Jewish Education is a world-wide endeavour

By Dr. Helena Miller

I live in London. I have always lived in the same city. Not only in the same city, but within a small area of that city. For all my life I have walked the same streets, taken the same buses, used the same stores, visited the same art galleries.

In my professional life, as a Jewish educator, my reach has been considerably wider than that and much of my work has enabled me to interact with the world wide Jewish education community.

As JEducation World states on its website, Jewish Education is a core value and a critical instrument in securing and enriching the future of the Jewish people.

I am going to highlight three of the international projects that I have been, and still am, privileged to be engaged with.

First, my day job. I work for UJIA, which is the foremost Jewish Education charity in the UK, working to change lives by investing in young people in Israel and in our Jewish community. In the under-resourced Galil region we are creating new educational and employment opportunities through schools, colleges and community projects. In the UK we underpin the crucial ladder of Jewish and Israel engagement, by supporting youth movements and organisations, schools and educational programmes that link the UK Jewish community with Israel. Part of my role is to head what we term our “Living Bridge” programme, which runs programmes to make meaningful connection between young people in the UK and in the North of Israel. One of the ways we make these connections is through our school partnerships programme – schools in the UK partner schools in the Galil. Through structured activity, both in the classroom and beyond, teachers and students learn from each other, about each other and with each other. Joint Hanukah candle-lighting and singing a month ago really epitomised the notion of Jewish Peoplehood – two thousand miles apart, but taking part in the same rituals and singing the same tunes. This programme has many impacts. One of the most poignant comments from an Israeli participant last year was:

I grew up in Israel. I always knew I was Jewish, but I have always identified as an Israeli. When I came to London, I identified as a Jew.

Second, for three years, from 2009 – 2012, I had the privilege to be volunteer co-chair of Limmud International. Limmud, which is the Jewish learning initiative that started in the UK more than 30 years ago, now also takes place in more than sixty communities overseas, from Moscow, to Melbourne to Miami. Whilst I co-chaired Limmud International, we undertook a study with Steven M Cohen and Ezra Kopelowitz “The Limmud International Study: Jewish Learning Communities on a Global Scale.” The story of Limmud is undoubtedly a story of diversity, success and growth. More than 3,000 respondents from 49 Limmud locations round the world answered our survey, the majority of whom were able to identify ways in which their engagement with Limmud has had a positive impact on their lives, from attending further Jewish learning, to setting up new Jewish initiatives, to meeting their future life partner! One of my favourite quotes from that study is as follows:

Limmud has been a vital component in my identity. Limmud has contributed to my development as a Jew and as a Jewish professional educator. Without Limmud I might never have known that I had something to contribute to my community, and that I had so much to contribute.

Limmud really embraces the concept of Jewish peoplehood, a feeling of strong connection to a locality and community, as well as feeling part of the larger landscape of the Jewish people.

Third, I have just started my second year as senior editor of the Journal of Jewish Education. The Journal is the publication of the Network for Research in Jewish Education, which fosters communication, encourages collaboration, and supports emerging scholarly research. Through its annual conference, its Emerging Scholar and NRJE Research Awards, and the Journal of Jewish Education, the Network fosters a community dedicated to Jewish educational research.

The goal of the Journal of Jewish Education is to ensure that the development of Jewish educational research thrives in a stimulating atmosphere of academic and practical exploration. The publication of that exploration is intended to provoke debate, provide texts for the up-coming generation to study and to ensure that Jewish education and its associated research is taken seriously as an endeavour by the most rigorous in the field of education. Taylor & Francis publish four issues of the Journal each year, and our articles cover a wide range of Jewish Education contexts and issues.

We call ourselves an International Journal. But actually, until now, our reach has been predominantly North American, with some reach into Israel and the UK. But we have barely crossed the English Channel. Now, we are beginning to venture into Europe. With the support of the Rothschild Foundation and YESOD, we will engage with the challenging, but thriving and growing Jewish life in Europe. Onwards, we will integrate articles from European scholars into our regular issues, and increase our readership to European educators. We look forward to the Journal being as valuable a resource in Europe as it has become in North America and Israel.

Three diverse projects. But each of them taking the people who engage with these projects one step further on their Jewish journeys (to borrow a phrase from the Limmud mission!). And together with the aims of JEducation World, they each aim to extend horizons, stimulate discussion, broaden networking and promote sharing of Jewish educational ideas, programmes and issues. These three initiatives value principles of openness and diversity as well as reaching out to bridge sectorial and ideological divides. The world-wide Jewish education community is not homogenous; we do have much to learn from and with each other. The notion of Jewish peoplehood is the essence of what binds Jews together. Noam Pianko explores this in his recent book (2015). Jewish Peoplehood is important because it makes space for Jews regardless of where they are in their religious practice. It involves Jews no matter where they live. And as Roberta Bell Kligler (2014) states, Jewish Peoplehood honours the individual while emphasizing the collective.

I am unlikely to move to live in another city, and unlikely to move to live in another country. But through my work, I have been blessed with colleagues from all over the world, and have, and do, work on projects that truly see Jewish education as a world-wide endeavour.

Dr Helena Miller is the UJIA Director of Research, Evaluation and Living Bridge programmes. She has a PhD in Jewish Education and has taught and written widely. She is the senior editor of the two volume International Handbook of Jewish Education (2011 Springer). She is the senior editor of the Journal of Jewish Education, the Chair of the Board of Deputies Women in Leadership Gender Equality Plan, is Vice President of JCoSS (the UK’s first cross communal Jewish secondary school), and has both initiated, and been involved in, many innovative projects in the UK and overseas. Helena was co-chair of Limmud International 2009-12, and received the Max Fisher Prize for contribution to Jewish Education in the Diaspora in 2012.

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  • Thanks Helena. I too describe my journey as a Jewish educator in somewhat similar global terms. The one question that challenges me as I prepare to teach different audiences is how to grasp an understanding of the ways in which the social contexts impact any core Jewish educational teachings? Jewish education might be constant but so many other factors might influence the ways in which something ought to be taught. Perhaps too difficult to explain without specifics – but I am sure that any other global Jewish educators might be able to relate.

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