By Rabbi Eve Rudin
Meaning-making is an inherently Jewish act. In addition to the enumerated physical creations stated in our creation text, one of God’s first creations was also the act of ascribing meaning to those very creations: “When God began to create heaven and earth—the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water—God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good” (Gen. 1:1–4)1.
Through the power of words, God both created the world and deemed the meaning of the world as “good.” This set the stage for us as humans to engage in the act of ascribing meaning to our world. The search for meaning, however, is not intended to be an intellectual quest of lishma for its own sake because Judaism is a religion of action. The goal of meaning-making for a Jew, therefore, is the eventual completion of Jewish actions and obligations as we are taught in our daily Eilu Devarim prayer: “and the study of Torah leads to them all [Jewish obligations].” The endeavor of meaning-making in Jewish education therefore entails the end goal of creating and retaining lifelong Jewish participants and “act-ors.” As a director of a K–7 congregational school, my task is to communicate compelling Jewish messages that will have meaning for our learners with the end result of inspiring young people to continue living, being, and acting Jewish. The meaning of meaning, therefore, is core of what we do as Jewish educators.
How do we achieve this? Think of the letter H. The first vertical line we draw is the content and message we produce and offer to our learners. The content must be compelling, engaging, and contemporary in both its message and delivery medium—no easy feat for today’s North American Jews. Because we are a religion of words, we, thankfully, have tremendous resources to draw upon in creating a captivating message.