Congratulations to Chana German on becoming Executive Director of The Lookstein Center for Jewish Education. AVI CHAI Program Officer Galli Aizenman took the opportunity to ask her some questions about herself, her vision, and her passions.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
I’m from Canada originally, and am the proud graduate of the local day schools. In addition to receiving a stellar education from teachers I will never forget, and the strong work ethic that naturally develops as a result of participating in a dual curriculum, I came away with a very strong sense of Jewish belonging and with it, a sense that I had a responsibility to do my part. I am also the mother of three little people who keep me on my toes.
During my time at The Lookstein Center I’ve worked on a range of projects—really, everything from professional development to curriculum development. Early on, I became fascinated by the way technology has the potential to enhance learning and teaching, and started running educational technology projects that aim to achieve that potential in Jewish education.
What makes you excited about becoming the new director of Lookstein?
The thing that I have always loved the most about The Lookstein Center is that we have never been satisfied with the status quo: this is the way we do this, or this is the way we do that. We can always do better. So we have a strong culture of experimentation, iteration—and yes, throwing ideas into the trash because they were ill-conceived—in order to improve the quality of Jewish education. Lookstein has a strong tradition of pioneering in Jewish educational initiatives. I am excited to take the reins and forge forward.
What is your vision for the future of Lookstein?
We’ll be focusing on keeping Jewish education relevant and meaningful in the twenty-first century. This means supporting the range of schools and educators, making sure that they have the tools and skills they need to ensure a community of engaged and educated Jews. To that end, we will be building out from our core competencies of curriculum development – mainly digital – and professional development.
You had been the director of the Lookstein Virtual Jewish Academy since it was founded in 2014. Tell us more about LVJA and some of its successes over the years you have been involved?
At its launch in 2014, Lookstein Virtual Jewish Academy was not much more than an idea. The essence was that online Jewish studies courses could strengthen schools in a range of ways, with the students ultimately being the beneficiaries. It’s gratifying that we’ve been able to accomplish that.
Our partner schools really do a fantastic job using Lookstein Virtual in strategic ways in their communities. Some expand learning opportunities for their student bodies and enable their students take courses that really interest them, some use our courses to free up faculty time to run special projects, and others identify students who need something different to reach their full potential. And that’s exactly the point—schools are empowered to achieve their goals, whatever they are.
Whenever I have the chance, I like to look at student feedback and read first-hand accounts of how the courses are impacting our students. Students often get so passionate about whatever it is they are studying—Tanach, Jewish history, etc—that they say things like—“it’s inspired me to”—and you can fill in the blank here: learn more, do more, explore more. Knowing that our work is having a real impact on their Jewish path is what drives us all forward.
What are your passions in Jewish education? Where do you see it going in the future?
Historically, the Jewish community has always been the aggregate of many types—doers, thinkers and scholars, artists of all kinds. Today, the path to an engaged Jewish community is acknowledging, embracing, and acting on this—we’re a diverse bunch and have different aspirations, passions, and learning needs. I am hopeful that there will be a wider acceptance and use of personalization and in constructivism in our schools, so that we are there to support each and every student on their Jewish journeys.
I think we will also see a simultaneous move toward and away from technology. On the one hand, there is a recognition that educational technology—done right—can transform learning from a one-size fits all to a meaningful and hands-on experience. On the other hand, all of us need to step away from our devices more often: to go outside and be awed by nature, to sit down with a group of friends and chat face-to-face. We should be able to find the right balance over time.