Reinventing Jewish Education

August 15, 2011



In a blog post on the URJ blog, Dr. Jonathan Woocher, Chief Ideas Officer and Director of the Lippman Kanfer Institute at JESNA, calls for a reinventing of Jewish education. "That isn't because Jewish education today is bad; it's because it can be much, much better than it is. In order to have Jewish education serve the needs of the 21st century North American Jewish people, it is necessary to accelerate a few paradigm shifts that are already under way.

  • Perhaps first and foremost, we need to put learners at the center of our thinking and practice, and not just as the consumers of what we offer. We must take much more seriously the fact that learners should have an active voice in shaping both their immediate learning experience and, even more, their own learning journeys - journeys that we hope will last a lifetime.
  • The hallmark of successful Jewish education today is the extent to which it can provide learners with resources drawn from the Jewish tradition and from the contemporary Jewish community that help them to live meaningful, purposeful, and fulfilling human lives. Jewishness is a means, not an end in itself, and we must adjust our educational thinking and practice to embrace this shift. Our learners today want to bring their Judaism out into the world, to share it with others who are not Jewish, and to use it to enrich both their own lives and the lives of others.
  • A third key paradigm that must be changed is the one that regularly divides Jewish education into a variety of silos - institutional, conceptual (formal vs. informal), even denominational. If we think about Jewish education as an unfolding set of experiences that can, will, and should take place in multiple settings - synagogues, schools, camps, Israel, service programs, the home, art studios, on line, etc., etc. - then it becomes clear that all of these settings need to work in concert with one another to create the richest possible array of experiences, diverse (affording multiple entry points and pathways), but inter-connected (allowing for reinforcement and graceful handoffs), in order to attract and affect the largest possible number of learners.
  • At the end of the day, though, the key question is: Are we ready to challenge the status quo, to assert that the many aspects of Jewish education today that are positive and successful are not a rationale for resting on our laurels, but for reaching toward a future that can be even more positive and successful? "

Dr. Woocher will open the discussion of these points at the upcoming Jewish Education Summit at the URJ Biennial in December, 2011.

Updated: Aug. 30, 2011