Ascending the Mountain of Innovation to Plant a Flag for a Thriving Religious School Education

July 21, 2017
Something significant happened in Los Angeles on June 11, 2017. The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), and Builders of Jewish Education – Los Angeles partnered to create a cross-denominational day of learning on transforming religious school education, “Ascending the Mountain of Innovation.”
Nearly 150 invested registrants comprised of forty five religious school directors with their synagogue teams (including rabbinical partners and key lay leaders), from throughout California (San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego) came together for a full-day of wrestling with questions such as:
  • What are some of your challenges with the current state of your congregation and religious school?

  • What are some perceived costs of change in your setting?

  • What are some ideas and values that you’d like to see in your congregation’s vision of the future? In your religious school’s vision? How does this play out in your synagogue?

These questions were addressed in a keynote by Miriam Heller Stern, PhD, National Director of the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) School of Education and multiple workshops including: “Start with Why: How a Religious School Relates to a Synagogue’s Purpose” led by Amy Asin, and “Doing the Math: An Equation for Change that Works,” led by Rob Weinberg, PhD, past Director of HUC-JIR’s Experiment in Congregational Education.

A major goal of this conference was to support the congregational educators in building enthusiasm amongst their teams for innovation in the religious school setting. Beginning with a pre-conference workshop for Directors of Congregational Education/Religious School only, the URJ and BJE aided these directors in identifying, forming, and preparing their individual synagogue teams. The conference day schedule focused solely on Religious School Innovation, so all workshops focused on either theory of change or “Religious School Bright Spots” (sharing and deconstructing models of religious school innovation from throughout the US). 

In addition, the conference was constructed as a ‘team’ experience. Multiple blocks of the day were designated for synagogue teams to re-convene, to share what they had learned from the various workshops they attended, applied their learning to their congregational settings… all while being guided through the discussion through facilitation/questions provided by the URJ. Evaluations of the conference showed that the majority of participants left strengthened in the belief that change is possible, excited to take action for change in their congregations, with ideas about next steps. Most importantly, this momentum was not cultivated in a lone-professional, but provided a foundation for change by bringing a group of people from the synagogue together. 

Read more at eJewish Philanthropy.
Updated: Jul. 23, 2017