David I. Bernstein, Director of Machon Pardes in Jerusalem shares a model program which integrates cognitive, affective, and experiential education together providing students with the strongest possible ties to Jewish life. The “Practical Teshuva Workshop,” which he generally taught in the days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur has received the most vocal positive feedback from his students over the years.
He had noticed that all of the study of the texts connected to teshuvah was of great cognitive benefit during the period of study between the Yamim Noraim. For some, it dovetailed well with the saying of Selihot and the daily blowing of the shofar. But for many students, the lofty concepts of teshuvah remained exactly that – lofty, abstract concepts that sounded beautiful. What was lacking was a personal connection, a how-to guide that helped students bring those ideas into their own lives. So he then developed a 40-minute exercise for students, with the focus on personal self-evaluation.
The exercise is entirely confidential, and he encourages students to spread out over the room so that no one will be looking over their shoulder at what they have written. Most of the time is spent without speaking, as students write answers to 13 very simple, directed questions, such as “Two ways I could be a better son/ daughter”, or sibling; or “Something I’m proud I did this past year”, followed by “Something I’m ashamed I did this past year, something that does not reflect the real me”.
At the end of the session, he review with them Rambam’s three stages of teshuvah – recognizing the sin/misdeed, feeling badly about it, and resolving to change behavior in the future. He tells them that most of them probably achieved the first stage, some of them the second, and some even the third stage of teshuvah. It is precisely this thoughtfulness, and the application of lofty principles learned from texts to oneself, that allows students to engage in a very ancient Jewish practice – critical self-evaluation and finding ways to improve our personal behavior – that can speak meaningfully to post-modern teenagers and young adults.
The article contains a copy of the program, for teachers to use and adapt to their needs and teaching environments.
The author hopes that this learning activity will inspire other educators to find other such workshops/programs that help build on the cognitive, affective, and experiential (i.e. practice) sides of our education, and to share them with the rest of us, to make the Jewish education we give our students as holistic as possible, thus increasing the chances of educating towards greater Jewish commitment.