Yesterday, I attended a regional workshop conference for Jewish Educators. The conference itself had four decent presenters, and though I could only choose to attend one of them, I gather that the other three sessions were also well appreciated.
The entire conference experience was marred, sadly, by a truly unfortunate choice of opening keynote speaker. While I'm sure the speaker was quite earnest and sincere, even passionate about Jewish education, his comments were not particularly inspiring, and some of them were down-right troubling.
The speaker shared his own personal journey in Jewish education. I'm sure it was quite meaningful for him. For me, it was more like a grand tour through everything that is still wrong with Jewish education, and the institutional Jewish world in the US today.
I jotted notes as he was talking. I couldn't note the actual remarks or context, but I suspect that from my responses, you can get a feel for what I heard.
I scribbled these notes:
- Kids need convincing about Jewish learning? Convincing? They don't need convincing, they need compelling reasons!!
- We need to learn from the kids is a radical new idea? Huh? That's Talmud AND Rodgers and Hammerstein.
- Benchmarks? We need benchmarks? Oy, this sounds too much like NCLB (no child left behind.)
- Too much education and not enough learning? WTF does that mean? It's edu-care - to lead out. Learning often requires education.
- Jewish learning should not be just about self-perpetuation of the extant institutional structure!! Stop co-opting stories about out of the box thinking to the service of self-perpetuating your increasingly irrelevant institution. You need to re-invent yourself if you want the continue to exist!
- Since when is a generation monolithic and homogenous?
- What DO we believe is very important to teach? Do we (can we) all agree on that?
- No, these things are not obstacles or challenges, they are OPPORTUNTIES!!
Basically, I think this speaker missed the boat entirely when it comes to what Jewish education, what Jewish continuity, requires. He lectured us on what he thinks we need to do, based on his own limited experiences (and his compelling need to keep the extant structures afloat in an increasingly indifferent Jewish world.)
So as not to embarrass the speaker publicly, I've not mentioned his name or his position, but I will note by way of explanation that he would clearly have a keen interest in the survival of the extant Jewish communal/institutional structure.
I'm happy this speaker found what he needed to have a meaningful Jewish life. I don't think, however, that he is a good source for inspiring us to teach the next generation how to do the same. Next time, find a real out-of-the-box thinker who can inspire us and carry us through our depression over the current state of things in Jewish Ed.