Lisa Langer, MAJE '94, RJE, Associate Director, URJ Strengthening Congregations, writes:
All too often, Jewish educational leaders spend time doing our work in isolation. What a gift it was for more than 200 of those Jewish educational leaders, professionals, and volunteers, to gather to network, learn, and imagine together at the URJ Biennial 2019 Symposium “Striving Toward Creativity and Collaboration: New Ideas in Jewish Education and Engagement.” This historic collaboration, planned by leaders from URJ, HUC-JIR, ARJE, and ECE-RJ, was an ambitious undertaking that exceeded every expectation, due to the creativity and dedication of a planning team, the extraordinary vision and teaching of Dr. Miriam Heller Stern, National Director of the School of Education, and the enthusiasm of participants from throughout the Reform Movement and beyond.
The day was framed by the following key questions:
CULTURE: How might we reset our organizational cultures to be more open-minded and rethink assumptions about the “why” of what we do… so that we can get to a better “how.”
COMMUNITIES: How might the evolving demographics and landscape of the Jewish community inform our thinking about Jewish learning and engagement? How can we better understand the diversity of our learners, spaces and communities? What will it take to attend to the whole student and the whole family, as they strengthen habits of mind to think and act creatively?
CATALYST: How might Jewish learning and engagement inspire better humans, partners and citizens as leaders and contributors in a creative society? How might we think about content differently if our goal is about mobilizing learners to participate creatively in a whole, just and compassionate world? What would it take for our learners to feel empowered to offer creative solutions for the problems of our day?
Dr. Stern introduced a new aspiration for Jewish education that revolves around seven Jewish Creative Sensibilities. This framework resonates as an inspiring and aspirational way to think really differently about the enterprise of Jewish learning. Participants divided into small groups, which operated as mini think-tanks where they could consider the key questions of the day and their ideas for how to improve Jewish education and engagement in their communities.
A wall overflowed with post-its listing questions to consider and actions to take as the session concluded – illustrating the volume of work awaiting those of us leading this enterprise. It is reassuring, therefore to know Jewish education has leadership with deep talent, fierce commitment and a bright future.