by Gaby Marantz
Originally published on Makom Community's website on November 27, 2019
Why do we bother learning Hebrew here at Makom Community? Why is it important? How does Hebrew help us access the Jewish text and tradition that forms the foundation of our learning?
One answer, provided to me by one of the Garinim (preK and K kiddos), is that it’s about Tefilah: Prayer, Music, and Movement. We sing a lot of songs in Hebrew, so we need to learn Hebrew. That’s a great answer! Most synagogues in most places use siddurim (prayer books) at least in part in Hebrew. We hope that Hebrew literacy will help our learners feel comfortable jumping into an unfamiliar tefilah service if they can read the words in their siddur.
The other answer that we discussed this week is about text. A whole lot of Jewish text is written in Hebrew, and we think it’s important to be able to read and understand at least some of that Hebrew in order to fully access the text. Let me give you an example. Remember Migdal Bavel (the Tower of Babel)? People built a tower, God didn’t like it, shenanigans ensued.
Here’s one sentence of that text, four ways:
Each of these sentences started with someone looking at the same words in Hebrew and then making some translation choices. The first translation is from the Brick Bible, a graphic novel style book with Lego illustrations that uses the King James translation. The second translation is from Alter. The third is from JPS, the translation we teachers look at when we prep our lesson plans. The fourth one is from us, the version we write and present particularly to our younger kiddos. You’ll notice that there are some colorful markings in the picture above. Each color represents the same word in Hebrew as it appears in each of the translations. Do the translations all use the same words? How are the differences meaningful and impactful to our understanding of the text?
Take just the word in pink. When we talk about God at Makom Community, we almost always use the word “God”. But “Lord” has a bit of a different connotation, right? Maybe gives a sense of God as a ruler or a master over others. And “Yahweh” comes from the particular, unpronounceable God name, in Hebrew spelled yud hey vav hey. This name is used in different contexts from some of the other Hebrew names for God like Elohim or Shechinah. But if you, like our learners, are studying this text from the Makom Community translation, then you miss the information available in other translations. The original Hebrew, though, has all that information available, if we have the literacy to access it.
So that’s our case. Hebrew literacy gives us a fuller understanding of the text we’re digging into. And, if nothing else, it’s important to know your translators and their agendas because translating always involves some interpreting, and interpreting comes with a bias. To work on our Hebrew literacy this week, we spent two days practicing the aleph-bet with writing, shaving cream, singing, wikistix, a dice game, and an agility ladder.
Rabbi Joshua “Yoshi” Fenton is founding Executive Director of Studio 70, A Jewish Learning Laboratory. He has vast experience in developing innovative and engaging projects in various aspects of Jewish education & engagement. Rav Yoshi has his Rabbinic ordination from the Ziegler School and Master’s degree in education and rabbinic studies from the American Jewish University. Rav Yoshi lives with his family in Berkeley, California. When not teaching or writing, he enjoys playing music, cooking, snowboarding, playing basketball, coaching youth sports, gardening, and spending time outside in nature, with his family.
Just about every day at 3pm you can find me standing on the 15th step of one of our corner staircases. I like to look out over the 5000 square ft converted warehouse space called Studio 70. The view never ceases to take my breath away.
In the far back corner is what looks like an old Israeli cafe. Eight children are sitting on stools at the counter. It’s covered with old Israeli restaurant placemats, and Hebrew posters of foods and their appropriate blessings line the walls. The kids sit at the counter singing a song in Hebrew about what’s on the menu and the smell of a warm, home cooked meal fills the room. They’re singing and laughing and hungry after a long day at school.
Passed them I see some kids playing fuzbal, others hanging out on couches, and a group climbing around on the indoor climbing wall. Each of the holds has a different color tape on it. They’re playing a modified game of twister. If I was closer I’d hear them using Hebrew for all the colors.
The other side of the warehouse looks like a mini maker space. Children and educators are hard at work building models of what they imagine a 21st century Beit Hamikdash could look like. Other kids are working on machines that wake up souls to repentance. And at the Lego Beit Midrash a team is constructing models of each of the different kinds of sukkot mentioned in the Mishna.
The back of the warehouse looks like a children’s library. Mixed age groups are sitting at desks or on couches practicing their Hebrew reading and writing with tutors or in hevrutot (pairs). In the upstairs loft behind me the art room has been devoted to making holiday cards, and a group of teens are engaged in a text study in the Beit Midrash.
But what I love most of all are the sounds: the music of children playing and laughing and singing together. It’s loud. It’s joyful. Kids run around the room with purpose, moving from station to station or drifting off to play with friends or do some homework. It’s full of Hebrew language, everyone wants to be there, and it’s a picture of meaningful learning and authentic engagement.
Welcome to Edah, the Bay Area’s premier Jewish learning afterschool program with sites in Berkeley and San Francisco. Five days a week, children from around the Bay Area spend their afternoons, afterschool, in what we believe is the future of supplemental Jewish learning. And not just in the Bay Area. Similar programs can be found in Washington DC, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Toronto, and Philadelphia where hundreds of children make their way by foot, bus, bike or car every day after school to a Jewish afterschool programs. These early adopter kids and their families are paving the way for thousands more as this new and important model for the future of after school Jewish learning gets ready to hit the mainstream.
In 2019 the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that over 60% of American families with children are dual income families. And in many specific locations, that percentage of families is much higher as the cost of living in places like Washington DC or the Bay Area demands it. This trend brings with it a profound need on the part of families and a new opportunity on the part of Jewish organizations: after school care.
The Jewish afterschool movement (yes, we call ourselves a movement) sees this growing trend as an opportunity to restructure and reposition supplemental Jewish learning for families. And in much the same way that Jewish preschools have become both essential service providers for families as well as places of deep meaning and connection, Jewish afterschool programs have the opportunity to do something similar.
Through integrating high quality afterschool care with excellent experiential Jewish learning two huge shifts in the model take place: 1. More time is realized to offer higher quality, more rigorous and more robust Jewish supplemental learning and; 2. Jewish afterschool education is removed from the world of extracurricular activities.
The Edah day begins at around 1:30 pm when our first kindergarteners arrive. They’re with us until 5:30 pm. Children continue streaming through the doors with the biggest waves of arrival between 2-3. Each afterschool program that is part of this movement has slightly different hours and minimum day requirements; at Edah we require a minimum of two days a week. That is, any two days a family would like. And if at some point during the year you’d like to switch days, if there’s room, no problem. The same goes for adding days – just no reductions. This lets families choose other afterschool activities in addition to Edah, on whatever days work for them. If ballet is on Tuesday, they can still do Edah; if soccer is on Wednesday, same.
That means if our average kindergartner attends three days a week (which they do), they’ll be in our immersive learning space after school for up to 12 hours a week. That’s a lot of contact time. It’s what makes the model so educationally powerful. But for our youngest children, and some older ones too, three days isn’t enough (childcare for the family or the children themselves want more). So they come four or even five days a week, and all of a sudden kids are spending as many as 20 hours a week, after school, in an immersive Jewish learning space.
And at Edah more time means a lot. But most of all it means we’re not in a rush. It allows us to turn the reins of learning over to the kids and design programming that speaks to their needs, not the needs of the program. It translates into us educators being able to implement, pedagogically and curricularly, our deepest values and beliefs about education – learning should be joyful, meaningful, and relevant. And it means we can get a lot more done while at the same time letting the kids set the pace.
A New Service
Afterschool programs respond to a pain point for parents that can’t be denied – afterschool care. By offering transportation (Edah takes responsibility for transportation from many area schools), warm food, a place to unwind and a space equally concerned with learning outcomes as it is with social and emotional growth and support, Jewish after school education enters into a new and exciting relationship with families. Your children will love it here! They’ll learn. They’ll make friends and find community. They’ll develop meaningful relationships with adults as loving caregivers and friends. And their Jewish identities will be nourished on a daily basis. Essential to the model, and let’s be honest – we should already be doing this as a community – is the message to parents ….”We’re here to help with all things afterschool!”
This message is more powerful and transformative than you can imagine. For tens thousands of parents throughout North America, the logistics of religious school or Hebrew school and soccer and play practice and ballet are just too much. The five day a week afterschool model responds to that overwhelm in the best way possible, by helping. And that help results in feelings towards the afterschool program and community that much more resemble how families feel about their kids preschools. After school programs become points of affiliation for families. Children and even their families Jewish identities become wrapped up in and formed by the program. And parents embrace the partnership with educators that’s so critical to realizing the best experiences for the kids.
The medieval commentator of the talmud, the Ritva, writes “Even though the commandments are placed upon each individual, all Jews are responsible for one another, they are all a single body, they are like a guarantor who repays the debt of his friend.”
While we stand before God as individuals, as we’re reminded every Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, we walk through the world in community. And that means we are guarantors for each other and we should care and support each other, because we are responsible for one another. We educators and educational organizations need to embrace this essential value and allow it to inform the structure as well as the substance of the Jewish learning we offer. And when we do we realize the holy communities we all are working to build.
At Edah we regularly hear parents talking about how they couldn’t make it without us, and we couldn’t be happier about that. But mostly we hear it from the kids.
Originally published by The Jewish Federation of North America: Ideas in Jewish Education and Engagement.
By Rabbi Joshua Fenton
Over the years, at Studio 70 in Berkeley, we’ve been excited about many new and innovative initiatives taking place in the afterschool Jewish learning space. We’ve made it a priority of our organization to share our own work as well as celebrate the work of others. And we’ve continued to highlight the need for much greater investments to support the field. That’s because there are amazing programs being run after school, in supplemental community-based programs, religious schools and Hebrew schools throughout North America; but you wouldn’t know it.
Hundreds if not thousands of talented, imaginative educators can be found in these communities doing fantastic work, but their stories aren’t being told. And much if not all of their exciting work remains siloed. In the absence of a national organization tasked with and funded to develop the infrastructure to support the needs of this domain, the time has come to adopt a different approach – professionalize the field from the bottom up.
What is a professional? Professionals understand their work as an expression of some of their values. Professionals take continuing education and ongoing skills development seriously; seeking opportunities for learning and improvement. Professionals are likely to have specialized training. Professionals’ days are never done – they think about their craft when they’re not at their place of work on the clock. They are passionate about the impacts they make and interested in sharing their work and contributing to the field.
These are the kinds of educators we want engaging with our children. And for many if not most of the educators in the after school learning space, this describes who they are and how they see themselves. If only we’d recognize them as such.
Afterschool Jewish educators are on the front lines of Jewish learning for hundreds of thousands of children making Jewish life and learning meaningful and joyful every day. They support our kids and families to build positive Jewish identities. Yet too often they are undervalued and left out of larger conversations about Jewish learning after school.
Jewish after school educators understand the needs of children in ways traditional teachers do not. They appreciate the limits of their students knowing they’ve already had a long day of school. They adopt a variety of strategies making learning joyous and effective while not burning kids out. And they nurture complicated social and emotional needs following a long day of school. Jewish after school educators are master experiential educators, often with deep and intuitive understandings of children’s needs. And, for many, they represent the only Jewish educator an individual will ever meet.
Our plan is simple, to create a space to listen to the voices of these educators, celebrate them and their work, and in so doing contribute to the professionalization of the field.
To that end, we’re excited to announce a new conference devoted exclusively to innovations in Jewish learning after school – Voices From the Field. We believe there are many shining lights in the Jewish learning after school space. We believe there’s a large community of professional educators who’ve embraced this domain and identify as professionals and educators in it. And we know if we work together, if we develop the infrastructure, and we combine our efforts we’ll be successful in ushering in a new era for after school, supplemental Jewish youth learning.
We’ve seen this develop for Jewish camping, for Jewish early childhood education, for Jewish outdoor education, and for Jewish day school education. The time has come for the professionalization of the field of afterschool Jewish educators and we along with many of our friends and colleagues are stepping up to the plate to say we can do it. We need to do it, we owe it to our students and their families to make these learning experiences as excellent as they can be.
With special thanks to the Covenant Foundation and our growing list of partners, Hebrew Union College, the Jewish Education Project, and the American Jewish University. Look for a formal announcement of the Voices from the Field conference and if you want to learn more now, visit www.studio-70.org/conference.
Originally Published on June 10, 2019, by eJewish Philanthropy
By Rena Dorph, Ph.D.
Co-Founder: Edah (Berkeley, California) & Nitzan Network (North America)
Director: The Research Group, University of California, Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science
first posted to JESNA InnovationXchange
Parent’s e-mail message: “This is all surprisingly more emotional for all of us than I could have imagined. For myself and each other parent that I've talked to, the topic of Jewish education really tugs at our heart strings and it's hard to feel like we can do right by our kids and our pocket books and our commitments to school and other activities. ooph. I haven't heard about any families where the kids are driving the want to be at something Jewish after-school. The kids seem to want to veg out at home or with their friends or be at a specific sport practice; and the parents are working so hard to set up a good Jewish learning and community experience; but it's all so much effort in terms of encouraging kids and schlepping and paying for it that it exhausts us parents.”
We must recognize the complexity of developing high quality afterschool learning experiences. Camp has a very different set of affordances than afterschool spaces. And, one of the most important of these features is that camps can be totally immersive experiences for extended periods of time (days, weeks, months). In fact, it is noticeable that this feature is also present in each of the types of experiences that Cohen et. al. (2006) mention (Israel trip, camp, youth group).
Afterschool experiences face several particular challenges. First and foremost, they areafter school. Think about it from the child’s perspective. I’m 6, 8, 10 years old. I’ve sat (yes, mostly sat) quietly (yes, mostly quietly) in school for 5, 6+ hours already today. I’ve read, behaved, written, behaved, computed, behaved, discussed, behaved, self-regulated, behaved, focused, behaved already today for 5, 6+ hours. And did I mention that I’m not even allowed to lie down or touch anyone else during rug time at school. And I hardly get any recess and when I do I spend half the time trying to figure out who to play with today or waiting in line to play wall ball. Now its 2:30 or 3:30, bell rings, schools over. I’m HUNGRY. No, not hungry—I’m STARVING! It’s been at least 3 hours since I’ve eaten lunch—that cold floppy cheese sandwich someone packed me that I didn’t really like (gosh I’d trade my favorite toy if I was allowed to have peanut butter at school). And, I can’t believe there were carrots and apple slices in my lunch box, uh-gain! Even though I’ve made it very clear to my parents that I DON’T WANT ANYMORE CARROTS IN MY LUNCH! What do they think I am, a rabbit?
Does this sound like the frame of mind of a camper?
It is for this reason that many afterschool programs don’t even try to attempt any “serious” or “academic” learning. Supervised play, fun activities, homework help, clubs, enrichment, and sports are the usual suspects in afterschool offerings that are popular choices for parents. Further, I’ve seen several religious/Hebrew schools follow this path using the idea of “camp” or “experiential” learning to provide cover for substituting substantive Jewish learning experiences with decontextualized activities like gaga, planting a garden, and Shabbat-o-Grams.
So, how can we renew Jewish learning after school…yes, in particular, during the hours that happen after school? What role can the lessons learned from camp education as well as education in other contexts play in supporting this renewal? What can we learn from other afterschool programs that successfully meet “serious” learning goals (e.g. science, mathematics, arts, etc.)?
At Edah (www.edahcommunity.org) in Berkeley, California we are tackling this complex challenge head on with the generous support and wisdom of the Covenant Foundation, UpStart Bay Area, and both local and national advisors and donors. Edah’s mission is to inspire and engage children and their families through experiential, Hebrew-infused learning in order to nourish collective commitment to Jewish life and learning. We are guided by a central principle: authentic, immersive experiences provide powerful learning opportunities through which people create meaning, develop Jewish identity, build strong relationships, and nurture community. We marry features of camp that are known to be effective with powerful elements of other relevant learning spaces. It is in the intersection of these multiple spaces that we designed Edah.
The Edah model builds upon the best of several existing program structures as depicted to the right. Drawing on elements of several existing educational and enrichment structures, Edah is designed as a community of Jewish doing and learning. Edah builds on the existing structures and youth development goals of afterschool programs, the experiential, immersive, free-choice learning environments fostered at high quality Jewish summer camps, the commitment to daily Jewish learning and Jewish chevreh that characterize Jewish day schools, and the value of families learning and practicing together embodied in high quality family education programs. Edah meets daily, offering participants the option of as many contact hours for Jewish learning as available in day schools. Edah also meets for full days or weeks when school is out AND we also has an annual retreat—yes, a little bit of that camp magic!
Working within this framework, we developed Edah as a program for children in Kindergarten through 5th grade that would both offer amazing Jewish learning for children and their families AND provide a national model for extensive and intensive Jewish education. The following diagram summarizes the theory of action that underlies this program:
The program is designed to include Jewish learning experiences that are: experiential, Hebrew-infused, immersive, learner-centered, and project based. These experiences will operationalize the concept of na’aseh v’ nishma—we will do and we will understand(1)—by providing participants and their families with opportunities for doing Jewish practice, learning Jewish content and values, and being Jewish.
These opportunities support participants to become curious about, interested in, motivated towards, engaged in, and skillful in Jewish learning and practice. As a result, these participants develop both the will and skill to engage in Jewish living and learning and realize our program’s learneroutcomes in age appropriate ways. These outcomes include: (1) positive Jewish identity; (2) knowledge of Hebrew, Jewish tradition, and values; and (3) capable of engaging in Jewish ritual and communal life.
We at Edah are not alone in the effort to reinvent Jewish learning experiences for children after school. The Edah pilot was conceived of and developed by a group of parent volunteers (of which I am one) who were seeking to create a new model of afterschool Jewish learning experiences. From its inception, the creators of Edah received requests to share their insights with other communities in North America. As a result, the leadership of Edah catalyzed and lead theNitzan Network with the generous support of the Covenant Foundation. The purpose of the Nitzan Network (www.nitzan.org) is to support the renewal of Jewish learning after school.
Through this budding network, Edah leaders and Nitzan affiliates are actively engaging in changing the conversation about what it takes to renew Jewish learning after school.
Being “just like camp” is not enough.
1 Na’aseh is translated as “we will do” and nishma is translated literally at “hear” but interpreted as understand. This biblical concept is very much in line with Edah’s constructivist pedagogy.
A Response to: Mission Possible: Strengthening Congregational Schools through a “Camp-Like” Approach
Posted on APRIL 5, 2013 in E Jewish Philanthropy
by Ana Fuchs and Becca Holohan
In his compelling video, Dr. Lasker describes the different “puzzle pieces” that make camp experiences so meaningful and yet present challenges to traditional supplemental education.
At Jewish Kids Groups (JKG) Afterschool Community, we’re tackling these puzzle pieces and are excited to share the best practices we’ve found for a few of them:
Immersion: Lasker points out that the immersive nature of camp and Israel trips is in sharp contrast to 2-6 hour a week supplemental education programs. At JKG, we provide a 5-day a week Jewish afterschool program, providing up to 18 hours a week for Jewish friends to play to together, learn Hebrew and Judaics, create art, receive homework help, bond with their peers, counselor/teachers, and more. For many of our children JKG Afterschool Community is their primary social community. Students are immersed in a Jewish network of peers – just like at Jewish summer camp, summer trips, Israel experiences, preschools, and day schools.
The Team: One of the joys of summer camp is bonding with amazing counselors and having inspiring Jewish role models campers can relate to and look up to. Jewish educators in supplemental education settings traditionally spend limited hours with the students, inhibiting meaningful bonds from developing. At JKG, our teaching staff are enthusiastic 20-somethings, joined by an incredible team of high school aged counselors. Our teachers play dodgeball, lead songs, read stories, and teach Hebrew – they build strong relationships with our students and their families. Our 1:6 ratio means small classes centered on individual childrens’ learning styles and interests. Hiring teen counselors as our assistant teachers helps re-engage teens in Jewish education and gives our students positive role models.
Teen counselor Jesse Samuel helps a student learn the Four Questions by providing a back beat
Experiential Curriculum: Though we don’t use the language of “cabins,” our small cohorts of students are quite similar. Led by a teacher, these groups explore Hebrew and Judaics through a child-centered, experiential curriculum called Hebrew Wizards. At Hannukah time, students took photographs of the “light” they found in their lives – family, friends, beautiful places, streaming sunlight – and explored the concepts of faith and miracles. For Passover, a pair of students designed and created a unique board game called Path to Freedom and took their peers on a creative journey out of Egypt to Israel. Our curriculum is driven by the interests of our students and teachers with a strong commitment to a creative approach with meaningful content.
How should Jewish education adapt and change?
Lasker frames the question, in terms of current social realities: “advances in technology, incredible stimulation, carefully budgeted time, mixing and changing forms of identity…[etc.] how should Jewish education adapt and change?”
Our new Jewish after school model is rooted in several realities we identified over the course of a series of focus groups in 2012:
Jewish after schools coordinate transportation from public schools, provide snack, social and homework times, and daily Teffilah, Hebrew and Jewish content. At a Jewish after schools, you will see children laughing, playing, learning, creating, studying and praying together amongst a community of Jewish peers.
The surge of Jewish after schools indicates that families are enthusiastic about this new model and reframing Jewish education through an experiential and immersive approach.
Please count us in as part of JTS Reframe!
AnaFuchs is Executive Director, and Becca Holohan, Afterschool Community Director at Jewish Kids Groups in Atlanta, GA