In December, immediately prior to Hillel International’s General Assembly, I took part in the first meetings of the first cohort of Hillel International’s Circles of Educational Excellence. Beginning on Sunday night with some introductory activities, the group got going in earnest on Monday morning, continuing on through mid-afternoon.
Consisting of the executive directors and rabbis/Jewish educators of nine Hillels in addition to some other staff leading the group, my wife and I representing Beach Hillel were the only Hillel from the western half of the US. The other eight were comprised of five Hillels from the Midwest and three from the northeast.
While it was not a frontal presentation, it relied heavily on leveraging the shared experience and brainpower of the group to help generate ideas and share what we do.
An interesting treat was to hear from some people who had been involved with the Senior Jewish Educator project, both from Hillel SIC, individual Hillels, and the Jim Joseph Foundation. It was quite informative to hear about its history and about different models of its deployment.
We also got to be visited by Eric Fingerhut and have him speak to our group, which was nice to have him express his interest in this initiative.
We then split up into three different groups according to how roughly similar our campuses were, which was interesting. After that, we mapped out our campuses and our assets, and then we moved to developing an educational experiment with measurable outcomes.
Unfortunately, due to time, we were unable to come back together to share what our educational experiments were with the other groups to bounce our ideas off of each other, to strengthen them. It would definitely have been great if we had had the time even to just get back into the sub-groups to share our ideas and to see how they would be and be sharpened.
We then bid each other adieu and off to Hillel International’s first-ever General Assembly.
The clear highlights for me were attending Rabbi Daniel Smokler’s sessions. He did one with a bunch of Jewish educators, rabbis, etc., which was amazing as we were flying through ideas, tools, and methodologies – it was very impressive. I was greatly enriched by it, especially getting a perspective on how different Jews (especially generations of Jews) conceive of their Jewish identities differently. An important tool that he shared with us was his description of a Conversation Arc, which is very helpful, especially to move beyond simply schmoozing. Another key takeaway from it for me was – in his describing primary elements for us to share with our students – the importance of community for students. His presentation is worthy of a lot of time, writing, etc. However, Rabbi Smokler permitted me to record his excellent session, so you can listen for yourself, which is available here (I have listened to it multiple times, despite having been in the room). Another opportunity I had to hear Rabbi Smokler was at a lunch & learn session – to which I chose to go – and also enjoyed.
Another major session I attended was about fundraising. I was hoping it would be about making asks, conversing with donors – skill sets for raising money. Unfortunately, that had been going on during the sessions I was with other Jewish educators. So, since mine was for development professionals about thinking about time spent on development and coming up with a development plan etc., I departed in the midst of it.
A two-part session I attended was incredible. The executive directors of Berkeley Hillel and Princeton Hillel for presented on not only coming up with qualitative metrics (which is, apparently, rare amongst Hillels) but also skillfully weaving it with their vision, goals, mission and strategies. Afterwards, it dawned on me that the phenomenal material and ideas shared would be amazing for ALL Hillel staffs to be considering. I was fortunate in that I was able to convince the executive director of Berkeley Hillel to share some of this incredible work at the west coast Hillel staff conference in the winter (which I co-chaired).
I also want to give sincere appreciation to my alma mater, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, for sponsoring the handful of alumni to get together for some beers, which was a nice way not only for us to re-connect, but also to share ideas, materials, etc.
Finally, I thought the award presentations were done phenomenally – I have consistently been impressed at how well-run these award presentations are done, year-in and year-out – it is a good model for the rest of the Jewish world.
A couple of realizations I had while attending the conference:
Since many of our students are not particularly keen on looking at printed texts and discussing them, I thought to move towards a discussion model, less focus on printed texts in front of us. That doesn’t mean necessarily getting rid of them altogether, just not always having to rely upon them.
Every time I have attended Hillel Institute, it has been greatly enriching professionally and encouraging in our line of work, as well, especially to give us an energy boost moving into the new school year. (And, yes, I am sad that it moved.)
Last week, I attended a Birthright Israel NEXT Western Regional NEXTwork Convening in Southern California, designed for Jewish communal professionals who work with young adults. The convening, which took place at The Ranch of the Leichtag Foundation in Encinitas on 16-17 June, focussed on engaging post-Taglit-Birthright Israel participants and encouraging their involvement in Jewish life. This was the second such convening of Birthright NEXT that I have attended, with the previous one having been in May 2012 in Long Beach (25 months ago, about which I have not [yet] written).* The location was great and I hope to somewhere, sometime write further about The Ranch.
I came away from the convening with not only a renewed sense of the importance of post-trip engagement for our bus (most of whom live within the area), but also for reaching out to other recent Taglit-Birthright Israel trip participants, who may be looking to plug in to Jewish life and/or their Jewish identities. Moreover, I also spoke with some other nearby trip leaders to let them know that I am available for meeting up with their participants post-trip to guide them along in their Jewish journeys.
Somewhere else in the conversation at the convening, someone posed the question: “What’s the plan for weaning millenials to be independent?” Meaning: it’s great for organizations to be arranging events, etc. for these young Jews, but perhaps an important goal is to “teach people how to create Jewish events and to create Jewish life for themselves.”
The core content delivered at the convening was by Dr. Josh Yarden, who presented on “Designing Experiential Educational Programs”, which was a very helpful session on facilitation. Here are some of the conceptual gems Dr. Yarden shared:
-Some people are either extremely well-planned and everything must go according to that layout of the discussion while other people are entirely go-with-the-flowniks. However, to be a good facilitator, you have to be extremely well-planned AND be flexible; too often, people become locked in one way or another.
-The best plan is to be so well-prepared that you can set aside your plan and bring in the material accordingly.
– Don’t get distracted by running in a tangent; instead, you can say, “I like what you had to say – remind me later to talk about that.”
– It’s not about you – don’t make the session about you and talking about you, etc.
– If you use language that they might not understand, that can be alienating to the audience
– When coming back from a meal or something similar, it is good to do some sort of activity to settle people down
– When studying Jewish texts, people who are not that familiar with Judaism usually expect two things from texts: 1) That they are going to be alienating and 2) That they need to treat them with reverence. When they actually engage with them, people can be opened up with new perspectives.
– Texts can be used as a portal into people’s identities
– One goal of studying Jewish texts is to enable the audience to have a connecting with Jewish texts. We can give them a fun way to connect with Jewish texts and Jewish language
– Learning consists of a tripartite of aspects: Knowing, Doing, and Feeling and usually, in order to get to knowing, it needs to start with feeling, then doing, then knowing. This is Affctive Learning – how are they going to integrate this knowledge into their lives? You want to create the aesthetic and the feeling, and not trying to teach everything
– If you’re not asking good questions, you’re not going to get good answers
– Don’t say what you’re not going to do – only talk about what you are going to do
– He likes to have three texts up for discussion: a traditional Jewish text, a contemporary Jewish text, and a general text
– It’s a good thing to model oneself being vulnerable
– If you don’t collect feedback, you’re not going to help the field move forward
Another tool he gave us in considering a content-based discussion is that of the triangle-square-circle: you should have three points [as a presenter] (Triangle), what are the takeaways you want them to have [in other words, what do you want them to be squared away with?] (Square), and sometimes you need to revisit something (Circle).
I tend to like content-heavy elements and I greatly enjoyed Dr. Yarden’s material.
Attendees from Hillels, Jewish Federations, and other staff from such organizations were present to come together to discuss engagement strategies and thinking about the particular population. One of our earlier sessions was led by Adam Pollack, the Western Regional Director of Birthright NEXT, who laid out some foundational information about millenials, the generation that is going on Taglit-Birthright Israel trips these days, which was helpful. Even if we had a sense of those with whom we are working, it was still helpful to be reminded of who they are. We also heard from Morlie Levin, the CEO of Birthright NEXT, who gave a background as to what Birthright NEXT is doing these days. Rabbi Ari Weiss, the Senior Director of Education at Birthright NEXT, also spoke a couple of times, including guiding a discussion around the Taglit-Birthright Israel Educational Platform and how we can translate it into action post-trip.
I hope to continue to write about how these post-trip follow-up activities go….