With a goal of redesigning synagogue-based religious schools in the Greater New York Area, and ultimately throughout North America, the Experiment in Congregational Education (ECE) has selected a multi-denominational group of five synagogues to rethink their approaches to religious school education.
Throughout the 18-month "RE-IMAGINE Project" an ECE Consultant will guide teams of leaders from each synagogue through a process to examine their community's interests, goals and needs. After experiencing unique Internet-based "virtual" visits to innovative educational programs across the country, synagogue teams will adapt aspects of those programs to fit their own communities.
The five synagogues, selected because they exhibited a strong readiness for innovation, are:
· Forest Hills Jewish Center, Forest Hills (Conservative)
· Oceanside Jewish Center, Oceanside (Conservative)
· Reconstructionist Synagogue of the North Shore, Plandome (Reconstructionist)
· Temple Beth David, Commack (Reform)
· Temple Israel of New Rochelle, New Rochelle (Reform)
The RE-IMAGINE Project is sponsored and made possible by a generous grant from UJA-Federation of New York's Commission on Jewish Identity and Renewal (CoJIR). CoJIR's Chair, Scott Shay, said, "We at UJA-Federation of New York aim to significantly enhance the quality and content of congregational education in the New York area. Through CoJIR, we have identified the ECE as a partner in the development of new tools and approaches which can be fine tuned and made available to a much larger group of synagogues in the future."
Additional support for the project is coming from The Covenant Foundation, a supporter of the ECE from its beginning in 1992.
Dr. Rob Weinberg, national Director of ECE said, "We are thrilled to have a dynamic and diverse group of synagogues to participate in this ambitious pilot project. We look forward to seeing exciting new Jewish educational models implemented, but that's just the beginning. We hope this project will increase these congregations' capacities to keep re-imagining their educational programs long after the project formally ends. And we hope to expand the project to include many more New York area congregations with a Phase II in the future. "
For the day-to-day direction of the project, Weinberg has appointed Cyd Weissman as the Community Coordinator and Consultant. Cyd's extensive background in Jewish education includes teaching at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and lecturing at Gratz College and the Whizin Institute. Having led a school innovation process resulting in a nationally recognized model of congregational education, Cyd is uniquely qualified to guide the five synagogues in their work with ECE's online interactive learning module on Alternative Models of the Religious School and a step-by-step guidebook, including reflection through the study of sacred Jewish texts. "This project is an outstanding opportunity to help already strong congregations build on their strengths by focusing on a comprehensive transformation of their religious schools rather than merely programmatic change," Weissman said.
As a leader of one of the five congregations selected, Rabbi Gerry Skolnik of the Forest Hills Jewish Center, a Conservative synagogue with 850 household members, is very excited about participating. "While we will no doubt benefit in many ways, more than anything, the opportunity to take part in this process will change the way that the congregation views change itself. We are an institution with a capital 'I' and very much need to learn how to look forward while retaining our valued past."
The Experiment in Congregational Education (ECE), a project of the Rhea Hirsch School of Education of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles, is the nation's first synagogue transformation project. The ECE seeks to strengthen the synagogue's place as a critical center of Jewish life in North America by helping congregations to become Congregations of Learners and Self-Renewing Congregations.
The world's largest local philanthropy, UJA-Federation of New York strengthens community and helps 4.5 million persons in New York City, Westchester County, and Long Island, as well as 3 million in Israel and 60 other countries. Funds raised by UJA-Federation sustain the activities of more than 100 health, social-service, educational, and community agencies. Every day, these community-based organizations provide a multitude of services that improve and enhance people's lives.
The Covenant Foundation was established in 1990 by the Crown Family Foundation in partnership with the Jewish Education Service of North America (JESNA). The purpose of the Foundation is to build on existing strengths within the field of Jewish education in North America across all denominations and in all educational settings. By honoring outstanding Jewish educators and supporting creative approaches to programming, the Covenant Foundation hopes to strengthen endeavors in education, which perpetuate the identity and heritage of the Jewish people.