The Pedagogy of Jewish Community: Reflections on the Work of Jonathan Woocher

Sep. 01, 2019

Source: Journal of Jewish Education, 84:3, 240-265


A leader in Jewish education policy for over 30 years, Jonathan Woocher influenced countless practitioners and policy makers. This article examines Woocher’s body of written work by investigating three of his pieces published over a span of 20 years.

The article exposes four themes: Jewish education is a project of building infrastructure, Jewish education is a project of America, Jewish education needs to emphasize not program but person, and Jewish education needs to be restimulated by Jewish wisdom. The themes woven together amount to a pedagogy of community, a way to understand the purpose, structure, and tools of Jewish education.

This piece intends to explore and communicate Woocher’s intellectual legacy, probing more deeply the ideas shared thus far and demonstrating Woocher’s understanding of them. The article delves into Woocher’s work by focusing on three written pieces: Sacred Survival: The Civil Religion of American Jews, a book published in 1986, “A Unified Field Theory of Jewish Continuity,” an article shared among colleagues virally and then published in A Congregation of Learners in 1995, and a monograph published in 2007 by the Jewish Education Service of North America’s (JESNA’s) Lippman Kanfer Institute, entitled “Redesigning Jewish Education for the 21st Century.”

I close this article on a personal note, perhaps atypical for an academic journal. To walk back through Woocher’s work is to trace my own career. This is especially true when looking online, where Jon’s interactions with me and with others are preserved in comments to articles and in Facebook exchanges. The sincerity and passion of our conversations are palpable. We had so many ideas in which we so fervently believed. It is hard to tell whether we were right, and to a great extent, we will never truly know. We can only learn from Woocher’s example: to be humble, to listen closely whoever the teacher, to laugh easily, to seek ideas from all literatures, to engage respectfully with each other, to inhale popular culture, to be bold, to read voraciously, and to do our very best on behalf of the Jewish people.


Updated: Jan. 30, 2019