a congregation. While this leads to relatively high
rates of synagogue affiliation, it has a serious down
side. Parents and teachers are often so focused
on the child’s performance that opportunities for
age-appropriate, engaging learning are diminished,
as is the power of the life-cycle ceremony itself.
celebrations are standardized, taking
into account neither the differences among
thirteen-year-olds in terms of maturity and
interest, nor the differences among families
in their motivations and Jewish identification.
Because these celebrations focus on the individ-
ual child’s performance of a ritual that s/he may
not be able to fully understand or appreciate,
current methods of
inefficient, wasting instructional time in the reli-
gious school. They are often counter-productive
as well, driving children and their families away
from the synagogue as soon as the ceremony is
over, rather than motivating them to continue
Revolution, a joint project of
HUC-JIR’s Rhea Hirsch School of Education and
the Union for Reform Judaism’s Campaign for
Youth Engagement, was created to address these
issues. The project, which will be launched in
November 2012, will work with 10-15 Reform
congregations to experiment with new ways of
marking and celebrating
students and their families for
monies; and teaching Hebrew and Jewish prayer.
The goals of the project are:
To devise a range of new approaches to
preparation and celebration. Among
them may be ceremonies that demonstrate the
to be active partici-
pants in the Jewish community in ways other
than leading prayer, perhaps through
for community members), or
learning and/or teaching).
To create a network of synagogue leaders
throughout our Movement who support one
another in experimentation, and provide one
another with honest and critical feedback.
To share the models and resources created by
this network with an ever-widening group of
congregations, so that they too can experiment
and document their efforts.
A key element of the project is action research.
At least one leader at each congregation will work
under the guidance of a mentor to document the
experiments and collect data on the successes
and challenges they encounter along the way.
Thus, by the end of the first phase of the project
in December 2014), we will have collected a
wealth of information to share about these new
approaches. It is our hope that additional, larger
cohorts will follow the first one.
To find out more about the
imon Kuh did not only chant a
Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills.
Simon explained that he had spent the last six months “doing things I never thought
to do before – walking from Los Angeles to the Valley through the Hollywood mountains,
feeding dinner to children with cancer at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, walking
in support of Darfur, riding on the 720 Wilshire city bus across Los Angeles on a Friday
at rush hour to see my city from a different perspective (90 percent of the city’s bus
riders are from minority populations), and eating at Langer’s Deli in McArthur Park
and writing a review of its food and posting it online. There were thirteen badges in
all that I had to accomplish. They were mostly to teach me more about understanding
the larger world I live in.”
Temple Emanuel’s senior rabbi, Laura Geller ‘76, who has led the 800-household
congregation for seventeen years, acknowledges that Simon’s
highly unusual. She explained in an interview that Simon’s mother felt that a ritual
marking a transition out of childhood should reflect the skills required to become
a Jewish adult in the community. So after a series of conversations, the rabbi and
Simon’s parents came up with a list of tasks, which the rabbi compared to Boy Scouts
merit badges, that they felt would be appropriate to signify an appropriate coming of
age and communal responsibility for Simon.
It was a reframing of the
ceremony,” Rabbi Geller said, noting that
Simon’s talk to the congregation showed his heightened awareness of class
differences in society. Simon noted that Moses, raised as a prince, stepped up
to lead the downtrodden Jewish slaves in Egypt, and reflected on the implications
for his own engagement in today’s world.
The New York Jewish Week
June 26, 2012.
A Joint Project of HUC-JIR’s
Rhea Hirsch School of
Education and the Union for
Reform Judaism’s Campaign
for Youth Engagement
Dr. Isa Aron,
Professor of Jewish Education,
HUC-JIR/Jack H. Skirball Campus/Los
Rabbi Bradley Solmsen ‘01,
Campaign for Youth Engagement, URJ
hat could be wrong with a tradition that
motivates hundreds of thousands of Jew-
ish families to join synagogues? We believe that
the tradition of
at least as prac-
ticed in contemporary America, is a mixed
blessing. Preparation for the ceremony is seen by
many parents as the primary goal of religious
school and as one of the main reasons for joining
A Reframing of the