By Rob Weinberg

If you think it’s time for your congregation to try a new approach to educating the children and families in your community, reach into The Toolbox, a vast collection of resources from 24 years of the Experiment in Congregational Education’s work in the field.

Children in many parts of North America are now back in school. After last minute trips to the store or frantic online orders, the pencil boxes, assignment notebooks, three ring binders, and lunchboxes got stuffed into backpacks and trundled off to buses, carpools, or familiar walks to the schoolyard. Ready to greet them happily at the door were their teachers, rested from a summer off, and educational leaders eager to welcome them to another year.

And, in synagogues too, another school year starts. As everyone involved—from the Director of Education and rabbi(s) to the teachers, parents, and children—looks ahead to the new year of learning this is a moment to ask, “Mah nishtana hashanah hazot micol hashanim?” What makes this year different from all other years? Will we do the same old same old? Are you getting tired of doing religious school/Hebrew school the way you’ve always done it? There’s an old saying that if we always do what we’ve always done, we’ll always get what we always got. Is a realization growing inside you that your school is not accomplishing nearly what you’d hope for? Do you believe in your heart that you could create Jewish learning experiences that are so much more compelling than what you’re doing now? If so, this is the year to make sure next year will be different, and better!

If the same old pencil box just won’t do anymore, maybe it’s time to trade it in for The Toolbox. As a way to encourage and equip as many congregations as possible to innovate and transform their approach to Jewish learning, the Experiment in Congregational Education (ECE) recently launched The Toolbox: Resources to Experiment in Congregational Education. The Toolbox makes available to you and your team a vast collection of resources from 24 years of the ECE’s work in the field of education-based synagogue transformation, resources to make the challenging task easier, applying the tools and methods of those who have gone before you.

If you think it’s time for your congregation to try a new approach to educating the children and families in your community, please take full advantage of The Toolbox’s resources. In the “Why Change” section you’ll find speeches and congregational conversation guides to help you build the case for change. In the “How to Change” section you’ll find exercises and protocols to look inward, look outward, and look forward in a deliberative planning process. In the “What to Change” section you’ll find model descriptions and vision statements to inspire you and spark your energy and creativity to try something new. If you are looking for something specific, The Toolbox search box and the tag cloud are your friends; they will help you find what you need.

Don’t let another year go by doing the same old things and getting the same old results. Reach into The Toolbox and find the right lever to lift the weight of inertia, find the lens to bring your vision into focus, and find the tools to sculpt and build new pathways to Jewish learning for children and families that feel connected to your congregation. Elul is upon us. This is the time for taking stock and resolving to turn ourselves to a better future. Make this the year of innovation and excitement for Jewish learning in your congregation!

Dr. Rob Weinberg serves, since 2001, as Director of the Experiment in Congregational Education, an initiative of the Rhea Hirsch School of Education at HUC-JIR. Since 1992 the ECE has led national projects and local partnerships to create Congregations of Learners, Self-Renewing Congregations, and re-imagined models of congregational education. The ECE is grateful for generous support from foundations, federations, and local partner agencies.