Reflecting and Celebrating: Conversations on Jewish Education

March 5, 2018

Source: eJewish Philanthropy 


Setting out on a new venture in Jewish education, I was interested in the hard-earned wisdom of notable professionals in and around the field. As part of the work of the Mayberg Center for Jewish Education and Leadership, we seek to bring academics and practitioners into conversation on the educational issues that matter most. To do this well, it’s critical to identify today’s educational landscape. To that end, I spent nearly a year interviewing professionals in and around the universe of Jewish education, formally and informally. I had initially intended to save the formal responses in a personal collection to direct my own work. But there was too much richness and depth to keep the responses to myself. While the conversations continue, clear patterns emerged.

What did these experts see the as the current contributions of Jewish education, particularly day school education, and could they point to successes? What are the most pressing leadership challenges today and the viable initiatives tackling these problems? What skill sets do they believe are most important to the work, and what kind of lay support is most helpful in achieving their goals? Although I sent a set of questions in advance, I allowed the conversation to flow freely. Many respondents immediately problematized the subject. I gently nudged them into focusing on what is working. It is with these successes that we begin.

For the sake of brevity and anonymity, the most salient and repeated observations are distilled into 18 main points supported by verbatim quotes – a chai guideline, so to speak – to inform a communal agenda.

  • We are really good at strengthening belonging and building community.
  • More people are accessing Jewish education in more ways than ever before.
  • Education as a field has become more professionalized.
  • Success lives at the nexus of strong practitioners and strong leaders.
  • We are generally more honest about acknowledging difficulties.
  • There are too many programs and not enough strategic thinking.
  • The stress on innovation can undermine the fundamentals of good teaching.
  • There aren’t enough cross–sector solutions for problems.
  • There is a lack of useful research in Jewish education.
  • We need more great teachers.
  • We need to identify talent earlier and grow it.
  • Philanthropy works best when philanthropists and professionals talk to each other more.
  • Day school education outside of the Orthodox community is really struggling.
  • We need to make a stronger case for text–based education.
  • Jewish studies teachers are often the weakest educators in day schools.
  • We may be obsessing too much about Jewish identity.
  • Demography is destiny.
  • Jewish education needs to be higher on the communal agenda.

As with all conversations, they never really finish. I have spoken to many more people since I conducted these interviews, and there are more people to speak to tomorrow. One thing is clear from all this talk. Conversations on Jewish education deserve a bigger communal platform. Critical issues need a bigger mainstream stage where practitioners, funders, conveners, end-users and researchers can talk to each other, not merely listen to others talking to them or about them. Can we talk?

Read the entire post at eJewish Philanthropy


Updated: May. 03, 2018