Faced with fusty texts, teachers learn
to breathe new life into Jewish studies

Aryeh Ben David, founder of the Jerusalem-based Ayeka: The Center for Soulful Education, leading a training session. (Courtesy: Ayeka)

By Cathryn J. Prince for the Times of Israel

Ayeka founder Aryeh Ben David says that when it comes to learning about Judaism, schools should be teaching connection over content.

Eighteen months ago, students at the Bi-Cultural Day School in Stamford, Connecticut, received a relatively flat account of Moses and the 12 spies.

They learned the who, what, where, when and possibly the why of the story: Moses sent out 12 spies to do a little reconnaissance in the land of Canaan. Ten came back and scared the daylights out of everyone, and only two, Joshua and Caleb, challenged the majority opinion.

End of lesson.

And while that’s fine if the goal is to win Jewish Trivial Pursuit, it’s not ideal if the goal is to help students deepen their spiritual and Jewish identities.

According to longtime educator Aryeh Ben David, quantity shouldn’t trump quality — especially when it comes to Judaic studies. Yet, for too long Jewish educators have pushed content, rather than connectedness, said the founder of the Jerusalem-based Ayeka: The Center for Soulful Education.

Founded in 2006 with the goal of reframing Jewish education, the non-profit’s name is the biblical word for “where are you.” Ayeka provides learning tracks for educators, parents, and individuals with online and in-person options in the United States and Israel. The idea is to help teachers breathe life into Jewish text study.

The organization has also published two books, “Becoming Soulful Educators” and the “Ayeka Haggadah: Hearing Your Own Voice.”

“We’re offering a paradigm shift in the way we teach. Students won’t remember what they are not personally connected to,” Ben David said. “Ayeka looks at Judaism as a vehicle for becoming our better selves, and it can’t be an intellectual process. Learning can’t be just about content and memorization. They [students] have to own it in their own lives.”

And that’s been the result at Bi-Cultural.

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