By Rena Fraade

The Joint Conference on Research in Jewish Education, a partnership between the Baltimore Hebrew Institute, the Network for Research in Jewish Education and the Association for the Social Scientific Study of Jewry, was held recently at Towson University.

With some 75 attendees (many of whom served as speakers as well) this gathering gave insight into the newest themes of trending research that have not yet been shared with the broader community. What is abundantly clear is that those in the trenches of research are strongly passionate about exploring the trends in Jewish education that will benefit our communities in the coming years. While practitioners (Program Directors/Principals and Clergy, for example) are aware of the struggles facing Jewish Education, researchers are confirming what is occurring and providing research with answers and insights.

At moments when it seems that academic researchers may be in a niche world with limited knowledge of the practitioner’s life, it emerges that they have engaged in extensive observation and conducted surveys to gather information. Researchers may not be in the actual classroom but are well-connected to what is happening in these programs. Additionally, many of the researchers are parents or grandparents of children in Jewish Day Schools or Jewish camp.

As a practitioner I found myself fascinated by the research that is being done but also found myself concerned as to how this information can be best disseminated to other practitioners. I was excited to share Michael Feuer’s article on the JEducationWorld website stating similar reflections and concerns. Practitioners don’t have much time to read long scholarly articles. The majority of our time is spent keep the ship running, with limited time for seemingly academic learn.

One of the many goals of JeducationWorld is to provide insight into varied forms of Jewish education to help build the Jewish education network and Jewish education best practices and success so that they can develop ideas from each other – regardless of whether their milieus overlap. Whereas in the world of practitioner conferences, the topics would likely be divided by type of education (day school, early childhood, supplementary, camp, etc.) the speakers at this conference spanned almost all of these Jewish Educational venues. Sessions were divided in a different way – spotlight, research, consultation, and papers. The format of each impacted who talked and how much. With my hat on for JeducationWorld, I have moved forward in conversation with some great folks from the conference to share more on our site. Here are some highlights from each of those sessions to give you a hint of what’s next in Jewish education (identified by the format these sessions fell into)

Paper Session: Presentation of competed or nearly completed work
Leadership in Jewish Education with Barry Holtz, JTS Alissa Burstein, The Lookstein Center, Bar-Ilan University / Patricia Munro, University of California, Berkeley / Jonathan Woocher, Lippman Kanfer Family Philanthropies

These three different scholars approached the leadership of Jewish education from different angles. Alyssa shared how the Lookstein Center’s program ELAI, partnering with New York schools, found a way to grow mentorship and leadership of Jewish education leaders. Through collaboration, vision, reflection and modeling, mentors were able to develop their own process of guiding teachers. Patricia tried to discern how the Education Director influences the entirety of the supplementary school program, especially through the development of his or her own goals for the program and its participants. Jon Woocher wanted to identify what role language plays in determining our Jewish educational goals: who are they for, why do they matter, are our goals Jewish or more broadly human. And then, how do we assess these goals we’ve set?

Spotlight session: Open, interactive session about key issues in Jewish education
Inclusive Practice in Jewish Education Settings: Understanding needs, practice, and preparation with Rona Novick, Yeshiva University / Daniel Olson, NYU / Yisrael Rothwachs, Sinai Schools

This session was the only non-frontal session I attended at the conference. As a group, participants and session-leaders challenged ourselves to consider what research the field would benefit from to bring inclusive practice to the next level – we decided what topic, what community, what question would we ask. Because secular models in research have discovered much that the Jewish programs have not had the opportunity to find, how can we use this, along with Jewish values, in our models to move our inclusive practice to the next level?

Roundtable Session: Multiple perspectives on an important topic in Jewish education
Implementing Education in Social, Emotional, and Spiritual domains in Congregational Schools: Supports and Challenges with Jeff Kress, JTS / Evie Rotstein, HUC-JIR / Moshe Ben-Lev, Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation / Nancy Parkes, Temple Israel Center

In this session, two practitioners (Moshe and Nancy) shared how SEL, Social-Emotional Learning, can expand the Jewish and secular aspects of, in this case, our children’s lives. Both professionals participated in a program through the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in which they were able to find support from colleagues and researchers to learn more about how SEL works and methods of applying. As Nancy said, “It’s scary to do this stuff. Why do it alone? “The support from researchers (Kress and Rotstein), helped the practitioners to advance their ideas and the encouragement as they try new systems.

Consultation Session: Collegial discussion of work-in-progress
Development Issues of Jewish Adolescent Girls with Cheryl Weiner, Lesley University

As a former employee of Moving Traditions, Cheryl Weiner is continuing her focus on Jewish girlhood. Her research is considering how privilege increases stress and whether Jewish girls are “in crisis” or “thriving.” As participants in this consultation, we were able to add our voice in her exploration of eating disorders, diverse B’nei Mitzvah experiences, and how observance-type can influence teen girls.

Rena Fraade is the Content Curator for JeducationWorld. She is the Director of Youth and Family Learning at Congregation Keneseth Israel in Allentown, PA and the Managing Director of Congregation Am Haskalah of the Lehigh Valley. Rena is a graduate of Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion’s NY School of Education and Zelikow School of Nonprofit Management.