Faced with Fusty Texts, Teachers Learn to Breathe New Life into Jewish Studies


Source: Times of Israel

According to longtime educator Aryeh Ben David, quantity shouldn’t trump quality — especially when it comes to Judaic studies. Yet, for too long Jewish educators have pushed content, rather than connectedness, said the founder of the Jerusalem-based Ayeka: The Center for Soulful Education.

Founded in 2006 with the goal of reframing Jewish education, the non-profit’s name is the biblical word for “where are you.” Ayeka provides learning tracks for educators, parents, and individuals with online and in-person options in the United States and Israel. The idea is to help teachers breathe life into Jewish text study.

The organization has also published two books, “Becoming Soulful Educators” and the “Ayeka Haggadah: Hearing Your Own Voice.”

“We’re offering a paradigm shift in the way we teach. Students won’t remember what they are not personally connected to,” Ben David said. “Ayeka looks at Judaism as a vehicle for becoming our better selves, and it can’t be an intellectual process. Learning can’t be just about content and memorization. They [students] have to own it in their own lives.”

Now with the help of hundreds of thousands of dollars in multi-year grants from four major American Jewish foundations, including the Jim Joseph Foundation, Ayeka will expand its Soulful Professional Development program in up to eight Hebrew day schools in North America.

The grant will go towards training Judaic studies teachers to implement its Soulful Education pedagogy in their classrooms, as well as to coach colleagues in their schools in Ayeka’s methodology. The multi-year program will include retreats, on-site coaching sessions, and individual mentoring and webinars for staff, as well as for the administrations of the selected day schools.

Two teachers from each day school that will participate in Ayeka’s Jim Joseph Foundation Spiritual Education Program will undergo training, which can last up to a year. Once they complete training they will help implement the method in their school.   

Updated: Feb. 11, 2018