Kehilla is the Curriculum: Some Initial Thoughts on a New Approach to Congregational Education

October 16, 2013

Source: eJewish Philanthropy 


Rabbi Jim Rogozen, Chief Learning Officer at United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, suggests a few ideas that might bridge the gap between mission/vision and curriculum in an attempt to revitalize Conservative congregations and their educational programs.


"I don’t think the Conservative Movement’s response to affiliation challenges necessarily involves changes in our theology or our approach to halakha. Rather, we need to create strong, intentional, purposeful synagogue communities. As we set out to create these communities, our mission or vision statements must be powerful, intense, exciting; documents that point towards a “why” and a “way” of living that embodies real values and aspirations. The language must be clear, pointing toward something that everyone “gets” and can feel, breathe and see around them. Once the vision is in place, a synagogue’s mission is to create that community…


Instilling a sense of responsibility for keeping a community strong begins at a young age. The goal is to manage a shift from “me” to “we”. This is where creativity, innovation and experimentation come in, building upon one pedagogical foundation: the kehilla (community) is the curriculum.


In moving from the mission of building community to an actual curriculum, the educational program serves the purpose of the kehilla; it provides the skills, context and meaning for the learners who are part of that community’s life. This can happen in many ways, but the basic “best practice” elements of such a curriculum might include: a “needs-based” approach to learning; compelling relevance of the material; passionate role models of curiosity, behavior, and care; the skills of living in, and sustaining, a community (e.g. how to work in a group, problem solving, peer mediation, communication, planning and evaluation, inclusivity skills, how to make a shiva call, how to lead a minyan, etc.). Educational programming (for all age groups) should include training in leadership skills and “community-ship”. In such a program, organizing principles and vocabulary would include: Empowerment, Vitality, Experience, Ownership, Relevance, and Connection.


An educational program that “grows” community will include various stakeholders in the process, beginning with the family. Rather than invite families to “one-off programs”, kehillot must involve them in ways that organically further the value and practice of community. When children see their parents, in natural ways, acting as responsible members of a kehilla, the “kehilla curriculum” comes alive.


This is clearly not the classic “Hebrew-Bible-Holidays” approach. Rather, it takes elements of earlier curricula and embeds them in the context of a dynamic, lived Judaism.


All of this will require new understandings for congregants, school parents and board members. It will also lead to new job descriptions (and training) for Rabbis and educators. In a re-visioned synagogue, in which the curriculum is about building and sustaining the kehilla, every member of the kehilla is an educator, and the motto is: “what is lived is learned.”


Read more at eJewish Philanthropy.

Updated: Oct. 21, 2013