Etgar means “challenge” in Hebrew, and that’s precisely what Etgar 36 students experience as they explore the continental United States on a 36-day summer trip. By stopping at locations like the Southern Poverty Law Center in Alabama, the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles and Washington DC’s Capitol, over the course of their journey, teen participants meet and talk with people all over the social and political spectrum, including NRA and Tea Party members, gay rights activists and black and Jewish civil rights leaders. During the academic year,
For Billy Planer, founder and director of Etgar 36, “Etgar” also identifies a challenge to educating teens in the historical legacy of American Jews, and light the fire of their political passions and Jewish identity. In order to perform the Jewish obligation of tikkun olam, the Jewish imperative to repair the world, Planer believes Jewish teenagers need to learn more about history.
Planer’s goal is to create an informed, engaged and invested Jewish teen population who will grow to become dynamic, involved citizens. The diverse range of viewpoints represented underscores the idea that the emphasis of the Etgar 36 trip is not on teaching any one ‘party line,’ but rather on sowing seeds of future social discourse and political engagement through interaction. Since the program started, Planer said, more than 15,000 people have traveled with Etgar 36.
The first Etgar 36 trip left in 2003; Planer later explained on Facebook, “It has been my hope to educate and inspire people to become activists in order to change the world in a way that we never see a day like that again.”
“I had begun to think that we must start creating deeper, more meaningful programming that actually challenges our young people, in order to make them think, and to challenge who they are as Americans and as Jews,” Planer recalled.
This idea of American identity was particularly important to Planer, he said, since programming for Jewish teens tends to focus almost exclusively on Israel.
“As a youth director, I noticed that we did a tremendous job in connecting our young Jews to our spiritual homeland, Israel, but not to our physical homeland, America,” Planer said.
I would hear from so many teens when they [returned] from their summer trip to Israel, that [Israel] is where they ‘felt Jewish’… but [that] they lived here.”
Assuming that an overwhelming majority of young American Jews will not make aliyah, but rather, will create their Jewish lives in the U.S., Planer felt it was extremely important for teens to see the connections between the American and Jewish overarching narratives.
“We need to start making a Jewish connection to the one main country that has kept its promise to our people: that we could come here and live in peace, as well as survive and thrive [as Jews], without the government getting in our way,” Planer said. Planer also felt it was important for young Jews to appreciate the long history of social and political activism in American Jewry.
Creating this program is Planer’s personal method of tikkun olam. Rather than settling for a world in which yelling is our sole conception of civil discourse, Planer said he sees hope for the future in teaching kids how to find their own voices in order to engage in American democracy.
“This is in our DNA as Jews,” Planer said. “I thought it could be an entry point for young people who don’t feel connected to Judaism through the traditional religious route.”
So how does Planer ignite the light of inspiration in Jewish teens?
“On Etgar 36 journeys, we treat teens as real people,” Planer said. “We respect them and what they think, but we also have expectations of them to behave and act as real people. Once we create that bond, they see that we are truly interested in giving them an experience that will help them grow into the people they want to be intellectually and as activists.”
Part of recognizing and acknowledging teens as ‘real’ people, Planer said, is relating to them as Americans for whom being Jewish is just one of many facets of their lives and identities: “They tend to view themselves as citizens of the world, not just Jewish citizens.”
“Teens today are so comfortable in the diversity of their lives that we can’t use our old-school thinking of, ‘we need to create just Jewish experiences,’” he said. While many teens do appreciate the social opportunity to be within a Jewish group, Planer added, “they don’t see the world as ‘Jewish’ and ‘not Jewish.’”
“An Etgar 36 journey is really a key that is being given to the participants that opens up the world of their mind, their passion and their ability to find and use their voice,” Planer said. “I find that if we set the bar high and expect them to rise to the occasion, rather than wrap the teen in bubble wrap, they will.”
“There are children, grownups, everywhere
That would love to hear your voices
Singing for our health to be bright
So that we can join together...and paint our world with healing and hope”
-From the original song, Painting Our World with Healing Hope, by Karina and Debora Zilberman
“Families that share stories about parents and grandparents, about triumphs and failures, provide powerful models for children. Children understand who they are in the world not only through their individual experience, but through the filters of family stories that provide a sense of identity through historical time...Through sharing the past, families recreate themselves in the present, and project themselves into the future.”
—“Do You Know…” The power of family history in adolescent identity and well-being
Read more about Dr. Marshall Duke and his work, here.
“There are people out there who are educating their hearts as we speak. They’re getting on with the work, they’re loving their kids, they’re loving their students, they’re loving their communities. We must retrain our vision toward those people—we must develop eyes to see and ears to hear where that love is already happening—that is worth our energy and our care and our time, to tend that love, to show that love ourselves.”
—Krista Tippett, Founder and CEO, The On Being Project
“There are just two outcomes that really matter: First, that students feel Judaism is the fertile ground in which they get nurtured to grow, and second, that they find Judaism joyful.” Rabbi Joy Levitt, Executive Director, JCC Manhattan
"Civil discourse requires us to listen generously and to act as though—and to really believe—we could be open to persuasion. We each may think: 'I did not cause this situation, I am not to blame.' Yet we each have the capacity to help society turn the corner, if we honestly ask what went wrong and what we can do about it."
- Martha Minow, the 300th Anniversary University Professor at Harvard University and Joseph William Singer, Bussey Professor of Law, Harvard University
The Wow Metric of Success: Jewish Life in Bloom on the Farm: Spring has arrived, and the Jewish community is busy planting with purpose. In Vaughan, Ontario, the yellow coltsfoot and purple-blue scilla are just starting to flower at the Kavanah Garden, a half acre community garden that’s part of Shoresh, the Canadian-based Jewish environmental organization that includes the Kavanah Garden and Bela Farm. Last Sunday, on “Yom Manual Labor” volunteers gathered to turn the soil, plant seeds, paint outdoor tables and participate in construction projects with the Shoresh team, preparing the garden for growing season.
“Our Jewish community is only as strong as its ability to include all members in the fabric of Jewish life. Doing so helps each of us recognize the unique strengths we all bring to the Jewish community, and that community cannot possibly be complete until we actively and intentionally welcome each other.”
-Meredith Englander Polsky, 2017 Covenant Award Recipient, Director of Institutes and Training, Matan, and Developmental Support Coordinator, Temple Beth Ami Nursery School
“From all of my teachers, I have grown wise.” Psalms 119:99. Framing Jewish Education, a project of The Jewish Lens and supported by The Covenant Foundation, was created to engage teachers, students, and families in conversation about the value of Jewish education and to illustrate the power of great teaching and learning via a curriculum based on visual literacy and text.
“For me, study is a divine and daily imperative; I study a page of Talmud daily so that I am not only teaching. My teaching is constantly being fed by my learning.” —Erica Brown Associate Professor, George Washington School of Education and Human Development. Director, Mayberg Center for Jewish Education and Leadership, 2009 Covenant Award Recipient
The Covenant Classroom means something different to every educator but common goals are to motivate, engage and be inclusive of all learners. In this volume, we’ve collected an array of Teachings on Inspiration and Motivation in all areas of Education.
#ThankATeacher It has been twenty-five years since The Covenant Foundation first opened its doors, and we continue to be humbled by extraordinary Jewish educators from across North America and across the spectrum of Jewish life who have devoted their careers and considerable talents to the field of Jewish education. Now, in celebration of a quarter-century-old tradition of honoring Jewish education and educators, and to kick off a year of public engagement around great teaching, we’re proud to share The Covenant Foundation voices app with you: a new digital way to give and share your gratitude.
“What would it look like if we bet on Jewish early childhood education for the long-term, as our tradition instructs? The task might seem large, but the reward, we know, is great (Pirkei Avot 2:15).”
“Countless leaders have been inspired by the story of the Jewish people leaving bondage in Egypt – those whose names we know, like Martin Luther King, Jr. and those whose names we never will know, whose every-day acts of kindness and resistance fuel social change. This story, our story, has become a cornerstone of modern social justice work.”
—Abby Levine, Director of The Jewish Social Justice Roundtable
This is how I see a “Covenant Classroom”: a place where challenging topics are passionately discussed; a place where complex ancient texts are grappled with; a place in which self- esteem grows, and motivation to learn increases exponentially because of it. An environment in which each Jewish soul is given the confidence to continue the eternal search for meaning.”
—Dr. Sandra Ostrowicz Lilienthal, Curriculum Developer and Instructor at The Rose and Jack Orloff Central Agency for Jewish Education of Broward County and 2015 Covenant Award Recipient
“When powerful, new approaches to learning are introduced through digital tools, meaningful disruptions occur along the way… When this happens, new approaches which previously seemed inaccessible, are suddenly within reach.”
—Barry Joseph, Associate Director for Digital Learning, Youth Initiatives, American Museum of Natural History
“The future of Jewish teen engagement can in fact be found in 3D printers, and in text-people, and in service, and outdoor education, and in anything that brings teens into contact with authentic learning experiences and passionate, caring, knowledgeable educators.”
—Charlie Schwartz, Senior Jewish Educator, Director, BIMA & Genesis, Brandeis High School Programs
Portal seems like a particularly apt metaphor for entry points into Jewish life and learning because ultimately we want those experiences to be deeply experiential and transformative. We also want them to be accessible. A portal has no toll; passage is free. At the same time, a portal is particularistic, not a generic entrance. It conveys a sense of magic, ritual, and power. Similarly, we want to convey that Jewish life is rich, layered, and meaningful beyond what is immediately apparent. We want the encounter with Jewish life to take you on a journey that is profound and surprising. And, given that each of us may enter through the same portal but have a completely different experience of what is on the other "side," the possibilities are endless.
— Judith Rosenbaum, Executive Director, The Jewish Women’s Archive
"We need a new kind of creativity in the classroom that’s going to reach Jewish kids… If a teacher is imaginative, he or she is going to connect to students’ hearts and souls.”
—Dr. Arnold Eisen, Chancellor, Jewish Theological Seminary, Board Member, The Covenant Foundation.
"There are four types of students... The sponge absorbs everything. The funnel brings in on one side lets it out the other. The strainer lets out the wine and retains the lees. The sieve lets out the flour dust and retains the fine flour." —Pirkei Avot 5:15
"There’s a misconception that a venture must depend on large grants from big donors. It makes more sense and it’s more sustainable to test out an idea, and see whether it has the opportunity to make an impact on people’s lives."
— Ariel Beery, founder, PresenTense
I think [creating new Jewish texts] is a really good description of what we’re trying to do. These days we’re increasingly creating products that are intended to be shared on the web. We’ve felt and continue to feel that this medium, and virtual communication as a whole, is being under-tapped for its possibilities for making art.
— Reflections from Sam Ball on the New Jewish Filmmaker Project