I love the language of portals and its suggestion of adventure, exploration, and new worlds. Entering a portal is an embodied experience; one step across that threshold transports you to an utterly different place. We often use this language in our work at the Jewish Women’s Archive because it evokes possibility and newness in ways that the usual language of history just does not. Whereas “history” exists primarily on an intellectual plane, a portal traverses dimensions, carrying you back in time, into the future, or to another world.
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
Like never before, 20s and 30s turn to online social networks and peer-to-peer technologies to meet new people and try new things, yet they crave real life connection. Turned off by institutions that don’t seem to add value to their lives, they seek to engage in authentic ways. And in the rapid pace of daily life, they actively carve out time to relax and delight in the delicious details of good food and wine.
Shabbat dinner is a portal into Jewish life, an invitation to slow down on Friday night, savor a meal, and build enduring relationships. It is personal and communal. It is a ritual that each person creates anew, that can connect a community, and that helps millennials celebrate being Jewish in their own way. OneTable is not about reinventing Shabbat dinner, it is about making it feel relevant. It’s not about perfection, it’s about practice. It’s not about one prayer or one ritual. It’s about one community that we can all plug in to. It’s about carving out time where we can pause, and be together with good food, good wine, and good friends.
OneTable is building an online and in-person network of Jewish 20s and 30s who consider Shabbat dinner as a meaningful part of their lives and feel a sense of belonging. OneTable asks millennials to participate in Shabbat dinner as an enduring practice. This runs counter to the instinct of emerging adults to try as many new things as possible, rather than do the same thing repeatedly. Our challenge is to demonstrate (show don’t tell) how Shabbat can renew us each week, how celebration can be creative, personalized, and so good that you want to do it again and again.
— Aliza Kline, Executive Director and Rabbi Jessica Minnen, Resident Rabbi, Onetable.org
Once upon a time, in a land far away, there lived a poor man who earned but a “trepik” a day. He kept half of his earnings for himself and his family, and the other half he gave to the guard at the House of Study, the Beit Midrash.
One day, the poor man earned nothing at all. The guard wouldn’t let him in, and so he climbed on the roof and listened in on the teachings through the chimney. It grew darker, colder, and soon snow began to fall. The next morning, the great scholars in the Beit Midrash wondered why the light wasn’t shining into the study-house, and they discovered the poor man, with three cubits of snow upon him. (Yoma 35b)
That was Hillel, and that’s how much he wanted to learn Torah.
Many years later, on a fateful day, the same guard who had kept Hillel out of the Beit Midrash was removed from his post as doorkeeper, and the doors of the Beit Midrash were thrown open, for all to enter. On that day, many benches were added to the study hall – one rabbi claimed that four hundred benches were added, and another that seven hundred benches were added…And, not only that, but when an Ammonite who wanted to convert approached, and wanted to join the learning, the Rabbis agreed that, despite the law stated in Deuteronomy 23 that “an Ammonite and Moabite may not enter the congregation of God,” the Ammonite could convert. (Brachot 28a)
Two portals to Jewish life – closed and guarded, the other, welcoming, accepting, expansive, and inclusive.
We have struggled with this spectrum throughout our history. If we are too closed, too discerning, we risk harming those in our community, freezing them out. We all know the benefits of a warm, welcoming environment, open to all. But there is also something enticing about a challenge—about striving to achieve a goal, about the value in hard work and sacrifice.
Perhaps one way of reconciling this tension is to recognize that Jewish life should be easily accessible, but it should still offer the opportunity for challenge. It should be welcoming to all, and if one chooses, there should be a ladder up to the roof of the Beit Midrash, for those who choose to keep climbing.
We have the difficult and delightful task ahead of us to design a new Beit Midrash; one that beckons all to climb, and strive, and labor and sacrifice.
We must build this Beit Midrash only to knock it down, and keep re-building it, re-designing the portals as we go.
— Maya Bernstein, Associate, Upstart Bay Area
“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