The Power of FJC’s Cornerstone

 Posted by on June 20, 2017 at 10:05 am  No Responses »  Tagged with:  Categories:
Jun 202017

Cross-posted from eJewishPhilanthropy

By Mark Kachuck

Kol Yisrael Arevim Ze Bazeh,” translates to “all of Israel is responsible for one another.” This spoke to the theme of Foundation for Jewish Camp’s Cornerstone Fellowship 2017: “Get Invested,” which had a big impact on me. It resonated with my feelings towards the global Jewish community; together, we have the power to achieve great strength.

This year was my fourth Cornerstone Seminar, where I’ve had the opportunity of being both a Fellow and Liaison for my camps cohort of attendees. Each year I find myself more inspired by the love and passion for Jewish programming at Jewish camp. I cannot think of another opportunity in which I would get to spend 5 days learning with and from young adults and professionals from all over North America, all with different camping experiences.

Regardless of what movement, affiliation, or ideology we believe in, it is evident that we each share the common goal of promoting the values of Jewish camp.

Cornerstone has provided me with an outlet to experience Jewish education in a different way. It has taught me that Judaism should be an experience, and we – the counselors – have the privilege of being able to facilitate that experience for our campers.

Did you know that you could make a program involving yoga, Kabbalah, ninjas and the Kedusha, which takes place in a pool? Or that something as simple as arts and crafts can allow campers to connect with Judaism through glitter and mason jars?

Year after year, I find myself wanting to come back to Cornerstone because these experiences allow me to make a big impact back at my camp. Each program has a way of making Judaism more than just a prayer before a meal. I learn to challenge my own way of programming and adapt basic themes and values to a greater Jewish experience. The power of camp comes alive during the Cornerstone Seminar. In five short days you connect with others who have a passion for Jewish Camp and Jewish learning from all over North America. And just like camp, in five short days you are able to feel as though you have known them for forever.

Every year I find the messages of Cornerstone to be meaningful. I believe strongly that many Jews from around the world have a strong connection. Whether you speak English, French, Hebrew, or Spanish, we all want to help each other. At Cornerstone, as the collective of Jewish camp counselors and staff members, we have the power to influence more than 10,000 young Jewish minds. As the representatives from more than 60 camps, we have the power to shape these young minds and allow them to grow and benefit the Jewish community at large, but also the world. We carry the responsibility to INVEST in these campers, to positively shape the future, and after Cornerstone Seminar 2017, it is very clear that the future is looking very bright.

Returning counselors are the “cornerstones” of their camp. Over the last 14 years, more than 3,000 fellows have participated in this transformative leadership experience the Cornerstone Fellowship includes attending a 5-day seminar in the spring, and bringing new ideas, programs and initiatives back to camp. At the Cornerstone Seminar, 400 staff members from Jewish camps across North America come together for workshops, song sessions, and campfires, learning from seasoned faculty and from each other.

The Cornerstone Fellowship is run by Foundation for Jewish Camp and is generously funded by The AVI CHAI Foundation, Crown Family Philanthropies, The Marcus Foundation and The Morningstar Foundation.

Mark Kachuck is an active member and madrich of the Canadian Young Judaea movement. This summer he will spend his 15th summer in the movement as one of Camp Solelim’s Program Directors. He will graduate Concordia University next year with a BA Major in History, Minor Film Studies.

Providing Opportunities to Speak in Hebrew

 Posted by on March 28, 2017 at 1:40 pm  No Responses »  Tagged with:  Categories:
Mar 282017

Cross-posted from Jeducation World

By Hadas Heyman

How do I provide more opportunities for my students to speak Hebrew inside and outside the classroom?

Find your partner and find common things to discuss in Hebrew

As a Hebrew language teacher, I’ve always asked myself this question over and over again. My students spend a short amount of time in my class every day, and this time is so precious and valuable. Every second should be planned effectively. My students know that wasting time is a big pet peeve of mine. There is time to write, read, use technology tools to enhance students’ learning, ask questions, discuss, work in a small group or with a partner and also to play games.

As teachers, we want to make sure that our students use the new gained skills outside our classroom. How can I do this in my Hebrew class? What are some good ways to encourage my students to converse in Hebrew and become more proficient in speaking the language?


Pair & Share in Hebrew to discuss various subjects in class

I just came back from an iTaLAM workshop and this topic was discussed during one of the sessions I attended. I was assigned to work collaboratively with 3 other great educators and competed with another team on planning a lesson that was supposed to include opportunities for students to engage in verbal conversation with each other. First, I have to say that acting and role playing is something I despise since I feel that I am terrible at it. But I know that the right thing to do as a teacher is to step out of my comfort zone and take risks, even if my heart was pounding and I was out of breath.

Based on this experience and from listening to other experts in the area, here are a few things to remember:

  • Children make mistakes and learn from them. We need to let them make mistakes and not correct them when they talk and create with the language.
  • We need to help those students that may struggle to create with the language. We can
    provide these students sentence starters, more time to think before they talk and be patience with them.
  • Students love to be “the teacher” and may do a great job “teaching” for a short while and lead a conversation/activity in Hebrew.
  • Prompts are very helpful and can encourage children to speak in a second language.
  • Teachers should use visuals that may stimulate conversation in the classroom.
  • Teachers can observe and let go more often rather than do the talking and “control” the class throughout the lesson.

I am working on following these guidelines myself and I have promised myself to continue doing this for as long as I teach. I would love to share some of the things that took place in and outside my classroom when the students created in Hebrew language.

Feb 022017

By: Valerie Mitrani
Director of Day School Strategy and Initiatives, Center for the Advancement of Jewish Education, Miami

Julie Lambert
Senior Educational Consultant, Center for the Advancement of Jewish Education, Miami

Gary Hartstein
Director, DigitalJLearning Network

Today’s educational system is striving to be student-centered and dynamic, supported by articulated standards, student data, high quality curriculum and instruction, with access to multiple technologies to support student learning. To meet the needs of this generation of learners, we must build capacity for problem-solving, collaboration, effective communication, and critical thinking. JBlend Miami is responding to this challenge by building and leveraging resources, experience, and expertise to support local Jewish day schools in shifting the paradigm of teaching and learning, resulting in increased teacher and student engagement.  JBlend Miami is working to enhance the quality of student learning by increasing school capacity to meet the needs of 21st century learners. This includes personalizing learning through the modality of blended learning.

There are a few essential characteristics of JBlend Miami:


As a result of the Center for Advancement of Jewish Education (CAJE)’s vision and leadership over the last 10 years, the  Miami Jewish day school community has become a professional learning community with a shared commitment to high-quality, standards-based learning for teachers and students. JBlend is the latest community-wide, systemic initiative that brings together day school leaders, teachers, and instructional coaches for shared content learning. Relationships have been developed with local funders to invest in initiatives. Trust is fostered on several levels: within each school, among the schools, between the schools and the central agency, and between the central agency and local funders.

JBlend is a local-national collaboration that builds on this culture of professional learning and a sharing of experiences and expertise. Now in its second full year of implementation, JBlend officially launched in the fall of 2015 after nearly two years of planning. The program was developed and is being implemented by  CAJE-Miami, in partnership with the DigitalJLearning Network (DJLN) of The Jewish Education Project. CAJE’s experience providing professional learning and leadership development to educators and schools, combined with DJLN’s experience helping schools implement learning-driven technology and personalized/blended learning, came together in a “perfect storm.” With support from The AVI CHAI Foundation, the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, and local funders, the two organizations are joining forces to help day schools in Miami bring about sustainable, learning-driven change.

Intentional Program Design

JBlend Miami is comprised of three main phases:

  • Phase I – Community Readiness and Buy-in (January – June 2015)

CAJE first shared plans for the multi-year program with local school leaders, and identified schools that were interested in participating; those schools were invited to formally apply. The application process included a needs assessment to determine school capacity and readiness. Early in Phase 1, teachers completed an online survey instrument designed to measure teachers’ readiness to change practice from traditional, frontal teaching, to blended and personalized learning. Based on the results of this survey, school site visits and a comprehensive application including a school team interview, CAJE and DJLN identified potential schools to invite to JBlend Miami Cohort 1.

  • Phase II – Blended and Online Learning Academy (September 2015 –June 2016)

Each school designated a school leadership team comprised of administrators and teachers to participate in a year-long academy. The monthly sessions were designed around the components necessary for successful implementation. Session topics included:

  • Training for leadership in managing the shift to a blended learning environment
  • Teaching in a blended learning setting
  • Access to online curriculum in general and Judaic studies
  • Communications and stakeholder buy-in

An important component of the academy was a trip to New York (organized by DJLN) to see day schools that were already implementing blended learning.

At the end of Phase 2, schools were guided through the development of implementation plans for the coming academic year. Each school was encouraged to identify a problem of practice and articulate goals and objectives related to that challenge.  Each leadership team then clearly identified the implementation steps needed for teachers to utilize blended/personalized learning to meet those goals.

  • Phase III – Implementation (current school year)

Four JBlend schools each received $40,000 for implementation. Individual schools have varying goals, but overall each school is expected to connect their project with improved student achievement and/or engagement. Expected goals for the next two years include:

  • Implementation of personalized learning initiatives that address identified student learning needs as determined by school teams
  • Development of school-based instructional coaches who will support and strengthen teachers in facilitating blended learning environments
  • Teachers building understanding of personalized learning, and gaining the skills and knowledge to design, facilitate, and evaluate learning in a blended environment
  • Increasing School Leadership Team capacity to support, facilitate, and assess the implementation of their blended learning initiatives
  • Ongoing collaboration and learning among the network of JBlend Miami Schools

Academy sessions continue in this phase, and in between, the school leadership teams gather at each other’s schools to observe the plans in action. This is followed by reflective conversation, providing an opportunity to ask questions and explore how each school is implementing blended and personalized learning.

Building Capacity Throughout the System

Critical to the success of a new pedagogic approach is taking the time to build capacity within the leaders and the students. Personalized learning changes the rules of the game from traditional teaching. It requires the system to allow teachers to learn new skills, experiment, and be deliberate about change. As we like to say in JBlend, “We go slow to go faster.” Student agency over learning changes in this model, and students need to learn how to function with more responsibility and self-determination a concept that is unfamiliar to most of them. JBlend Miami invests in all levels of the system by designing a team academy learning approach that includes teachers, coaches, and administrators who are responsible for setting the vision and the outcomes. Shared language and knowledge allows each school team to design and plan for experimental initiatives, starting small in singular classrooms and building out to the bigger system.


An interim evaluation conducted by Rosov Consulting at the end of Phase II surfaced schools’ positive experience in the Academy and their grasp of core themes covered in the sessions. The teams reported commitment and dedication to deploying new strategies to maximize the students’ learning and have “bought in” to the main mindsets that the Academy sought to create, such as establishing student learning as the driver of instruction.

The evaluation will be continuing throughout Phase III.  All the partners hope to see greater student agency and satisfaction, more intentional use of data to inform instruction, less teacher-driven instruction and increased teacher satisfaction. We will report to the field again as we learn more.

Come learn more about JBlend Miami at the upcoming Prizmah Jewish Day School Conference. The team will be presenting on Tuesday morning at 11:25 in the Clark room.

Chanukah Sparks: Rabbi Ari Leubitz

 Posted by on December 30, 2016 at 10:56 am  No Responses »  Tagged with: ,  Categories:
Dec 302016

This is the last post in our Chanukah Sparks blog series. The series has featured the moments that sparked educators and leaders to pursue careers in Jewish day school education — becoming beacons of light for their schools and communities. We hope that telling these stories has not only helped brighten this Chanukah, but that it will also lead to inspiration that burns strong for the rest of the year. Chanukah Sameach!

Chanukah Sparks from Rabbi Ari Leubitz
Head of School, Atlanta Jewish Academy

Why did I become a Rabbi and what sparked me to head down this path? Here goes. You may want to get comfortable, it’s not a short answer.

I was raised by an Orthodox mother and Conservative father in Cleveland, Ohio, where the options for school were either Orthodox or public. There was nothing in between. Attending the Hebrew Academy of Cleveland gave me a foundation that I cherish to this day. I felt such a connection to Judaism, but still wasn’t sure where my place was. I suppose, in hindsight, that I have always questioned the “why,” even starting from childhood. After my gap year in Israel, I felt a pull to answer my own “why.” I knew I was moving down a path to find my Jewish identity, and wanted to know what that exactly would look like.

When I moved to Riverdale, NY with my wife Florence, the Orthodox community was like nothing I’d seen. It was fused with a spirituality and love of music which, as a son of a chazzan, truly resonated with me. This community was open to questions. They were inclusive of all levels of religious commitment. I felt the the history, tradition and love of Torah, mitzvot and ivrit, and it was intertwined with the intellectual piece I was also drawn to. This was my home. This was the answer to my personal “why.”

I found myself more involved in the shul, studying and teaching. It was my decision to switch to the 12 am – 8 am shift at the call center I managed so that I could spend every morning at the Yeshiva after minyan. I’d study there all day, head home to say a quick hello to my new bride, rest for the blink of an eye, and repeat. It was frenetic. Looking back now, I have no idea how I maintained that pace. Clearly something was fueling me. It was my passion and connection to Judaism.

As part of this journey, my beautiful wife helped pave the way for the type of Rabbi I’d one day choose to be. I was in the midst of the most complicated topics in my studies when she asked me the most simple question: “Ari, what are you learning?” It sounds basic, but I couldn’t answer it simply. At that moment, I made myself a promise. This pact was to always ask myself what the spiritual meaning and message was in anything I learn or teach. This realization empowered me to personally reimagine how my own learning would take place. I ask this of myself, of my children, and of the children at Atlanta Jewish Academy. I believe that we must all ask and answer the “why” in every area of our daily lives.

Hopefully, this has given you a glimpse into my personal journey, and one of the reasons for my inquisitive nature. This background has served to develop my Jewish educational vision. It is my belief that our vision has to start with our precious students. They must understand “why” everything we teach and practice is meaningful and relevant, and to learn not just what they are doing, but to wonder “why” it’s important. We want them to grasp “why” Judaism is relevant to help them grow as human beings, citizens, and as Jews in their service to G-d and family.

May we all continue to ask the “why’s” in our personal and communal lives, so that we can foster deeper, richer and more meaningful connections to our families and each other.

Chanukah Sparks: Mindy Schiller

 Posted by on December 30, 2016 at 10:44 am  No Responses »  Tagged with: ,  Categories:
Dec 302016

This Chanukah blog series is dedicated to sharing about the moments that sparked the careers of educators and leaders in Jewish day school education. Today, we share an educator’s perspective, written by Mindy Schiller, who teaches History and Humanities as well as serving as Marketing Director at Akiba Schechter Jewish Day School.

When I Chose Teaching
By Mindy Schiller
Teacher, Akiba Schechter Jewish Day School, Chicago, IL

One day my best friend declared: “Maybe you don’t have to be passionate about teaching to be good at it.” I looked at her in shock, and all I could think of was the three hours of meetings I had that week trying to find creative solutions for a student in my class. This student made me question my competence in a hundred different ways. Yet, when I watched him the previous week when he sat down next to a 1st grader and read a book with him, I had to leave the room so I wouldn’t cry. How could I explain to my friend that in moments like these—the ones where my ego gets bludgeoned and the ones where I’m tempted to wrap my arms around my student—it’s passion that carries me through to the other end?

It was in a high school English class that I first realized what it meant to bring passion to the classroom.

The teacher was Mrs. Rosenwald (z”l), an amazing, frizzy, white-haired creature with arthritic hands, a screechy voice, and piercing cornflower blue eyes. Sitting in a circle with us in her classroom, she would continuously shock us: “Elana, stop hiding from the discussion by taking notes. If you hide away in that notebook instead of having an opinion, then you’re no better than a turnip!” She was the one who taught me to take students more seriously than they take themselves. In the middle of reading Kafka’s Metamorphosis, for instance, she turned to one boy and asked, “Jon, is your relationship with your Dad different from Gregor Samsa’s with his?” And we found out, painfully, that it wasn’t. It was an admission that could only come because of the complete vulnerability and safety of the cocoon Mrs. Rosenwald had created in her classroom. We left the room transformed each day, eager—and a bit scared—to explore the world and ourselves.

Every day, when I sit down in a circle with my 7th/8th grade Humanities students, I think about Mrs. Rosenwald and wonder if she’s proud of me.

Even as a student in Mrs. Rosenwald’s class, I knew I would be a teacher one day. College seemed pro-forma, something I had to complete before I could enter the classroom. So, naturally, afraid that I had chosen my “beshert” too soon, I detoured for three years at a newspaper to see if I might like that better.

I didn’t. I enjoyed writing, of course, and I loved covering Jewish education. I got to see my name in print and felt the kind of ego-stroking that teachers never feel. But I always knew, at the back of my mind, that even the busiest press day at the newspaper was so much easier—and so much more fleeting—than teaching.

One day, covering a PEJE conference on recruitment and admissions, I listened to the famous Rheau Stakely (a”h) explain how to make people believe in Jewish education. I watched people around me furiously taking notes and thought, suddenly: I’m done “covering” Jewish education. I was stuck on the wrong side of the playing field. I wanted to be in the trenches, not in the bleachers.

A few months later, I started teaching.


Teaching is a blessing and a curse. Even now, having taught for almost 10 years, I still have nightmares every August. The details of the dream are different—the scenery, the building, the students, the context. But the theme is always the same: It’s the first day of school, and I’m not prepared. Because teaching is the kind of profession where if you don’t put in your blood and sweat and tears, it shows. If you don’t love it, if you don’t feel it in your bones and see it in your dreams, then it’s not for you.

I feel teaching in my soul, and I thank God every day that I do. In spite of the fact that it’s harder than any press day, it’s also the most rewarding and soul-nourishing thing I could do. Given the choice, I would choose it again — and again and again.

Chanukah Sparks: Susan Siegel

 Posted by on December 29, 2016 at 10:54 am  No Responses »  Tagged with: ,  Categories:
Dec 292016

Our Chanukah Sparks blog series continues with a post by Susan Siegel, Head of School of the Bnai Shalom Day School. This series explores the moments or series of moments that sparked the day school careers of school leaders and educators. Just as our homes become illuminated by individual sparks that combine to create one glowing chanukiah, the journeys of these individuals are igniting the collective Jewish journeys of countless students, educators, and family members in our communities. In this post, Susan Sigel tells her story and demonstrates how one unique journey can spread the light to others and truly make a difference. Chag Sameach!

Chanukah Sparks by Susan Siegel
Head of School, Bnai Shalom Day School, Greensboro, North Carolina

My journey into the Jewish day school world began in the 1990’s when I was a parent of young children. We lived on the east side of Cleveland and had a plethora of choices for Jewish preschool. I had a background in education and did my homework. We chose to send our girls to the preschool at the Jewish community day school. The school had an excellent reputation and I liked the idea of the preschool being part of a larger school.

The girls loved the school and community. We were impressed by how well the teachers knew our daughters and nurtured their unique learning styles. The girls came home talking about how much they loved their school and teaching us new songs for each Jewish holiday. My husband and I couldn’t help but become engaged in the school and became active volunteers.

When our third child came along, however, we wondered how we could afford a day school education for three children. We had moved to a larger home in an excellent public school system. We knew the girls would go to Jewish camps and religious school at our synagogue. As much as we loved the preschool, we could not bring ourselves to apply for financial aid, and so we moved on. I wept when my youngest daughter transitioned to public school. I knew I would no longer be part of the same kind of school community and that we would have to work extra hard to ensure our children developed a strong Jewish identity.

In 2001, I was ready to step back into the classroom. I had previously taught in public school but took a hiatus while my girls were young, working part-time in Jewish agencies within the community. I missed teaching, however, and after having had a taste of the day school environment decided to apply for an opening at the Schechter school. I was hired part-time to teach first grade general studies. After I spent a year at the school and experienced the full cycle of Jewish learning with my students, I wanted to be there full-time. As the first-grade teacher, I marveled at how my students learned to read Hebrew from their first siddur. A few years later, I moved to fourth grade, where my students learned trope and chanted from the Torah. My last year in the classroom was in fifth grade where my students learned to write Divrei Torah. I joined the parents in celebrating each of these Jewish milestones and beamed with pride each time I sat through an eighth-grade graduation and listened as the students gratefully acknowledged all they had received from their Schechter education.

Eventually, I was encouraged to move to administration. As I honed my leadership skills, I was guided and mentored by many. Being in a leadership role afforded me the opportunity to develop close relationships with young parents. There were some, like me, who had enrolled their children in the preschool, but continuing through the day school was financially daunting. They felt that the public school experience wouldn’t be the same, but would be good enough. When parents confided in me about their concerns, I shared my personal story and encouraged them to stay the course. I suggested they attend the eighth-grade graduation so they could see the final product of a day school education. I wanted them to understand that the investment in a day school education was a gift for their whole family.

After 13 wonderful years at Schechter, I said goodbye and moved to Greensboro, North Carolina where I proudly became the head of B’nai Shalom Day School. I had participated in DSLTI (The Day School Leadership Training Institute) and was ready to take on the headship. I knew the school was the right fit for me the minute that I walked through the door and felt the joyful Jewish environment. Though the Jewish community in this southern town is small, it is vibrant. The school is 47 years old, and was founded by parents with a vision—for their children to grow up with strong Jewish values, and to know who they are and where they came from.

Last week, our school held its annual Chanukah show. A large part of the Jewish community always attends, and it is standing room only. My youngest daughter, who was home from college, came to watch. Afterwards, she told me that she wished she had grown up in a Jewish Day School, and I felt a familiar twinge of regret. I told my daughter that I would love nothing more than to have my grandchildren fully experience a Jewish Day School education.

Until then, I will continue to work towards making Jewish Day School the natural choice for Jewish parents and their families.

Chanukah Sparks: Dr. Barbara Gereboff

 Posted by on December 27, 2016 at 11:28 am  No Responses »  Tagged with: ,  Categories:
Dec 272016

In this blog series, we are featuring school leaders and educators who discuss the “sparks” that ignited their careers in Jewish day school education. All it takes is one spark to illuminate an entire chanukiah — or, in the case of day school educators, untold students, classrooms, and communities. Sharing “sparks” in today’s post is Dr. Barbara Gereboff, who has served as Head of School at Wornick Jewish Day School since 2010. She began her day school work as Head of Solomon Schechter Day School in Phoenix, Arizona. Past positions include Education Director at Camp Ramah in Ojai, and the Program Director of the Bureau of Jewish Education in Phoenix. Prior to joining Wornick, she was the Head of School at Kadima Hebrew Academy in West Hills, California for a decade. Please enjoy Dr. Gereboff’s story — and Chag Sameach!

The First Step
By Dr. Barbara Gereboff
Head of School, Wornick Jewish Day School, Foster City, California

Chanukah is the perfect time for me to reflect about the moments that led to a career in day school education.  Rabbi David Hartman, z’’l provided a perspective on the miracle of Chanukah that resonates with my journey in Jewish education.  He noted that the miracle wasn’t that the oil lasted eight days, but rather that those ancestors lit the first wick at all without knowing if it would last long enough to rededicate the Temple.  The miracle was that they took the first step, a leap of faith, in lighting the oil not knowing what the future would be.  Similarly I did not set out to be a Jewish educator, but a series of encounters that led me to say “yes” even when I wasn’t clear about what that future would hold were the impetus for my career.  These mentors also took risks in asking me to step up and in lighting a path for me.

I can count four different mentors, each who reached out to me at various points in my career to pursue a different avenue in Jewish education.  The first was the cantor-educator where I was teaching Hebrew school part time for a few years while finishing my doctorate in health care policy.  He asked me to take over the leadership of the religious school, and I did.  This was followed by a newly created position as program director for the Bureau of Jewish Education.  I worked there for seven years running the community Hebrew High School and creating programs for young parents, teachers and interfaith couples.  By this point, Jewish education had become my full-time work. I liked the opportunity to create new programs, to think of ways of reaching different constituencies.

The next mentor who appeared was Rabbi Ed Feinstein.  I had been working at Ramah for a few summers as a “yoetzet.” Ed asked me to consider becoming the Education Director at Camp Ramah.  I accepted it and developed the education program over the next several summers, and I still return to camp every summer to tell a story, to lead a Shabbat limud or to mentor new teachers.

Back at the Bureau of Jewish Education in the fall, a guest speaker from Israel took me aside and asked me if I had ever heard of the Melton Senior Educator’s program in Israel.  At the time, I did not know about it, so this new mentor sent me material about the program and told me to apply for it.  I did, my husband was able to arrange a sabbatical and we spent the next year together with our three children in Israel.

The Melton program was a pivotal experience for me.  It gave me a year to fill in gaps in my Jewish content knowledge, to hone my Hebrew language skills, and to reflect deeply on my next career moves.  Up until that point, I wasn’t sure that it was worth spending so much time teaching Hebrew in American schools.  During the course of the program when the only common language shared among my fellow educators in the program was Hebrew, I rethought my earlier position about the centrality of Hebrew language for Jews throughout the world to remain connected and understood.  I also made a clear decision to do two things upon my return to the United States: to complete my doctorate with an emphasis on education policy and to work only in day schools or in summer camps.

I realized then that the place where I could have the greatest impact – on children, on families and on teachers – was in these two venues.  In both schools and camps, the rhythm of the Jewish calendar and week are lived.  In both arenas, there is a strong commitment to community and to profound learning.  For me, the work in these two places was stimulating, creative and inspiring.

Upon my return, I accepted my first full-time day school position at a relatively new, small Schechter School.  I began as the Judaic Studies director and within a couple of years became the Head of School.  At the same time, I began a new doctoral program in education leadership and policy studies.  Upon completion of my doctorate, my ever encouraging and patient husband said that it was my turn to find a job that was really fulfilling for me.  He suggested that I apply to other schools in other cities, and offered to commute to his University job.

Thus began my 18 year tenure as a Head of a Jewish Day School – 10 years at one school and eight years at my current school.  There were moments that were difficult along the way, and I often wondered if I had known how little I really knew at the beginning of each of my ventures whether I would have chosen these paths. I look back now with gratitude to the various mentors who encouraged me to step into unchartered waters. I continue to look forward to work everyday.  My career has introduced me to some of the most reflective, caring and thought-provoking people.  Along the way, I’ve received an education in marketing, finance, philanthropy, building, remodeling and financing a school.  I hope that others who may not have even thought of a day school career will have the faith and courage to jump in to shape the future of Jewish day school education.

Chanukah Sparks: Dr. Susie Tanchel

 Posted by on December 26, 2016 at 12:13 pm  No Responses »  Tagged with: ,  Categories:
Dec 262016

Chanukah is the Festival of Lights — culminating in nine blazing candles gleaming in the front window of your home, and homes around the world. Yet it all starts with just one spark on the first night. Similarly, the work of a day school educator illuminates untold students, classrooms, and communities. Yet often it all begins with one spark, a moment or series of moments that incites passion in that individual to pursue day school education as a career. In this blog series, day school educators will tell the stories of those moments of sparks that made them into the enlightening educators they are today. We hope that telling these stories can help brighten this Chanukah and lead to inspiration that burns strong for the rest of the year. Chag Sameach!

Chanukah Sparks from Dr. Susie Tanchel
Head of School, JCDS, Boston’s Jewish Community Day School 

The power of great teachers cannot be underestimated. Never did I imagine becoming a Jewish educator, though I attended a Jewish day school for 12 years. But I suspect that the teachers I encountered along my educational journey knew I would be. During the process of discovering my calling, I had compelling, inspiring, and generous guides who invested in my growth.

The first time I took responsibility for teaching Jewish content to a large group occurred in eleventh grade when the Director of Judaica asked me to coordinate our high school’s Seder for a few hundred children.  I was excited by the opportunity to work with him because he was the first person I had seen share weekly relevant and meaningful divrei Torah.  A bit intimidated, I nonetheless wanted to offer my fellow pupils a stimulating — even motivating — experience. At this time, I was also troubled by how God could abide the immorality of apartheid in South Africa.  Thus, I was mindful that we were celebrating the holiday of freedom in a country in which Black people were not free. My decision to sing the Negro spiritual, “O Freedom,” at the Seder led to a “punishment” of spending a few recesses in conversation with the Director of Judaica.

What a blessing this was! Mr. Mann and I talked about Judaism — the parts I loved and the parts that challenged me.  He had a significant impact on me, as he encouraged my intellectual curiosity and treated my questions about religion seriously.  He also gave me books to read — two by R. Abraham Joshua Heschel.  I was captivated, reading them at night by flashlight under my comforter.  To this day, Heschel’s perspective and insights remain an integral part of my educational philosophy.  I was on my way to becoming a Jewish educator — I just didn’t know it.

In my junior year of college at Brandeis University, having almost completed the psychology major required to become the therapist I was planning to be, I enrolled in my first Bible class.  An inspiring professor who passionately taught his subject matter introduced me to a world of study in which I discovered how intriguing biblical texts were. He fostered in me a new appreciation for our Jewish past. I was hooked!  The texts were fascinating, and I learned more about the antecedents of Judaism and our history of interpretation. As I continued to take courses with Professor Marc Brettler in my senior year and then in graduate school, I noticed how well-prepared he was for class and how deeply he cared about his students’ learning.

While deeply engaged in my Ph.D. program and with a newly defined career path of becoming a Professor of Ancient Near Eastern Studies, I heard from my advisor that a new Jewish high school was forming in Boston.  Though at this point I was enthralled by biblical texts and my commitment to living an engaged Jewish life was already in full swing, I had never considered being a high school teacher, so I didn’t pay too much attention to it.  My advisor, who was on the Board of the new school, thought it would be a great idea for me to teach a class to the academics and community members founding the school.  Rabbi Daniel Lehmann, the visionary founding Head of the New Jewish High School of Greater Boston, offered me a job immediately thereafter. To be honest, the thought of being a high school teacher still didn’t seem that appealing. But after some conversation with those I trusted, I decided to give it a try.

It didn’t take long for me to realize teaching high school was awesome.  Truly!  I loved the kids’ questions and their passions.  I relished the opportunity to show them the myriad of ways these ancient texts had modern resonance and how biblical texts can withstand serious intellectual inquiry and are worthy of careful study. I found it meaningful and satisfying to be a role model of serious Jewish living to my kids and a resource for them on their individual journeys. I realized that my goal was not to write articles of biblical scholarship that few would ever read.  I wanted to be on the front lines of Jewish education, grabbing kids’ hearts, souls, and minds and exciting them about being Jewish.

I only realized much later that I was following in the path of my teachers. The Director of Judaica of my high school and my Ph.D. advisor each paid careful attention to my interests and provided me with challenges and opportunities to develop my passions.  I try to follow their example for the children in the school I now lead; it is sacred and profound work.  I am deeply grateful to have discovered my calling and to serve the Jewish community each day.

Reshet Ramah Engages Millennials on Sukkot

 Posted by on November 1, 2016 at 3:20 pm  No Responses »  Tagged with: , ,  Categories:
Nov 012016

This article, originally posted in the Washington Jewish Week, describes the work of one rabbi involved with Reshet Ramah, the national alumni outreach program for the Ramah movement’s camper and staff alumni. Reshet Ramah aims to build connections among Ramah alumni by offering local activities and programs inspired by the Ramah camp experience that will be appealing to them today. The Sukkot program discussed in the article was a Reshet Ramah Learning Hub event. The previous evening, 50 Reshet Ramah participants gathered at a Sukkot happy hour in a DC suburb, while another 20 gathered in a parallel happy hour in downtown DC. Reshet Ramah is co-funded by AVI CHAI and the Maimonides Fund.

Cross-posted from
the Washington Jewish Week.

No name, no website, focus on relationships

Conservative movement aims at millennials

As 10 young adults sit in a backyard sukkah in Bethesda, noshing on kosher sushi, Rabbi Rami Schwartzer holds up a lulav, and talks about the meaning of the Sukkot holiday symbol, with its foliage from date, myrtle and willow trees.

At the same time, Schwartzer, 28, was also deconstructing a matter of perennial Jewish consideration — the challenge of keeping young adults involved in the Jewish community. The 2013 Pew survey “A Portrait of Jewish Americans” found that only 24 percent of Jews ages 18 to 29 are members of a synagogue.

That’s why this gathering is at Schwartzer’s home, not a synagogue. Since September, Schwartzer, a Conservative rabbi, has been trying out what could be a new model for how the movement can reach Jewish millennials: Invite them to his home with his wife, Adina Rosen, and host events with the aim of building a Jewish community that isn’t branded or institutional.

“My wife and I open our home for Shabbat every week for a dozen people, we’re doing community service and we’re studying Torah. What we’re doing is Judaism,” said Schwartzer, who is also director of the local Ramah Day Camp, which is affiliated with the Conservative movement.

“There’s a lot of tremendous programs happening in this city [for young Jewish adults],” he said. “What I’ve heard from a lot of people is whether you’re single or in a couple or in a family, it’s hard to feel like you have a real intimate connection with someone. And so my wife and I focus on that intimacy.”

“Schwartzer is concentrating on one-on-one relations,” said Rabbi Bill Rudolph, co-founder and president of what he calls the “millennial project,” who hired Schwartzer.

Registered as a 501c3 nonprofit, it has raised $150,000 and has institutional backing from 12 local Conservative congregations, Camp Ramah, the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and a handful of family foundations. Schwartzer said he is resisting conventional branding; his initiative doesn’t yet have a name or a website. Schwartzer’s home is next to Congregation Beth El of Montgomery County, in Bethesda, but he isn’t on staff of that synagogue or any other.

Still, Schwartzer is thinking strategically and tracking his progress — he said that in just two months, 142 different people have attended his events, and he has had 496 different “touchpoints,” such as exchanging emails or getting coffee with someone.

Schwartzer said that since he doesn’t have the responsibilities of a pulpit rabbi, he is able to focus all of his time on relationships. “I consider myself a community organizer,” he said.

“Conservative rabbis are trying to figure out how to strengthen our movement,” said Rudolph, rabbi emeritus at Congregation Beth El. “Rami’s teaching will have our brand, but no one is going to have to sign a loyalty oath to the Conservative movement to participate.”

Rudolph said Schwartzer is practicing “classic outreach: meeting people where they are, physically and spiritually. It’s a non-Chabad Chabad,” he said, referring to the successful haredi Orthodox outreach movement.

One participant in Schwartzer’s Sukkot event last week, Matt Adler, 30, of Bethesda, said he heard about the project through word of mouth; he does Israeli dancing with one of Schwartzer’s friends.

Rabbi Schwartzer at a Sukkot happy hour event. Photo credit: Emily Koo

Rabbi Schwartzer at a Sukkot happy hour event. Photo credit: Emily Koo

“I think the advantage for this group is that since it’s not tied to a synagogue, you really get people ranging from unaffiliated to Reform to Conservative or any post-denominational background,” Adler said. “In many ways this could be the future of Judaism.”

Statistics support Adler’s sentiments about the intermingling of denominations. The 2013 Pew Survey found that four out of every 10 Jewish adults under age 30 have no denominational affiliation, and one third of Jews in their 30s and 40s don’t identify as part of a denomination. By contrast, only about a quarter of Jews 50 and older say they have no denominational attachment.

Schwartzer said that young adults are looking for Jewish connections outside of synagogues.

“[Young Jewish adults] are looking to connect, they’re looking to live the Jewish calendar, they’re looking to do community service and they’re looking to learn, but not necessarily in the building and structure of a synagogue with a membership and all those things,” he said.

Schwartzer added that the time between when people typically finish college and have children is growing, and this means Jewish programming must evolve.

“When you have preschool-aged children, that preschool becomes your community,” he said. “But until that point there is nothing really building those deep connections and community.”

Ultimately, Schwartzer believes that young adults need Jewish community as much as the community needs them.

“This is a time of life when you have real pastoral and spiritual issues and it’s a time of life with great seeking and yearning and a need for community,” he said. “I see myself as a connector.”