Teaching American Jewish History as Talmud

July 22, 2019

Source: eJewish Philanthropy


Twenty-nine educators have recently gathered at the National Museum of American Jewish History in July 2019 for its fourth annual National Educators Institute (NEI) – The Art and Science of Teaching American Jewish History. Representing eleven states and twenty cities, and split evenly between day schools and congregational schools, participants immersed themselves in workshops and experiences led by notable scholars and Museum staff. The first-of-its-kind Institute is designed to empower Jewish day and supplementary school educators to teach American Jewish history by learning content and methodologies, developing peer networks, and connecting with Museum staff – who provide ongoing support after the Institute.

The intensive four-day long Institute exposes educators to the major themes of American Jewish History as well as new developments in the field of education. They are also introduced to a learning model called “See, Think, Wonder,” which teaches students to analyze objects, images, and texts. It emphasizes curiosity, attention to detail, critical thinking, and discussion as a way of interpreting historical materials. Teachers benefit from workshops aimed at developing their curricula and discussing educational strategies with each other, including how to combine historical methods with social-emotional learning.

The Museum’s new national curriculum, OpenBook: Discovering American Jewish History Through Objects, is prominently featured at NEI. Based on material culture from the Museum’s collection, OpenBook’s lessons in this national curriculum challenge students to exercise critical thinking and inquiry-based learning skills while exploring the American Jewish experience. Thirteen out of eighteen lessons are completed and ten are currently available for free online. All lessons will be available for free download by 2020.

In the spirit of traditional Talmudic study, OpenBook invites students to approach the study of history in unexpected ways and connect what they learn to their own ideas, experiences, and passions. The heart of each lesson is a “Talmud page,” not actually from the Talmud, but formatted similarly. Each page has an object or image at the center, surrounded by relevant commentaries. Working in groups of two to three, students explore, discuss, and interpret this object or image in conjunction with surrounding texts. Talmudic learning, although sometimes called debate, is not about winning an argument, it is about expanding one’s thinking. This open-ended process of discussion and discovery empowers students to see themselves in the larger story of American Jewish life and inspire a sense of pride and connection to their heritage.

In addition to the annual summer institute in Philadelphia, NEI also reaches educators in communities throughout the nation. NMAJH provides a day-long version of the institute that is a condensed version of the program held at the Museum. Over the past two years, “Traveling NEI” has visited Boston, Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, and St. Louis – reaching more than 140 educators participated from more than 50 schools and institutions. This fall NEI will visit norther New Jersey and Palm Beach County.

Read the entire post at eJewish Philanthropy.

Updated: Jul. 31, 2019