Category Archives: Personal

Experimenting with Different Teaching Modalities

Recently, I came to the realization that I was approaching each and every teaching opportunity as an experiment.  As opposed to a set way of leading a discussion, I needed to different styles at each and every opportunity.

I think I had come to the realization that the style to which I was accustomed – a bunch of texts are brought and the group discusses them in order on the page(s) – was just not working well.  It simply was not as engaging of a modality for my constituency, primarily university students and young adults (20s-30s).  Whether they did not want to look at all of the texts or though it a bit much, I have recognized that the style needed to change.  (One possibility is that the university students are dealing with their own classes and readings for classes, so they want a space to relax and not have to engage so cerebrally.)

Granted, I am most comfortable in that style: that’s what I was used to in rabbinical school and it also allows me to demonstrate to them how certain readings of the texts are to be [understood].  Furthermore, I am a very visual learner, so written/printed texts laid out in front of me are ideal for my comprehension.  However, that doesn’t seem to be the best for my constituency.

So, some of my experiments have been either simply discussing with them about the topic at hand, such as my Hanukah discussion with the Hillel at CSUF or yesterday’s discussion with Long Beach Hillel.  Granted, for that style of discussion, I need to know the material and texts well enough that I don’t need them in front of me, so this  modality only works for certain topics.

Another style is to have the text(s) in people’s hands and have them go around and engage with each other.  An instance of this is last weekend at the tenth annual Jewlicious Festival, where I spontaneously to have the participants rotate in pairs in discussing elements of the text and had them come back together to discuss it as a group.  This style encourages people to meet others and to engage more deeply with the text.

Now that I have begun experimenting and trying out a different style each time I now teach, I am looking forward to seeing what I learn what is more effective and what is less effective….

50 Months of Working Here in SoCal!

Rachel and me representing Hillel at the 2010 Zeta Beta Tau Convention
Rachel and me representing Hillel at the 2010 Zeta Beta Tau Convention

Fifty months ago today, my wife and I began working here in sunny Southern California!  Having arrived the night of November 8, 2009, we then began working the very next day on November 9th.  So, that means 4 years and 2 months ago, we began and we have made it to 50 whole months!

It has been great, enjoying the lovely weather and it is certainly a nice place out here and we’re able to do important work for the Jewish people – my wife serving as the director for Long Beach Hillel and my work serving students (primarily in colleges and universities, but high school, as well) and young adults.  Serving this younger age demographic is an important endeavor for the Jewish people and I am glad that I am able to serve to enrich it 🙂

Hillel Institute 2013

Hillel Institute 2013 LogoFor the fourth consecutive year, I attended the annual Hillel staff conference, Hillel Institute, in St. Louis. As with the previous two years, I was there due to the financial support of Long Beach Hillel (I had to raise money from private individuals to make it possible for me to attend in 2010), which makes sense, since in my capacity of serving as the rabbi for Long Beach Hillel, I am involved in various ways in its functions.  Moreover, attending Hillel Institute, has – every year – helped me focus me for the new academic year in getting ready for our work as Long Beach Hillel.  That was especially true this year.

Eric Fingerhut, the new President of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, addressing the staff of Hillel in St. Louis at Hillel Institute 2013

As in years past (see here and here), it was great seeing fellow Yeshivat Chovevei Torah graduates at the conference!  It was also great to meet Long Beach Hillel’s new programming associate and to experience the great amount of energy he is bringing to the position and to the Hillel, writ large.

In addition to the above, the two sessions out of which I got the most were a session with Rabbi Dan Smokler, which was phenomenal and I need to review my notes, since it was incredibly helpful for how I think about going about my work.  The other was a very thought-provoking session on qualitative metrics for Hillels (a topic of interest of mine as evidenced here and, subsequently, here), led by the executive directors of Berkeley Hillel and Princeton Hillel, in which they shared the great work they are doing in gathering and analyzing the qualitative data regarding their Hillels.  I was glad to see not only that it was being done, but also to see how they were doing it.

Even though Hillel Institute 2013 occurred six weeks ago, I am still unpacking the material, ideas, and more from it, which has been a phenomenal catapult for this academic year!

A Breakdown of My Time Spent This Past Year

I frequently get asked as to how much time I spend on the various facets of my job.  One of the biggest questions is how much time I spend with Beach Hillel, since I serve as the rabbi.  In past years, I would spend a significant amount of time with other Hillels, such as Orange County Hillel and Inland Empire Hillel, and I was curious as to how much of that was spent with them.  Whenever people would ask, I would roughly estimate percentages or fractions of how much time I spent with my different activities, since I didn’t have the hard data with which to respond.

However, since my primary benefactor expects me to send him a breakdown of my activities and how much time I spend doing them, I have the data collected.  So, in preparing the annual SoCalJSS/SoCalJYAE  report (which will be forthcoming), I finally went through and sorted it out for the time period of August 2012-July 2013.

Pie Chart of Time Division 2012 to 2013
A breakdown of the time spent devoted towards different activities this year

I came up with two separate sets of data and, yes, two separate pie charts (who doesn’t love pictures?).  In the first of these, pictured to the right (perhaps, above), I show how much time was spent with a variety of my activities, which yields the following: 44% with Long Beach Hillel, 35% with young adults, 14% with Jewlicious Festival, 4% with other Hillels (& AEPi), and 3% with bar mitzvah students.
Pie Chart of All Time Division 2012 to 2013
The second of these two data sets incorporates not only my time dealing with “end users”, but also incorporates “back-end” time, such as donor relations, communication (which is sort of a catch-all, that can include phone calls with young adults or students, Facebook messaging with students or young adults, as well as setting up meetings, etc.), and administrative work.  For this year, it broke down: 25% with Long Beach Hillel, 20% on young adult work, 16% on communication, 14% meetings, 9% donor relations, 7.5 % Jewlicious Festival, 5% administrative work, 2% with bar mitzvah students, 1% the Long Beach Yom HaShoah event (of which I was the Rabbinic Chair), and the remainder working with other campuses’ Hillels.

I am very glad now that I have this data that I can “keep in my back pocket”, so to speak, and be able to respond to people in a substantive fashion regarding the way I spend my time.  One element I do want to do going forward is to break up the components of my communications: how much time is spent on donor communications, how much of it is Beach Hillel-related, how much of it is young adult-related, and so on.

On the Foundations of my Jewish Identity

IMG_0212 - CopyToday, I published a piece on my Jewish identity on my personal blog.  In it, I primarily discuss how I got interested in living Jewishly, which was inspired by a question at a BBYO program I attended, as well as being happily surprised by finding a fellow rabbi’s articulation of his Jewish identity.  It is helpful in understanding how I relate to my Jewish identity.  I wonder if others have a similar approach.