to the senior staff at her synagogue, she also reached out to her parents asking the same questions. She invited all parents of school aged children and was pleased to receive a solid representation that included religious school parents, day school parents and lay leaders. When the group came together she created a common language around her topic defining “family experiences” and “community of families” as a group. From there she asked the following questions: How do you define a family learning experience? How do you define a family social experience? These questions led to a rich discussion that helped elucidate the needs of the community.  The group generated ideas that were new as well as those that were already aligned with the goals of the family experiences as they currently exist.


The Idea Driven Group
Scarsdale Synagogue Temples Tremont and Emanu-El, Scarsdale

Each year the students in Scarsdale Synagogue’s religious school have the chance to participate in a mitzvah day experience. This year Rabbi Wendy Pein wanted parent input to make the day a richer experience for all involved. She will be holding her mini-social connector conversation to gather a group of committed parents to discuss their hopes and dreams for the day.  They will then articulate the lasting impact this experience can have on the students when the values that come up during the mini social connector conversation are returned to throughout the year.


The Age-Based Group
Westchester Jewish Center, Mamaroneck

At Westchester Jewish Center there is a regular group of families who attend Tot Shabbat. Education Director Aleza Kulp realized that the families that were most active were not always continuing their Shabbat journey by joining the junior congregation after aging out of the very popular and well attended Tot Shabbat program. She is bringing those most active in Tot Shabbat together for a conversation about both experiences, asking the participants to share ideas around outreach to help bridge the gap in the two age groups.  They will brainstorm ways to energize junior congregation as well as identify and address concerns as to why families might not be taking the next logical step in their Shabbat experience.



In each of these cases our educators saw an area of work that could use lay support, buy-in and input from the community to energize  the participants and create a more organic and responsive experience. By reaching out to parents and lay leaders they will have a chance to make personal connections and mobilize the group to then do the same with more parents helping them reach their social connector potential.




Express Innovation Network Westchester: Roofing our Houses

Posted by Ben Alpert in Express Innovation, Uncategorized

Rabbi Jennifer Goldsmith, Communal Educational Consultant, Westchester

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

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

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

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


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