In two weeks from now, students at The Weber School, a trans-denominational Jewish High School in Atlanta, will have the opportunity to participate in a brand new program that promises to expand their horizons beyond the reaches of the science lab and the cafeteria. “Weber Teaching Fellows,” a signature program, will convene a cohort 10th, 11th and 12th grade students, who will work as a teachers, counselors, youth group leaders or other positions in an educational capacity in a community program (including Synagogue religious schools, camps, youth groups, preschool programs, etc.). In addition to their onsite supervisors, the cohort will participate in a teaching practicum facilitated by a member of the Weber faculty, and benefit from the input of guest speakers and teachers. The practicum will support the students in their work, providing study of content (related their areas of instruction and programming) as well as pedagogy, classroom management and child development.
“Our goal is to offer the entire cohort exposure to a number of progressive Jewish educators and educational institutions doing innovative and experimental educational work with proven results, here in Atlanta and nationally,” says Rabbi Ed Harwitz, the newly appointed Head of School at Weber.
It’s programs like The Weber Teaching Fellows that make the school a standout place for Jewish teens. To that end, last year, students at Weber had the opportunity to participate in another innovative program called the Capstone Symposium, a yearlong course that offers the chance to pursue in-depth study and research on a project prompted by their own questions and interests.
For 10 months, Weber teens studied and researched topics as diverse as vaccinations, eating disorders, cell phone addiction, special needs, and the stigmas associated with YA literature, family dinners, the education system and stem cells. They also worked closely with faculty mentors, defended their ideas before a panel of educators and experts, and received a diploma with honors for their participation.
Harwitz encourages and supports such innovative programming at Weber because he’s committed to helping Jewish teens develop into religiously and culturally confident members of the Jewish community, and interdisciplinary study can help them do that.
“We face a challenge in North American Judaism right now,” Harwitz asserts. “Ninety-eight percent of American Jews are functionally illiterate, in terms of their Judaic knowledge…but I’m hopeful.” He sees the Jewish high school setting as the perfect place to address this lack within the American Jewish community and “cultivate Jewish literacy” for students who are coming from a variety of backgrounds. “In the same way that we’re concerned with our students’ literacy in science, math, and literature—because we see these fields as essential for living in the world—so, too, must our Jewish studies program be centered around the same kind of literacy.”
To survive and thrive in North America as Jewish people for next 50 years, Harwitz believes that educators need to help Jewish teens embraces Jewish literacy, and reverse the trend. “We need to help our teens gain the ability to talk about issues of meaning and purpose, and so, at Weber, we debate and we discuss.”
“I’m proud of Weber,” Harwitz says. “Our faculty challenges our students to ask themselves, ‘What values inform my life?’ And, ‘Which Jewish text might I access, to inform those values?’”
When Harwitz teaches Talmud, he reminds students that our Talmudic rabbis saw Torah study an opportunity to see the world through a Jewish lens, and invited those who studied Talmud to contribute intellectually to the global conversation. “A great Jewish education isn’t just Torah and Ivrit,” he says, “but rather, it’s also asking the question, ‘to what extent do I apply and integrate that knowledge of Torah to the world.”
To be clear, he isn’t suggesting that all Jewish teens practice a certain level of Jewish observance. In fact, he thinks that this would be counterproductive. “The goal of school is not to promote a certain type of practice,” he says. “That’s not an agenda item. Rather, on the agenda is figuring out whether a student is informed enough to make a meaningful decision about his or her own Jewish practice. To equip themselves with the skills to ask the right questions [when they gets to college]… and to grow a solid sense of who they are, in relation to the rest of the world.”
As opposed to seeing Jewish high school as some sort of insular bubble, where kids are shielded from outside forces and temptations, Weber offers students an opportunity to engage with diversity, too.
To wit, the Peace by Piece program offers students a real-time immersion into other religions and cultures. The program, run by Barbara Rosenblit, a Covenant Award recipient and faculty member at Weber, aims to help build relationships between Weber students and students from two other Atlanta-area high schools, one Catholic and one Muslim. A goal is “open conversation and mutual respect, building trust and understanding” amongst the network of young leaders who participate. Students spend a day at each school, participating in religious ceremonies and learning about the culture and history of all faiths. When Catholic and Muslim students visit Weber, they participate in a minyan with a full Torah reading, join in small Bible group study sessions and panels and even join in on Israeli dancing.
“Some educators might deem this kind of programming ‘artificial,’” Harwitz muses. “But we are starting to collect data from our graduates that when they get to college, they feel better prepared to interact and engage in all sorts of ways with their college community, because they had a profound identity-building experience here.”
To be sure, identity building doesn’t end with high school. In fact, some might say that’s just the beginning, and Harwitz sees how laying the groundwork for religiously and culturally confident young Jews might affect the negative trends mentioned earlier
Harwitz’s enthusiasm is contagious, and one can imagine how effective such an upbeat attitude about possibility must have on the Weber student body. “I am really excited about the people I work with,” he shares. “We all need and want to be a robust and a creative place.”
And Harwitz’s excitement moves beyond the present, too—he also has high hopes for the future of his students, and the future of young Jewish life in America.
“Can you imagine the turn around,” he asks, “if there were a critical mass of 20-40-somethings who were making decisions about their Jewish lives based on an elevated capacity for understanding Hebrew language and Jewish texts? It would be remarkable.”
“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