Deborah Fishman

Mar 122019

The second day of the Prizmah Conference in Atlanta, GA included a unique opportunity to use design thinking to crack “The Questions that Matter Most,” a dinner celebrating the field, and a rousing performance by the Distant Cousins. Throughout the day, there were also sessions offered that allowed an exploration of trends and ideas in the field that affect all areas of Jewish day schools. In accordance with the conference theme, “Dare to Dream,” here are some dreams from this second day of the conference.

  • We will make the case for Jewish day schools using evidence and research.
    In a session on “What makes for a great Jewish day school?” Dr. Alex Pomson and Dr. Jack Wertheimer discussed their research underway at nine Jewish day schools to explore three questions: 1) How is Jewish day school today a different “animal” today than 20 years ago? 2) How are day schools going about trying to address their challenges? 3) How do day schools understand what the educated Jew of the 21st century needs? The session discussed how the emerging research could be used to inform how day school leaders and other stakeholders make the case for Jewish day school in their communities.

  • Israel will be infused throughout Jewish day school life.
    “Israel lives within and through us; therefore, learning about Israel is most effective when woven throughout a learner’s experiences.” Dr. Lesley Litman from The iCenter talked about the work of iNfuse, a program that helps Jewish day schools explores questions such as: What does an Israel infused (in and through the learning) educational setting look like? How do we go about creating an Israel-infused environment? The conclusion was that Israel should be a living place – beyond “flags and falafel,” closer to “a shared language.”
  • Jewish day schools will thrive through creative financial strategies.
    At “Alternative revenue sources: yes, you can,” Dan Perla of Prizmah facilitated a conversation about bold new ideas that might help schools stabilize finances. The San Diego Jewish Academy has experimented with monetizing day school spaces, catering, and international exchange students, among other creative ideas. We also heard about an idea for a communal tuition fund that pays tuition and allows parents to pay it back interest-free based on income over time, using life insurance as collateral.
  • The Jewish day school field will be strong and vibrant, and continue to realize all its dreams.
    On the occasion of AVI CHAI’s last North American Jewish Day School Conference before our sunset, we were very moved by five toasts from field leaders: Rabbi Ari Segal, Cheryl Finkel, Nina Bruder, Jonathan Cannon, and Rabbi Marc Baker. May the field continue to realize its dreams.

Lesley Litman presenting

Jack Wertheimer Presenting

L-R: Nina Bruder, Rabbi Ari Segal, Cheryl Finkel, and Dr. Jonathan Cannon during the toasts

Mar 112019

The Prizmah Conference is taking place March 10-12 in Atlanta, GA. It brings together Jewish day school leaders, lay leaders, and communal professionals from across the North American day school landscape to learn from one another and be inspired to dream together. The first day’s full-conference experiences included an opening by George Couros on the Innovator’s Mindset and a dinner featuring an ELI Talks StorySlam with five presenters sharing stories about their dreams for Jewish education. In between, a plethora of sessions (among them quite a few by AVI CHAI grantees) further shed light on the theme of dreams. Here are just a few examples of dreams witnessed at Prizmah 2019:

  • Jewish day school leaders will be the change we want to see in the world.
    DSLTI alumni spoke at “Big Jewish Questions on Our Minds” on how to reimagine critical areas of day school leadership work ranging from inclusion of diverse learners to the changing demographics in the Jewish community. Many important ideas were shared about change, such as, “People want change, but they do not want to change” and the idea of looking internally at ourselves before we go out and change the world. The leaders who spoke – Andrea Cheatharn Kasper, Lianne Heller, Rabbi Ari Leubitz, Benjamin Mann, and Rabbi Harry Pell – and all the others engaged in this important work are an inspiration in not only what they do, but also who they are as leaders and how they are moving and will continue to move the field forward.
  • Children will construct Jewish meaning through exploration in a Jewish environment that stimulates and challenges.
    Rabbi Sheryl Katzman together with Carol Green and Laura Weisblatt shared about work conducted through the Legacy Heritage Instructional Leadership Institute Early Childhood Rabbinics Initiative, “Developing Text Aligned Learning Experiences for Young Children.” The conversation included the importance of giving early childhood teachers authentic foundational learning around Jewish texts so they can understand how to prepare the environment for students where Jewish meaning will flourish.
  • Courageous school leaders will have a clear vision of their schools’ Hebrew language goals and align their teaching to those goals.
    This dream was expressed in “Why Hebrew? Which Hebrew?” with Ofer Salman Sagi and Dr. Esty Gross, about how to “definite and refine your vision for Hebrew language instruction and set realistic and attainable goals.” Data is important to inform steps to realize that vision.
  • Schools will collaborate to shift paradigms and personalize learning in the classroom.
    Craig Carpentieri, Rabbi Avi Bossewitch, and Jodi Bruce presented on JBlend Miami, an initiative of CAJE-Miami in partnership with the DigitalJLearning Network of The Jewish Education Project that allows schools to collaborate to bring about sustainable, learning-driven change.

What dreams will you dream today?

In Case You Missed It: Recently on the AVI CHAI Blog

 Posted by on March 7, 2019 at 8:04 am  No Responses »  Categories:
Mar 072019

Whether you’ve been busy getting ready for the Prizmah conference, or filling out your application for the Harvard programs, or simply engaged in day-to-day life at a Jewish day school or other institution, we know you may not have caught all the latest posts on the AVI CHAI blog. Here we provide some posts of interest – you can print them out for some great Shabbat reading, and don’t forget to share with your school, professional network, and beyond.

Giving Away Knowledge, Free of Charge
By Deena K Fuchs

AVI CHAI has one year remaining before our sunset, having supported Jewish education since 1984. So what do we do with the knowledge we’ve accumulated over the years, and how we can best ensure that it has value for others? That is where thought partnership comes in. AVI CHAI’s Deena K. Fuchs writes on our aspirations for this year, and lessons we’ve learned so far about this work.

Getting Beyond the Survey
By Susan Kardos

Ever heard colleagues say something like: “We just finished this program/initiative/event and we want to do a survey…”? AVI CHAI’s Dr. Susan Kardos shares key insights and questions to develop effective surveys that garner useful and informative data.

Meet Chana German
By Galli Aizenman

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.

Toward a Strategic Philanthropic Approach to Field Building
By Susan Kardos

AVI CHAI’s Dr. Susan Kardos shares how we arrived at a field-building strategy as we planned for AVI CHAI’s sunset in 2020. “What became increasingly clear, with 10 years left to operate, was our overwhelming desire to leave behind a strong Jewish Day School field with the talent, institutions, resources, and ability to learn and innovate – a field that could meet the evolving educational needs of Jewish youth.”


Prizmah Conference: Sessions of Interest

 Posted by on March 5, 2019 at 10:24 am  No Responses »  Tagged with:  Categories:
Mar 052019

We are very excited for the Prizmah Conference, taking place in Atlanta on March 10-12. We encourage you to join us at the following sessions showcasing AVI CHAI grantees and their work.

Sunday, March 10

2:45-5:45, Int’l Salon 4
Big Jewish Questions on Our Minds
Ray Levi (DSLTI), Benjamin Mann (Solomon Schechter of Manhattan), Lianne Heller (Sulam), Ari Leubitz (Atlanta Jewish Academy), Harry Pell (Solomon Schechter of Westchester), Andrea Cheatham Kasper (Solomon Schechter of Greater Hartford)

2:45-4, Int’l Salon A
Lightning Round: Six Mind-Blowing Presentations in One Session!
​Tatyana Dvorkin (DigitalJLearning), Elysa Blumenthal (Ramaz), Avi Bossewitch (RASG Hebrew Academy), Jodi Bruce (Lehrman Day School), Craig Carpentieri (Scheck Hillel), Mindy Gold (EdtechMMG), Barry Kislowicz (Herzog Global)

2:45-4, Int’l Salon 9
Existing and Potential Government Funding for Day Schools 
Maury Litwack (Teach Coalition)

3:15-4, DreamLab: JSTEAM Lab
Interdisciplinary Game Design and Project Based Learning
Carina Rock, Anat Goodman (Jewish Interactive)

​4-5:45, Int’l Salon 7
Making Evidence-Informed Educational Decisions
Susan Kardos (AVI CHAI), Sharon Feiman-Nemser, Mitchel Malkus (CASJE)

4:30-5:45, DreamLab – Hebrew Language Lab
Why Hebrew? Which Hebrew?
Esty Gross (NETA-CET)

4:30-5:45, M103
Designing Jewish Learning Environments for Early Childhood Classrooms
Carol Green (Netivot HaTorah Day School), Laura Weisblatt (Luria Academy),
Sheryl Katzman (Legacy Heritage Instructional Leadership Institute)

5:15-5:45, DreamLab: JSTEAM Lab
Game Design for JSTEAM
Carina Rock (Jewish Interactive)

5:15-5:45, DreamLab: JSTEAM Lab
Using Technology to Enhance Human Interaction
Chana Kanzen (Jewish Interactive)

Monday, March 11

9-9:30, DreamLab: JSTEAM Lab
Game Design for JSTEAM
Carina Rock, Anat Goodman, Sammy Morhaim (Jewish Interactive)

9-10:15, M102
​YOULead: Hiring, Placement, and Talent Design
Maccabee Avishur, Shelly Sadon (Prizmah)

9-10:15, Int’l Salon 2
Imagining a More Soulful Faculty
Aryeh Ben David, Michal Fox Smart (Ayeka)

9-10:15, M105
Infusing Israel into Day School Life: A Holistic Approach
Lesley Litman, Jan Darsa, Dvora Goodman (iCenter/iNfuse)

9-10:15, Int’l Salon 10
Assessing the Dream of Hebrew Education, Part 1
Scott Goldberg (MaDYK), Kyle Ennis (Avant Assessment), Liat Kadosh, Tal Gale (Hebrew at the Center)

10:45-12, Int’l Salon 10
Assessing the Dream of Hebrew Education, Part 2
Scott Goldberg (MaDYK), Kyle Ennis (Avant Assessment), Liat Kadosh, Tal Gale (Hebrew at the Center)

10:45-12, M105
What Makes for a Great Jewish Day School?
Jack Wertheimer, Alex Pomson (AVI CHAI case studies)

10:45-12, Int’l Salon 7
Connecting Academic Excellence and Menschlichkeit
Allison Cook, Orit Kent (Pedagogy of Partnership)

10:45-12, M101
A View From the Top: How Can We Recruit and Retain Quality Judaic Studies Teachers
​Aviva Golbert (Pardes Institute), Fayge Safran (JNTP), Sharon Feiman-Nemser (Mandel Center), Deena Rabinovich (Legacy Heritage Jewish Educators Project), Melanie Eisen (Prizmah), Tania Schweig (Oakland Hebrew Day School), Elana Rand, Suzanne Brooks (Azrieli Graduate School)

10:45-12, M107
Reimagining Tefilah Education in Your School
Susan Wall (Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies)

10:45-12, Int’l Salon 3
The Role of Community Partnerships in Sustaining Educational Innovation
Nina Bruder (JNTP), Valerie Mitrani (CAJE-Miami), Julie Gordon (REACH
​Chicago), Jeffrey Liberty (BetterLesson), Amy Amiel (Samis Foundation)​

10-45-12, Int’l Salon 4
Financial Planning 3.0: High Value Propositions with Affordability
​Harry Bloom (Measuring Success)

Tuesday, March 12

10:30-11, DreamLab: JSTEAM Lab
Game Design for JSTEAM
Carina Rock, Anat Goodman, Sammy Morhaim (Jewish Interactive)

10:30-11:45, Int’l Salon 10
Classroom Practices to Promote Personalization of Learning
Rachel Mohl Abrahams (AVI CHAI), Uriel Lubetski (HALB), Craig Carpentieri, Nancy Penchev, Monica Wagenberg (Scheck Hillel)

10:30-11:45, Int’l Salon A
Building Relationships Between Schools in Israel and Abroad
Lisa Micley (OJSC), Reut Noyman (Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism), Yael Katz, Merav Shany (JAFI)

12:15-1:30, M101
Two Pathways to Schoolwide Personalization
Rachel Mohl Abrahams (AVI CHAI), Yehuda Chanales (Fuchs Mizrahi School), Gil S. Perl (Kohelet Yeshiva

12:15-1:30, Int’l Salon 8
Identity Development and Connection to Israel: A New Approach
Dina Rabhan, Noam Weissman (Jerusalem U), Aaron Bregman (Charles E. Smith)

12:15-1:30, DreamLab: Hebrew Language Lab
Using Data to Improve Learning
Liat Penso, Shoshi Becker (iTaL AM)

Meet Chana German

 Posted by on February 7, 2019 at 5:02 pm  No Responses »  Categories:
Feb 072019

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.

Chana German

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.



Jan 162019

Are you looking for what’s trending in Jewish day school thought leadership? Look no further than eJewishPhilanthropy, where day school leaders have contributed many inspiring articles of late. We recommend you add the following to your reading list.

  1. “Unlocking the Potential of Jewish Day Schools” by Paul Bernstein

Paul Bernstein, CEO of Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools, shares Prizmah’s new five-year strategic plan. The focus is on “unlocking the potential of the inherent link between communities and Jewish day schools to secure a strong Jewish future.”

  1. “The Empowerment of the New Jewish Superhero” by Rabbi David Saiger

How do you teach your students to listen in the Judaic studies classroom – both to the texts, and to their peers? Rabbi David Saiger of Milken Community Schools in Los Angeles participated in the Pedagogy of Partnership (PoP) Day School Educator’s Institute at Hadar and shares thoughts on how “PoP helped me imagine a new reality in which our Torah study changes lives by modeling an essential practice in the world of civil discourse – true, open, listening.”

  1. “College Admissions and ‘Measuring’ Students: A Different Approach for Day Schools” by Alanna Kotler

What do you think about standardized testing, and its role in education and child development? Alanna Kotler argues that it’s time to re-think this role and suggests some innovation in how we define success and learning for our students. As one potential model for Jewish day schools to consider, she talks about the Mastery Transcript Consortium which has been adopted by Gann Academy in Boston.

  1. “In the Face of Tragedy: 10 Lessons Learned by a New Head of School” by Mark Shpall

There have been two mass shootings and a massive forest fire since Mark Shpall, Head of School of de Toledo High School in West Hills, California, assumed the headship at the start of the school year. Mark has helped lead important physical and spiritual services to local families and institutions so that people both within the school and the wider community can start the healing process.

  1. “Re-digging the Wells of the Day School Field” by Deena K. Fuchs

AVI CHAI’s Deena K. Fuchs reflects on the first-ever Day School Investor Summit, convened by Prizmah. Through wisdom from Rabbi Marc Baker of Combined Jewish Philanthropies, Deena shows the power of “re-digging the wells” of the day school field, through which the convening “unearthed innovations in day schools across the country, we unpacked new paradigms for effective lay leadership, we revisited messages on day school impact, and we surfaced new philanthropic models for day school investment.”

Tu B’Shvat and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

 Posted by on January 14, 2019 at 11:14 am  No Responses »  Tagged with:  Categories:
Jan 142019

This year, we have a double celebration – the coinciding of Tu B’shvat, the Jewish New Year of the Trees, and MLK Day, when we commemorate the great civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. In Jewish day schools, this presents a great opportunity to think about ways to integrate your Judaic and general studies curriculum.

Fortunately, there are many resources available to give you ideas for your classroom or even to do at home. Here are some resources that are available:

  1. Jewish Learning Matters provides a lesson plan by JTeach, “Dr. King, Honi, and me,” focusing on the concept of legacy, what kind of impact we want to make on the world, and making sure our values are aligned with our actions. The lesson includes a hands-on art project for students to reflect on and explore these ideas.
  1. Hazon offers a Tu B’Shvat Hagaddah which has a helpful source page on the connection to MLK Day. It compares a source from the Talmud (“Anyone who is capable of protesting injustice in their home and does not, is responsible for the outcomes of their neglect…” -Bablyonian Talmud, Shabbat 54b) to Dr. King’s famous idea “why can’t we wait?” and asks thought-provoking questions such as “When the world and its inhabitants are being attacked, where is our sense of urgency on the environment and to ensure that ecosystems are sustainable?…How do we make this Tu B’shvat a critical encounter with the urgent needs of our planet Earth?”
  1. PJ Library notes that Tu B’Shvat is a great opportunity for tikkun olam, repairing the world, as we think about our environment and how we can better it, such as by doing park cleanup. Likewise, Dr. King dedicated his life to making the world a better place. The site provides service ideas and activities for preschool, elementary, and middle school age students.
  1. Here are some ideas of programming day schools and synagogues are planning in communities across the country:

We would love to hear how you marked this double celebration at your school. Please send us your posts and stories!

Year in Review: The Top Posts of 2018

 Posted by on December 28, 2018 at 10:05 am  No Responses »  Categories:
Dec 282018

As we near the end of 2018, we thought we’d look back at the most popular posts from this past year:

  1. Mem Bernstein: “Passing the Baton”
    Mem Bernstein, Chairman of The AVI CHAI Foundation, delivered this keynote address at the Day School Investor Summit, convened by Prizmah November 11-12 at the Ritz Carlton-Bal Harbour. More than 100 philanthropists dedicated to growing the day school field were in attendance – and many more were reached through this blog post.
  2. A Letter from Rabbi Fred Elias: Grateful that Thorns Have Roses
    In this post, Rabbi Fred Elias, middle school principal and school rabbi at the Solomon Schechter of Bergen County, exhibits the resilience – and vulnerability – we know to be among the core skills leaders must possess to effectively lead their schools.
  3. Parsonage for Female Judaic Studies Teachers – Take 2
    Back in the fall of 2011, Dan Perla wrote a short piece on the issue of parsonage and whether female Judaic studies teachers could treat part of their income as non-taxable parsonage (original article here). The article took off in popularity on the AVI CHAI blog. Seven years later, Dan and Maccabee Avishur posted this popular follow-up.
  4. For a Change, an Area of Growing Political Consensus: Government Funding for Jewish Day School Education
    Yossi Prager, AVI CHAI’s Executive Director – North America, wrote this article about government funding for Jewish day schools, noting that day schools receive “several hundred million dollars annually in government funding for a range of non-religious purposes and in 17 states benefit from incentives created by state tax-credit programs.”
  5. Rosh HaShana, Back-to-School, and Teacher Super Powers
    In this post, AVI CHAI’s Dr. Susan Kardos reflects on the super-powers of Jewish day school teachers who spend their days “giving children second chances, occasions for renewal, and opportunities for creation.”

We hope you find these posts helpful in reflecting on 2018 and looking forward to 2019.

Dec 112018

Over the past three years, Perlman Camp in Pennsylvania has brought their previously seasonal Jewish educator, Candice Goldstein, onto the camp’s year-round team, working with staff to ensure Jewish life is a focus throughout the year. She now plans for and supervises a team of summer staff including Cornerstone Fellows and members of the camp’s Perlman Leadership Council, a new fellowship for veteran staff who are empowered to share ownership for supporting the Jewish life at camp, which also helps with the camp’s staff retention. Through her role, Candice helps staff see themselves as Jewish educators and role models. Two media-savvy fellows created a promotional video focused around the core Jewish values which the camp has recently been working on solidifying and amplifying. In a powerful moment in the video talking about Tikkun Middot – Jewish values and moral compass – a camper who grew up as a competitive athlete talks about the power of camp in shaping his values and personal identity.

“At camp I was able to figure out who I was without wrestling. When I went to [college], I stopped playing sports competitively, and I had to do an identity check. I had to figure out who I was without my sport. I reverted to the kind of person that I was at camp. The person I was at camp was the person I wanted to be throughout my life. Camp has really taught me to be a more accepting person, and to accept myself for what I want and who I want to be.”

This is just one story from one of the eight camps that participated in the Hiddur program of the Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC), which is concluding its pilot this year with funding from The AVI CHAI Foundation, Jim Joseph Foundation, and Maimonides Fund. The three-year Hiddur process incorporated coaching from exceptional, seasoned Jewish educators; formed a Hiddur “team” from each camp’s professional and lay leaders to ensure the entire camp community is represented and aligned; created a Community of Practice of all the participating camps to share experiences and amplify impact; and offered ignition grants to fund new Jewish initiatives at each camp as part of the process.

Why all this far-reaching activity, both within and between camp communities? The purpose of Hiddur is to create systemic enhancement of Jewish experiential education at each camp. This was achieved by helping each camp enhance their organization’s ability to transmit Jewish values, culture, and tradition, always in line with their camps’ missions, which reflect different Jewish educational priorities and represent the spectrum of Jewish life. FJC is now engaged in a process of evaluating the outcomes of the Hiddur pilot, and strategizing how to expand the learnings and resources of the first cohort – such as the power of coaching and of convening camps face-to-face – to reach more extensively and into a greater number of camps.

While many of the enhancements enacted by the camps were programmatic and staff-driven, sometimes it included rejuvenating the camp’s physical infrastructure towards this goal. Many alumni of Emma Kaufmann Camp in West Virginia have fond and profound memories of the camp amphitheater, the magical place where Shabbat experiences happen and a lifelong connection to Judaism is formed. Over decades of copious use, the amphitheater became worn.  So Rachael Speck, Associate Director, had an idea. Over 10 days in April, 2018, the camp conducted a “Tush Push,” encouraging alumni to donate to replace the amphitheater benches through a crowdsourced campaign which was driven by the camp’s alumni and staff rather than the administration. In an amazing moment of community engagement, stories and videos poured in about meaningful moments at the amphitheater – and with them, donations. In those ten days, the campaign exceeded the goal of $43,000 with gifts from over 370 donors.

In an article about the campaign, Rachael wrote, “How do we preserve Shabbat at camp? We take care of our sacred spaces.  We preserve them so we can ensure that the Shabbat experience is there for generations to come.  So that the camper who only gets Jewish at camp can have their first Friday night experience in the amphitheater be a defining moment in their Jewish journey.”

Hiddur Mitzvah refers to the concept of beautifying or enhancing a Jewish ritual by appealing to the senses – sounds, smells, tastes, textures, and colors. The Hiddur Initiative has enabled camps to apply all their senses toward reinvigorating Jewish learning and Jewish life, with a wide range of Jewish values as a focus, including spirituality; Hebrew Language; connections to Israel; marking Shabbat as sacred time, Tikkun Olam, personal ethics; Jewish Peoplehood; Nature and Environment, and more.

At Herzl Camp in Minnesota, the process coalesced around an epiphany amongst the staff that the central feature of Herzl’s approach to Judaism is its “culture of curiosity.” This understanding blossomed into a Pluralism Task Force which worked to define what pluralism means and how it shows up at Herzl, exemplifying the penchant for intellectual curiosity and asking “big questions.” New experiential forms of Jewish life and learning now include ways of experiencing Z’man kodesh, highly rated by campers last summer, ranging from traditional service to Torah stories and lessons on leadership and life to hikes and blessings for nature. “Some campers found meaning in learning how to wrap tefillin and appreciated the opportunity to choose and to try this traditional practice. Others appreciated praising nature’s wonders while being outside – listening to the leaves in the wind, smelling the dew-covered landscape, and seeing the natural beauty in which their summer camp is nestled,” wrote Liz Paige, Director of Jewish Education. Other innovative initiatives included introducing Storahtelling, which are skits and discussions about the weekly Torah portion, and a “livebrary,” to which staff contributed books that inspired their Jewish journeys, together with a short written overview. These initiatives further the desire to increase learning amongst camper and staff – all part of the “culture of curiosity,” which is not just a slogan, but also lived out experientially at camp.

We are excited to see the thoughtful ways in which the participating Hiddur camps have charted new paths to holistically express and live their Jewish mission and values. With the pilot concluding shortly, we look forward to seeing how it inspires the campers and the field more broadly.  Kol Hakavod to all the camps and the FJC for their vision and execution of this groundbreaking program.