This year’s Alan A. Kay Alumni Day of Learning, hosted by the New York School of Education on October 25, 2018, was devoted to “Exploring Spiritual Education.” The day of learning was introduced by Dr. Evie Rotstein, Dean Rabbi David Adelson, and Jo Kay, former director of the New York School of Education, who welcomed our students, alumni, and other community members. They each expressed their excitement to engage, examine, and experience the ways in which spirituality can effectively be integrated into varied Jewish learning settings. Lisa Lisser ’17, who helped to plan the program said, “We took as an imperative that our educators must be authentically connected to spirituality in order to grow our learning spaces toward spiritual connection.” Thirty-six educators, including rabbis, cantors, education directors, alumni, and current students, came together and were rewarded with profound learning, practical questions, and active engagement.
Rabbi Mike Comins, our keynote speaker, took us on a journey through the spiritual dynamics approach to prayer. He asked us to consider the question, “What is the result of meaningful prayer?” He demonstrated his approach by guiding participants in active practice on the topic of “yearning.” Rabbi Comins is the author of Making Prayer Real and A Wild Faith, and designer of a multi-lesson curriculum in the spiritual dynamics approach to prayer and learning (available through the HUC-JIR Taube Resource Center).
The afternoon session began with active listening, quite literally. Rabbi Sara Luria '13, founding executive director of ImmerseNYC and the Beloved community in Brooklyn, shared with us that the most important value she has experienced in her post-HUC-JIR life, was and is connection. Making sure our learners and congregants feel like they matter, that we hear them, and that they are not alone, is a spiritual practice. This is the reason she began her two organizations and it is the link between them. We spoke to each other – panim el panim – and were instructed to listen for “facts, feelings, and underlying needs.” Practicing this intentionality was both empowering and comforting as we developed compassion and connection with those we spoke to. It was a concrete takeaway for all participants and a blessing to share with each other.
To complete the day, three panelists shared their experiences to bring spirituality to the forefront in their individual educational setting. Liz Levin, EMA-MARE '14 of Kesher in Boston addressed the discomfort of religious school teachers in speaking about God in the classroom and how she was able to encourage their efforts through ongoing professional training and programs. Rabbi Anne Ebersman ’99 of the Abraham J. Heschel Day School described programs she created in a day school setting which has enabled learners to approach tefillah with fresh eyes (and ears and hands and hearts). Ronni Ticker acknowledged the need for partners among the synagogue staff in helping students rethink the ideas expressed in the prayers they were learning to read and recite.
Thanks to the thoughtful planning by Lisa Lisser, MARE ’17, Rabbi Liz Rolle ’81, MARE ’13, and Dr. Evie Rotstein, participants left with both theory and tachlis, as they work to bring an awareness of spirituality into the educational process and into the lives of learners of all ages. It was clear that each participant was better equipped to apply the learning to their own setting with greater intention and spirituality.