By Dale Laing

Early Childhood Educators of Reform Judaism has hosted their 16th annual conference in soulful Memphis, Tennessee which provided rich American culture and history to spear their work together.  The Kallah, Soul Purpose- Elevating Early Engagement through social justice, literacy and leadership welcomed Rabbi Gary P. Zola, The Executive Director of the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives and who is also a distinguished professor of the American Jewish Experience and Reform Jewish History at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Rabbi Zola led us through an exploration of remarkable historical documents where we analyzed minority rights during George Washington’s presidency. We then explored the concept of ethical wills, moral legacy letters and considered the moral lessons that we would want to bequeath to the next generation.  Under the leadership of Cantor Mark Horowitz, Vice President, Director of the Sheva Center of the JCC Association, Kallah participants explored their own moral legacy wishes on a personal level.  Our deep, meaningful work was inspiring and valuable and directly correlated to our work with young families in our congregations.

As an attendee, I was deeply moved and inspired upon learning about the moral trials and tribulations of our past.  It is incredible that we still struggle with the same concepts today.  Writing our legacy letters was a valuable and concrete exercise that will strengthen my work in my synagogue community. Being at the Kallah also afforded rich networking experiences and connections that has deepened our ECERJ community.  This intimate setting provides an excellent environment for this type of work.

During the Kallah, we were honored by some amazing local community leaders.  To begin our time together, we toured the Memphis JCC ECE program that transformed to a Reggio inspired program through a Jewish lens. We were welcomed by Rabbi Micah Greenstein, Senior Rabbi at Temple Israel in Memphis.  Temple Israel also graciously honored us at their Shabbat service.  Rabbi Katie Bauman, Associate Rabbi at Temple Israel led us in an incredible program: Understanding Your Ethical Voice: helping children develop their ethical voice as we explore ethical action in our own lives.  We ended our learning together with Rabbi Micah Lapidus, Director of Jewish and Hebrew Studies at the Reform Jewish Day School The Davis Academy in Atlanta, GA.  Rabbi Lapidus led us in a constructivist approach to our Shabbat morning service called: Giving Voice to the Spirit.  Our Kallah learning was also enhanced by Shira Kline, internationally acclaimed Jewish artist and performer.

According to Cathy Rolland, URJ Director, Engaging Families with Young Children, Memphis was the perfect setting for this wonderful group of leaders gathering from all across North America to explore how to elevate early engagement through social justice.  ECE-RJ represents professionals in all fields of Jewish early childhood education, serving as a voice for educators, providing synagogue leadership with national trends, providing resources for best practices, and well as collegial sharing and support. Membership in the organization ensures success for communities through the cultivation of relationships and professional support.

Dale is the Vice President of Learning for the Early Childhood Educators of Reform Judaism and is the Director of Early Childhood Education at Zipporah S. Abramson Center Early Childhood Education at Congregation Beth Or in Maple Glen, PA