By Rabbi Daniel Lehmann, President, Hebrew College
Yesterday I attended the second annual Jewish Futures Conference as part of the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America held this year in Denver Colorado.
The theme that wove throughout the various presentations was a call to shift Jewish experience and education from a consumer model to a “prosumer” model. The underlying message centered on the need to leverage technology and communication media to enable a more participatory, egalitarian, and creative Jewish life to emerge.
Hebrew College graduate students were well represented among the speakers at the conference. I came to Denver to honor and support Andrea Rose Cheatham Kasper, who is both a Jewish educator with a Master’s degree from Hebrew College’s Shoolman School of Education and a current Jewish Educational Leadership student in our joint doctoral program with Northeastern U. Andrea was one of two winners of the Jewish Futures competition for innovation. She described her idea for a Jewish vocational school in North America that would integrate hands-on learning of useful trades with the study of Jewish values and texts. Andrea also showed a film that provided a compelling visual overview and a verbal overview of her concept. I could not help but think of the relationship between John Dewey’s philosophy of education and the hands-on approach to education that Andrea was advocating.
Andrea also emphasized the opportunity to leverage the revolution in food consumption and production that is focusing attention on locally grown products. As we enhance our connection to the physical and spiritual sources of our daily food, can a different kind of school help nurture a new generation of Jewish farmers? This dovetails with Hebrew College’s current exploration of potential collaborations with the Jewish Farm School and other environmental organizations that are working within the Jewish community. Andrea’s presentation was thoughtful, exciting, and a proud moment for Hebrew College.
In addition, Yechiel Hoffman, also a student in our doctoral program in Educational Leadership with Northeastern, shared a project he led at the Milken Community High School in Los Angeles. Yechiel created a teenage version of the Jewish Futures program and engaged several dozen high school students in a process of developing entrepreneurial organizations that would meet a need in the Jewish community. Several of his former students shared their project, Techanthropy.org, “a hub that utilizes the mediums of technology to bring individuals together with similar goals in order to form, build, create and facilitate organizations and events that enhance society and promote innovation.” Now, as the Executive Director of Limmud L.A., Yechiel is bringing his vision for educational empowerment to a broader segment of the community.
The conference within a conference was a refreshing look into the future of Jewish education, and it was thrilling that Hebrew College students were among those leading the way forward. It was no small irony, in light of the “prosumer” theme, that the conference was a series of frontal presentations and films with only token participation from the assemblage. And yet, I left with a renewed feeling of optimism that we are entering an era in which new avenues of engagement are opening up, and technology will expand the opportunity to pollinate powerful innovations in Jewish education and enable them to blossom.