As the new year begins, it is time to explore new ways of doing Jewish learning. Experiential learning has always been my go-to as working with children is all about the doing for the learning. Over the years of teaching adults, I know that it is not much different — we all want to be engaged and excited — and Jewish learning is exciting!
Googling “engagement” I found a 2015 article from eJewishphilanthropy.com by Leemor Ellman and Robert Lichtman. The title drew me in — “It’s Time to Move from Engagement to Empowerment.” The article presents this thought: “What would we say about a Math teacher who engages students with the power of numbers, but fails to empower students to add them up? How long would a Physical Education teacher last who engages students by taking them to ball games but never empowers them to play? Why then, does so much of the language and activity from Jewish communal planners, educators and clergy stop short and aspire only to engagement, and not push through to the ultimate goal of empowerment?”
You have heard it again and again — Judaism is a doing religion. The new year is a time to begin doing something new or in a different way. New Year’s resolutions often don’t stick although we at the J definitely want you to try to work out and lose weight (the two biggest resolutions every year). But let’s take the secular new year to engage in something Jewish. A favorite story about Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz is about a man who came to him wanting to study with him. The man said he wanted to learn but was not at all observant. Steinsaltz asked what he meant and the man said, “I eat bacon on Shabbat.” The rabbi asked more about this and the man said, “Every day I get up in a rush and maybe grab a piece of toast as I run off to work, but on Shabbat, I relax and brew my coffee and make bacon.” Rabbi Steinsaltz wisely responded that this was not quite the way he celebrated Shabbat but at least the man was making it a special day. We can start small but make a change and who knows where it will lead? A discussion with my family was about how the Monorail at Disney World is like a Shabbat elevator — think about that one!
We start with thinking, then take the next step and the next. We have the business model for other examples of engagement leading to empowerment and the best is business marketeers moving us in stages: awareness to interest to consideration to purchase. You are reading the TJP so you are aware of so much happening in the Jewish world, both locally and worldwide. Hopefully you are also interested and considering what to “buy” to further your Jewish journey. You may have already begun to purchase any number of observances and rituals. What will be your next “purchase”?
Ellman and Lichtman end with this metaphor: “Our ultimate goal is beyond the Awareness stage where the customer walks into the car showroom. Our goal is beyond the Consideration phase when the customer kicks the tires. Our goal is beyond the Engagement phase when the customer takes the car out for a test drive. Our ultimate goal is the purchase, when the customer is transformed into the owner; she leaves the lot and takes to the road in her own vehicle with the features she chose that embolden and Empower her to pull up in front of her friend’s house and say ‘Take a look at my car. Want to see how well it handles sharp curves? And check out these soft leather seats!’ Our showroom displays an unbelievably precious and priceless product that enhances the everyday lives of the people with whom we interact. It is the greatest product in the history of the universe: Jewish knowledge, values and traditions — our Torah. It was designed to be owned, not leased.”
Interested in new opportunities? Reach out to me to start the new year on a new Jewish journey!
Laura Seymour is Jewish Experiential Learning director and Camp director emeritus at the Aaron Family JCC.