Creativity and innovation come naturally to some. But they also are skills that can be learned, honed and heightened in the right environment.
That's exactly what CHIdush wants to bring to countless classrooms in synagogues around Chicago. By teaching rabbis, education directors and lay leaders the skills of innovation, the program hopes to invigorate congregation-based Jewish education, spark new ideas and approaches, and introduce the best practices used in schools around the country.
CHIdush -- the name puts a Chicago spin on the Hebrew and Yiddish word for an innovative idea or insight -- is a collaboration between the Jewish United Fund's Community Foundation for Jewish Education and UpStart, a San Francisco-based national incubator for innovation in Jewish life with a growing Chicago hub. The program is made possible through the generous support of the Crown Family, The Jack and Goldie Wolfe Miller Fund, and an anonymous donor.
"Our research showed that, given the overall decline in enrollment and budgetary struggles congregations are facing, as well as the changing culture of the American family, new ideas had to be nurtured because the status quo is not sustainable over the long term," CFJE Executive Director Scott Aaron said.
"With UpStart here, we have a local partner with which we can experiment in an innovation model for our schools."
Nine synagogue schools have been selected for the initial cohort of CHIdush: Anshe Emet Synagogue in Lakeview; Congregation Solel in Highland Park; Emanuel Congregation in Edgewater; Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston; Lakeside Congregation in Highland Park; North Shore Congregation Israel in Glencoe; Temple Beth Israel in Skokie; Temple Chai in Long Grove; and Temple Sholom of Chicago.
Through a series of workshops and retreats, individualized coaching, networking and a customized mini-grant program, CHIdush will work with leadership teams at each synagogue over the next 18 months to develop new mindsets and skills that will empower them to create compelling educational experiences.
"We don't tell them what their schools should look like or how they should operate," said Lisa Solomon Mann, Chicago director for UpStart. "That may be different for each school.
"Instead, we empower leaders with the tools to figure out what's likely to work for their own students and members. We support them in developing new ideas to meet these needs, and introduce them in ways that engage long-time members and newcomers alike. Along the way, we also teach them how to adapt their efforts as they learn what works and what doesn't."
"Over the decades, so much has changed in our lives, interests and activities," said CFJE project manager Joy Wasserman, "and that is reflected in our relationships with synagogues and Jewish education. CHIdush will help our congregations and schools identify what families and students are looking for today, and to develop creative, welcoming ways that meet those needs."
"Congregation Solel seeks to build a sacred learning community focused on children's social, emotional and spiritual growth," said the synagogue's Director of Congregational Learning, Ashley Plotnick. "Change requires patience, commitment, humility and, most importantly, collaboration, and we hope that by engaging in this long-term project with respected mentors and peers, we will best be able to design a congregational school consistent with our values and vision."
"In order to experiment with how to best reach 2-3 year olds and their families, Anshe Emet turned to CHIdush to provide our team with the tools, guidance, resources and networking to fill a gap in our programming and outreach," said Rabbi D'ror Chankin-Gould. "We believe CHIdush will give us the capacity to creatively reach children and families with whom we've yet to fulfill our fullest potential. We are so excited and so grateful."
"UpStart is honored to partner with CFJE and nine forward-thinking synagogues in the Chicago area in elevating the inspired work they're already doing in their communities," said Linda Gerard, UpStart's Chief Program & Innovation Officer. "We look forward to empowering synagogue teams to leverage leading-edge innovation tools -- guided by Jewish wisdom -- to create new and compelling Jewish learning experiences."
For more information about CHIdush, contact Joy Wasserman at 312.673.3281 or