The State of the Obvious

February 23, 2016

Joel Grishaver

koren_matovu_062909_380pxHebrew School is supposed to teach Hebrew. For a short period after the 6-Day war and in sporadic occurrences Hebrew Schools have tried “Modern Hebrew.” Now Hebrew has mainly meant “Prayerbook Hebrew.” The most recent, most successful, and currently popular of these modern Hebrew programs came out of Cleveland (thank you, Nechama and Lifsa) is called Hebrew Through Movement and is pedagogically sound. However “Prayerbook Hebrew” is still granted most favored nation status and there is a logic to this.

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Transliteration and Translation

September 24, 2015

Joel Lurie Grishaver

More than 160 years ago my father was Bar Mitzvah at Temple Ohabai Shalom in Boston. It was a Reform Synagogue with a traditional leaning. My father never learned a letter of Hebrew, he read his Torah Portion off of a sheet of transliteration. He never did learn a letter of Hebrew, but he did OKAY in the Union Prayer Book universe. He was a Youth Leader, a Temple Treasurer and a board member of the Brotherhood and the JCC. In those days, the Reform movement only ran a Sunday School. No Hebrew involved.

Given the apparent motivation and Jewish reality, those days seem to be returning.

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Jewish RIC-CU-LUM OF THE FUTURE

May 4, 2015

The FutureIf we are going to look at the future of Jewish education, at some point we are going to have to stop talking about technique and look at the content. My assumption is that not only are we going to be teaching in a host of new ways, but that we are going to be teaching for very different ends. If the student of the future demands a whole new approach, then the school of the future grows very different skills.

We know that the child of the future will enter with a very different set of skills and a very different learning context. We know that the families of the future will practice their Judaism in very different ways: synagogues will be less central, Israel less overarching. And ethnicity will be the strongest Jewish connections. Parents will be making very different demands. We know that (a) there will be few content demands, (b) Hebrew will not make any more of a difference that we can give to it, (c) life cycle will be more brief (think of shiva as “one” and not “three”) and (d) seeing as parents feel that they learned nothing (and are just as good for it) their worries about their children’s knowledge will be less so. And witnessing those who show up, (e) intermarriage is not the apocalypse.

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Redemption or a Service Industry

September 5, 2014

ballroom dancingThis started as a phone call. As part of the redefinition of Torah Aura Productions, I now spend three days a week calling educational leaders. I am speaking to a Director of Education. In a response to a simple “How are you?” I get, “Today is one of those times when ‘Service Industry’ seems to be winning. You know what I mean? I didn’t, but I listened.

“Most of us when we go into Jewish education think we are entering a redemptive process. We really believe that our work will make for a better world. That vision get wipes out when we deal with parents who believe that we are actually working for a local service industry.”

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F.A.Q.s or Did You Read Relational Judaism?

March 1, 2014

groupJoel Lurie Grishaver

1. “Why didn’t they come?”

There were forty families in the family class. At the most recent special event thirteen kids and five parents showed. I was asked, “Where was everybody—they love this class and I have been working with them since kindergarten?”

Then came my Q & A:

Q: Did the congregational Rabbi come?

A: No

Q: Was the educator there?

A: No

Q: Were the right families involved in the planning of the event?

A: No families were involved in planning.

Q: Who organized the food?

A: The teacher.

Q: Has anyone read Ron Wolfson’s  Relational Judaism?

2. “Should I buy I-Pads for my “Hebrew School?”

Has anyone asked “What are you going to do with them?

My friend and code-writing genius Russel Neiss says No.” I say, “Yes” and “No.”

I need to ask a number of questions:

  1. Is there an IEP for using them? Is there a reason you need them—or will the reason perhaps follow if you have them?
  2. Is there software you plan on using? There is nowhere near enough Jewish software to validate the costs.
  3. Do you invite Aish and Chabad to teach at your school? Most of what you google on Jewish topics is going to take you to Aish and Chabad sites.
  4. Do you care if your kids watch porn, text, or in some other way blow off your designated use? Don’t tell me you will put filters on the web-link. Any eleven- year-old who can’t hack their way past parental controls isn’t worth keeping.
  5. Do you have enough bandwidth, tech-savvy and other support resources available?
  6. Have your teachers been trained in how to teach with computers or smart-pads in the classroom.

If you’ve answered “yes” to enough of these questions then this magazine confirms that I-Pads will be “the love of your life.” There are lots of perfectly good uses for computer, or rather smart pads, or rather I-pads but do you have a trail of bread crumbs to follow to find them. Do not assume that students and therefore their parents will love you better if you have them.

Some schools are indeed putting technology to good use, but all of those schools have dealt with the above questions. Computers are good ways of doing research (but that means access to the web). There is some Jewish software and more is coming but not enough to support the hardware cost. There are a zillion good ways of using secular apps and sites—but you have to be literate in order to use them in a Jewish context—and you are never going to do as well as secular schools who didn’t manage to put a TV in every classroom. They had the government helping them do so. An episode of Sleepy Hollow that had a golem doesn’t justify YouTube any more than the old X-Files with a golem did.

I-Pads are perfectly useful tools but managing a lot of them is really hard—ask any mother with two kids and three tablets in a doctor’s office.

Besides, has anyone read Ron Wolfson’s Relational Judaism?

If fact, we (Torah Aura) are busy developing e-books, applications and projects all of which put technology to good Jewish use. There is a direction here, but buying the I-pads doesn’t get you there.

3. How Can I Reduce My School to One Day a Week (and still have it work as well)?

In 1981, the year we started Torah Aura Productions and began Torah Aura Bulletin Board, I wrote an essay called “Time Wars” (that had nothing to do with Dr. Who). It was a then reaction to the tendency to shorten three day a week schools down to two days a week because of working mothers having a hard time carpooling their kids. I wrote as if—but didn’t actually know—that it was the beginning of an end. Now most schools are only one or two days a week and still are downsizing. With the demolition of contact hours has come a radical downsizing of expectations. The question is no longer one of achieving less with less, but how much do we still have any right to hope for.

So this rabbi calls me and says that conditions on the ground have made it necessary for them (a traditional Conservative congregations) to condense their program that had been (a) two days a week and (b) a required junior congregation on Shabbat morning. Given the local pressures, the school was going down to one day a week. The Rabbi called me and asked me the best way to do this. I raised a couple of questions and found out that they already had these things covered.

First, I pointed out that neuroscience says that to move things from short term memory to long term memory (that makes learning a second language successful) takes three interventions a week. The Rabbi added that they were adding a second treatment with a fifteen minute a week over the internet class with a teacher. That built them up to twice a week, use of our new PrayerTech application will bring them up to three times a week. Success is again possible.

Second, I talked about Stockholm syndrome (where captives identify with those who are holding them captive). This has frequently turned schools into communities. The Rabbi took my point, saw me with a new congregational informal family program and raised me with a new youth director.

The basic truths here are the lesson. (1) Reducing number of Hebrew sessions per-week increases significantly Hebrew failure (because of the needs of long term memory needs). (2) Jewish futures are built out of the communal bonds built outside of the school experience. If you are going to reduce the shared hours, you have to build up the other communal contact points including youth group, summer camp, and Israel experiences. Reduce the class hours and you have to up group participation in community building experiences.

The Leaning Tower of Pizza

I learned in a high school science class that the Tower in Pisa will never fall as long as the balance point of the tower remains within its based. It is a precise measurement. I studied a lot of science and I used to be sure about a whole number of things. Now I learn Torah and am sure of very little. I no longer know the shape of things to come. Like most old men, I can tell you better what is gone than I can tell you what next will be. I am not saying that “I know nothing,” but I am now rather very much on the curve. I have read Relational Judaism. I have watched all of Metropolis several times, but all the dates that I have known for the coming of the messiah have passed. I don’t know why the leaning tower is still standing—must have been some intervention. I guess I am now more into dreams than visions.


More Effective “Personalization.”

January 30, 2014

I get this e-mail from Ira Wise that is titled: “Your Next Topic” with just a web address in the body of the e-mail. I worry that his e-dress book may have been hacked and the web page will be filled with worms, viruses and other nasty things. I shrug my shoulders and clicked on the site. It turned out to be a good story and the topic of this article.

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The 60 Cycle Hum of the Human Soul

April 4, 2013

Because I understand loneliness, I believe in the existence of the human soul. I believe that we are engineered with a need for connection. People aren’t meant to be alone. More than just believing that infants need attention, I believe that all of us need family, community, and a circle of friends. Loneliness is the 60 cycle hum of the human soul turned on and running, but not yet connected. It is the screaming over the phone line—waiting for a modem on the other side to respond.

There are two basic ways of dealing with loneliness without making friends. One is to suffer. The other is to mask the loneliness with business. We try to be too busy to feel, or we try to numb the feeling. At the moment we have two realities. At this stage in the development of technology there seems to be a lot of engagement that can best be described as isolating.

I believe in love letters. Correspondence can develop relationships. The research on social media suggests that social media connections can deepen relationships but have a hard time creating them (see Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger).

AFFILIATION

Here is what I know. Affiliation (and contributions) are trending down. It is as if a guy in a rubber dinosaur suit is crushing a city built of cardboard buildings. Jewish institutions are closing, merging, and downsizing. Jews are staying away in droves. What is easy to witness is the fact that teens are staying away from all youth movements and report that they don’t want cliques (see Current Trends in Jewish Teen Participation with Out-of-School Activities). Show me a teen that doesn’t want to be part of a clique and it is bad news for the Jets and the Sharks. Likewise, boys in particular (who are notorious at being busy playing video games and hacking) are staying away from any Jewish groups.

While we are often complaining that Jewish institutions are not investing enough in technology, ironically this is the technology that creates the business that impedes membership. If the Jewish people are going to fight for their future, technology (positive or negative) is not the issue, community (and affiliation) is.

THE BLAME GAME

We blame the Religious School (and demand that it only be fun) while simply not joining or not attending the synagogue that is the real source of the alienation. It is not only the memory of the synagogue not being fun, of it as a source of boredom, but that as Christopher Lasch in The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations describes it the new narcissist keeps far away from any involvements that might limit his freedom and mobility. And, yes, I am suggesting that those lost in the reflection of the iPad screen and worship at the idol of the latest and the coolest are narcissists.

I want it clear; I am not blaming the technology, though it tends to inflict dopamine addiction, but the context in which it is place. I am not blaming the victims of boredom, though I am saddened by their response. I am concerned about the Jewish community’s and the Jewish educational communities’ response to non-involvement in that they have forgotten that our greatest gift is the ability to end loneliness. Community—not reinforced individuality—is our best sell. We need not go into the ontology of “freedom” here. It is enough to say that belonging and feeling connected does not limit free will.

We need to listen through the apparent selfishness and consumerism of the current generations and understand that they are masking their loneliness with a great new business.

OUR BEST TRUTH

We should be on Facebook and Twitter. We need apps and websites, and we have to make peace with technology and those who use it. But our strongest sell needs to be, “We can end loneliness.” Our schools are a place of friendships. Our communities are accepting, supportive, and welcoming. Where those things are not true—we must make them true.

Ron Wolfson latest hit (after “welcoming”) will be Relational Judaism. He is right and his book will be the next great “The Jewish Book.” It is well deserved.

In the same way, Gila Gevirtz’s new Experiencing Sacred Community should be the new standard for Jewish education. To build a shining Jewish future—we need a round table—we need a communal Judaism.

Rather than thinking of this moment as a beginning of decline—or even a radical call for innovation (though that is never bad) think of it as a moment where the loneliness and need that will build the future is fermenting. While bells and whistles can mask loneliness, they can never solve it. The need for human contact will give us a future.

Skype may be a foreshadowing of teleportation. Texting certainly has replaced the quill.

But remember “we need one another…” because “no man is a keyboard.”