Bridging The Academy and the Community

January 18, 2017

Source: The Jewish Week


What would happen, I wonder, if we did a better job bridging the academy and the community, convening spaces where greater interaction rather than token interaction becomes the norm? This is what CLAL, the National Jewish Center for Leadership and Learning, is attempting with a new initiative at the University of Pennsylvania that brings rabbis and academics together to create a bridge of ideas. That’s what I’m trying to do in the arena of Jewish education with a new initiative at George Washington University: the Mayberg Center for Jewish Education and Leadership. In the future we hope to develop new graduate degree programs in Jewish education, a distinguishing feature of which will be close partnerships with local and national Jewish organizations.

A central tenet of the Graduate School of Education and Human Development, where the Mayberg Center is housed, is engagement between researchers, educators and communities in which teaching and learning happens. We also plan to offer a certificate in Jewish literacy, aimed primarily at Jewish communal professionals, as the only “non-Jewish” university to do so. The center will convene annual conferences to tackle areas where integrating research with what’s happening in the trenches can change the way we live and work.

It’s a big dream but not an impossible one. I hope it sets a precedent for a new way of thinking and being. Our Jewish world is pretty binary right now in lots of ways. And it’s not just who is in and who is out. It’s the provincial mindset that what we’ve done is what we will always do, even if it’s not working very well. That limits innovation and progressive thinking. It makes us less than whole.

True, you don’t need an academic setting to do this. Sometimes it’s a matter of buying someone lunch and asking for some wisdom from the boardroom or from the library to help chart a new course or resolve a problem. But there are important advantages to connecting the academy to the community: I regularly hear from senior leaders in Jewish communal life that they don’t have time to think. Every once in a while, I’ll speak to a university professor who says that he or she has too much time to think. Doesn’t that sound like a match? This year, take yourself out of your comfort zone and put yourself into a dynamic and beautiful tension around ideas and the way they are lived.

Read more at The Jewish Week.

Updated: Jan. 25, 2017