EdJewTopia is a monthly eNewsletter devoted to the field of complementary Jewish education.
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December 2011: Advice From Our Readers

In honor of Channukah, we issued a call for "8 pieces of good advice for complementary Jewish education", and you answered. 

The following articles comprise a compilation of  These authors represent a wide spectrum of age, geographic location and role within Jewish education. 

We hear from Team Madrichim (high school students--how great!) in Ohio, the 92nd Street Y and central agencies in Philadelphia and Elmira, NY. We have contributors from Congregation Albert in New Mexico, NewCAJE and Jewish Holidays In A Box

Some of the advice contradicts some of the other advice. There are some repeated themes and some innovative ideas. It is all worthwhile wisdom from our colleagues to consider as we move forward in our pursuit of excellent Jewish education. 

And, to add a little light to your Channukah celebrations, we've included our cool tools! And a great Channukah video!

Wishing you and yours a joyous Channukah!

--Adena Raub Dershowitz, Editor

Team Madrichim
Isaac M. Wise Temple
Cincinatti, OH

1. There is never one right answer.  A good Jewish educator should be familiar with many arguments, and not just the one they like best. That way they can give students many different ideas so that they can forms their own opinions. (Seth Gold, 12th grade)

2. Love what you’re teaching, and your students will love it too! (Alyssa Weisman, 10th grade)

3. Keep creating new and interesting ways to teach about Judaism.  Use art, music, etc. (Ben Kleymeyer, 12th grade)

4. Let students express themselves, and never patronize them. (Anneke Stern, 9th grade)

5. Make it relevant.  Relate Jewish topics to concepts that kids enjoy and can relate to. (Jo Wegner, 12th grade)

6. If the students aren’t engaged in the lesson, don’t be afraid to change it as you go. (Rachel Klein, 10th grade)

7. Jewish friends are the best friends.  (Graham David, 11th grade)

8. MAKE IT FUN! (Pretty much everyone!)

Isaac M. Wise Temple in Cincinnati, OH features one of the largest madrichim programs in the country, with nearly 100 high schoolers serving as teaching assistants in our Religious School (both Sundays and Wednesdays).  Rachel Kasten, the “coach” and coordinator for “Team Madrichim” can be reach at

Rabbi David Kalb
92nd Street Y
New York, NY

1. Expose people to Judaism. Do not impose it on them. Everyone is on a different part of the journey. Do not advocate your approach. Give students the opportunity to see as many Jewish experiences as possible and empower them to choose the approach that is correct for them. Where they are today might not be the same place they are later in life. Our role is to help people to see Jewish learning as a life time journey.

2. Hebrew language should be taught in small group settings or better yet, one on one. This will both increase the quality of language instruction and free up class time for a more positive experience of learning about Judaism.

3. Expose students to textual learning and interpretation. Why is it that a student comes into a kindergarten class and makes a dreidel for Chanukah, and by sixth grade they are still making the same dreidel? If they can study the Constitution in school why can’t they study Talmud in a complementary Jewish education program? True, they can not study it in Aramaic, by why not in English?

4. Make it fun. If a student leaves a complementary Jewish education program on a given day and learned many facts but hated being there, the program failed. If students are not enjoying themselves in a complementary Jewish education program, they will not learn a thing. If they are enjoying themselves, there is almost no limit to what they can learn. Also, keep in mind, for many students, this is their only weekly experience of being Jewish. If they do not enjoy the program, that means they do not enjoy being Jewish.

5. Hire the best teachers you can. You can have the best books, curriculum and classrooms in the world. None of it will make a difference if you do not have exciting, engaging and enthusiastic teachers who are knowledgeable about Judaism.

6. Bring parents in for programs during class, on holidays and Shabbat. Have adult education classes for parents right after drop off. This will not only educate adults but will show their children that their parents take Jewish learning seriously. Empower your parents to educate their children. For all the good your institution can do, it is important that children see their parents as their teachers. The mitzvah to give a child a Jewish education is given to parents, not rabbis and teachers.

7. Everyone is welcome: people of different levels of observance and philosophies of Judaism, people on different economic levels and from different ethnic backgrounds, regardless of race, color or sexual orientation. A special effort should be made to welcome intermarried families.

8. Every student is an individual. Find the right method for each and every student. Do not turn your program into an assembly line.

Rabbi David Kalb is the Director of Jewish Education at the Bronfman Center for Jewish Life at the 92nd Street Y in New York.

Ellen Zimmerman
Jewish Holidays in a Box, LLC
Winchester, VA

1. Select warm, welcoming family education materials that help parents and children learn together how to celebrate Jewish holidays.  It is critical that we help parents gain the confidence to lead family celebrations, if we want Jewish education to expand beyond dropping the kid off at the Sunday school door.  

2. Sponsor sessions at synagogue for parents to learn about Jewish holidays in short sessions (1.5 – 2 hours), while kids are in Sunday school.  If no teacher is available to lead this, provide clear train-the-trainer materials, so that parents can lead their own groups. (I can provide more detail about this, if desired.)

3. Weave into programming as many interactive lessons as possible, rather than rote lessons. For younger students, see for ideas (e.g., making edible dreidels).   

4. Provide lessons that reflect WIFM (what’s in it for me) for older students.  Example: have students explore their own heritage, gathering anecdotes from parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles to give them a sense of personal identity, history. 

5.Use artistic creations as a way to bring Jewish symbols and ideas to life.  Example: have a class develop its own Haggadah, with activities and illustrations that reinforce the key elements. 

6. Provide innovative lesson plan ideas to Sunday school teachers who, in many synagogues, are parents or college students with very little preparation time.  This approach gives teachers a good starting point, while still allowing them to amplify/modify, according to their own creative preferences.  When lesson plans are formalized in this way, neither the school, nor the individual teachers, will need to reinvent the wheel, year after year.  I’m not referring to the “work on pages 36 – 40” types of plans, but the creative ideas mentioned above.

7. Welcome students to religious school with Jewish and Israeli melodies to set an upbeat mood.  Over the course of a year, students will learn a whole new musical vocabulary.  You can key the selections to holidays and seasons, just by the use of existing CDs. 

8. Make music instruction as a regular component of Jewish education.  Tap into the power of music to form connections with synagogue life, home celebrations, and even Hebrew language. 

Marketer/teacher/writer Ellen Zimmerman started Jewish Holidays in a Box, LLC to support families who want to lead more joyous home holiday observances, with less stress.  Hanukkah kits are available now, with Passover, Shabbat, and Rosh Hashanah kits in development.

Tammy Kaiser
Congregation Albert
Albuquerque, NM

Jewish education must be:

1.       Enduring
2.       Questioning
3.       Connected
4.       Relevant
5.       Factual
6.       Purposeful
7.       Borderless
8.       Lifelong

Tammy Kaiser is the Director of Lifelong Learning at Congregation Albert in Albuquerque New Mexico. Kaiser is a doctoral student at Spertus College and is currently writing a curriculum entitled  Adventure, Adversity and Opportunity: Our Jewish Pioneer History in New Mexico. You can find her online at and 
Cool Tools:

Fakebook: Create mock social media profiles for all kinds of characters! 
Microsteps: Free learning management and communication tools!  

Channukah Apps: List of apps for celebrating and learning about Channukah! 

Cool Channukah Video!
Light Up The Night 
The Ein Prat Fountainheads

Gloria Becker
Jewish Learning Venture
Philadelphia, PA

1. Always remember, it's about the kids. Put them first.
2. Keep a sense of humor.

3. Encourage family participation from the very beginning.

4. Communicate early and often. Show off the kids' work to the school and community.

5. Be passionate about Judaism.

6. Participate in Jewish life outside the classroom.

7. Create a learning community in your classroom, school, and congregation.

8. Be open to experimenting.
Gloria Becker, EdD is the former Education Director and the current Program Director for Educational Technology at Jewish Learning Venture. She is a lifetime student of Judaism.

Cherrie Koller-Fox
Newton, MA

1. When we adapt educational techniques and technology from non-Jewish culture to Jewish education, we must ask ourselves, "What is Jewish about this?". How does it help us in our core task of transmitting Jewish culture and religion?

2. Literacy is the goal of Jewish elementary education. Students won’t feel comfortable as adults in Jewish settings unless they can read Hebrew fluently, have engaged in a serious study of Torah, and have a familiarity with the range of ideas in Jewish history and culture and theology. They must leave school feeling successful and competent. One critical educational task is to help students find personal meaning and connection to the material we teach.

3.  Family education, at its heart, is adult education. Our job is to empower parents to be the Jewish teacher of their own children. Family education gives us an opportunity to model behavior and provide support for parents.

4.  Children need Jewish friends to strengthen their Jewish identity. Therefore, Jewish education must provide more time for these friendships to develop within our settings through informal and experiential activities.

5.  We shouldn’t ever forget the approximately, 75% of Jewish children who get their education through complementary schools. These schools need more resources—money and time—in order to be successful. They need more full-time staff in order to better serve the schools and do critical educational work in congregations such as supporting/teaching new parents, intermarried families and seniors.

6.  The Jewish teacher is a crucial piece of the Jewish educational picture. This may seem obvious  but the reality today is that teachers are seen as expendable. We need to invest in their continuing education and vastly improve their working conditions to attract the best and brightest. Teachers deserve benefits for the work they do—including part-time benefits for part-time work. Teachers need compensated time to become more knowledgeable in order to be better equipped to transmit Jewish learning to the next generation.

7.  Jewish teachers are the rabbis to their students. Teachers must bring a spiritual presence to their classrooms and learn how to minister to each student.

8.  We must build a strong NewCAJE that will advocate for Jewish education and Jewish teachers across all denominations and settings. Teachers need support, a career ladder, on-going professional development and a community of inspiration and innovation. NewCAJE will be all that and more.
Rabbi Cherie Koller-Fox is a founder and current President of NewCAJE. She is a pioneer in the field of Family education and is currently writing an edition of the Torah for first readers using the translations of Everett Fox and appropriate commentaries for children and their teachers. 
Paul Solyn
Jewish Community School
Elmira, NY

1. Israel education isn’t a magic bullet. While visiting Israel has a powerful effect on anyone who feels even the slightest bit Jewish, studying Israel in class is only meaningful if the student already feels Jewish. Otherwise it’s just social studies.
2. Learning prayers doesn’t make a person religious. The experience of praying and of attending religious services, is different from that of studying prayers.

3. Time on task matters. Less class time = less learning. Also, less attendance = less learning.

4. It takes commitment. Modeling mature Jewish belief is more important than transmitting information.

5. Students need multiple role models. On the other hand, a teacher, principal, or rabbi is automatically in a different category from anything most students imagine for themselves.

6. Parents have more influence than do teachers. Family support for students’ education—in the form of living Jewishly—is essential.

7. It takes a village. Well, a Jewish community. Learning to be part of the Jewish community is an essential goal of Jewish education. The school, the family, and the whole community need to work together.

8. You’re still Jewish after the bar/bat mitzvah ceremony. Teaching only what is needed for the Mitzvah Event is a recipe for disaster. Jewish learning is a lifelong process.
Paul Solyn is director of the Jewish Community School in Elmira, NY. He holds an M.J.Ed. degree and family educator certificate from Hebrew College, Boston.
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EdJewTopia is an e-newsletter devoted to the field of complementary Jewish education(CJE). There are hundreds of thousands of children engaged in community programs, synagogue schools, homeshuling, experiential retreats, and other modes of Jewish engagement. EdJewTopia is designed to highlight professionals' great work, support educators and parents with new tools, and inform the community at large about CJE. We want to hear from you! Email us at