JUF shifts the paradigm of Jewish education

JUF’s Shifting the Paradigm Initiatives will provide concrete new support to enable congregations to take advantage of new trends in Jewish education.

SupplementalSchool image
Chicago-area Jewish supplemental schools educate thousands of students, like this one.

JUF Education has unveiled "Shifting the Paradigm Initiatives," a set of major new initiatives to boost Jewish education in the Chicago area. 

On a chilly May morning, 80 Jewish educators from schools across the region, representing diverse denominations of Judaism, gathered together for a major JUF-led symposium, "Shifting the Paradigm: Jewish Education for 21st Century Learners." The gathering made the case for innovation in Jewish education, previewed strategies, and presented new JUF resources that aim to help Jewish educators innovate and grow. 

Whether they're called Hebrew schools, religious schools, Sunday schools, or other names, Chicago-area Jewish supplemental schools are educating thousands of students. At the same time, there is room for growth. "The model of congregational education hasn't changed significantly in 70 years," explained Rabbi Dr. Scott Aaron, executive director of JUF Education. In that time, Aaron points out, "camping, day schools, and Hillel have all changed," reflecting new innovations in education. 

JUF's Shifting the Paradigm Initiatives will provide concrete new support to enable congregations to take advantage of new trends in Jewish education. 

The initiatives will help schools launch new learning models in three key areas: re-envisioning Hebrew-language learning; reimagining teen learning; and creating and launching new learning models. Another key component of the Shifting the Paradigm Initiatives is the Jewish Education Innovation Fund, open to part-time and congregational Jewish education programs, to help schools get their new programs started. The new programs will provide training, guidance, customized coaching, expert consultation, guiding materials, and financial support to qualifying schools. Additionally, Innovation Grants will be available for both small and large projects, up to a value of $15,000. 

Educators heard about innovations in Jewish education and had the chance to share their experiences with their colleagues from across the region. "Everyone here is the expert in our own setting," noted Rabbi Ari Margolis, of Congregation Or Shalom in Vernon Hills; the conference gave him and his fellow educators the chance to "open and expand our minds about what's possible in our milieu." 

The ideas were inspiring. "We're disrupting the idea of Hebrew school," explained Nachama Skoknik Moskowitz, director of Curriculum Resources at the Jewish Education Center of Cleveland, and author of The Ultimate Jewish Teachers Handbook and other books. She led educators through discussions and workshops about emerging models in Jewish education. 

"I'm excited to have support from colleagues and Federation," explained Amanda Herlich, director of Lifelong Learning at Temple Beth El in Northbrook. "Bringing us all together is really important. I think trying to work together as a community is going to make a big difference in moving us forward." 

The energy among the educators was palpable. Meeting "face to face is much more impactful" than merely reading about new ideas, explained Dr. Anne Lidsky, director of Religious Education at Temple Jeremiah in Northfield. 

As participants left the conference, many planned to continue the conversation by turning to JUF's resources. "The funds, coaching, and consultation to support professional development" that JUF is offering can help Anshe Emet thrive, explained Dr. Emily Schoerning, the Grodzin Director of Educational Innovation at Anshe Emet Synagogue in Chicago. She is in the process of implementing a new Hebrew curriculum and appreciated exchanging ideas with other educators. 

Joy Wasserman, director of Jewish Learning and Leadership Initiatives at JUF Education, estimates that about half of Chicago-area congregational and supplemental schools will apply to the JUF's new programs. "Our role is to be your supporter, cheerleader, and partner as you explore and experiment with new paradigms," she told educators. "Our goal is to enable you to shift the paradigm of Jewish education for 21st century learners."

For more information about the JUF's Shifting the Paradigm Initiatives, contact Joy Wasserman at joywasserman@juf.org.

Yvette Alt Miller, Ph.D., lives with her family in the northern suburbs of Chicago.

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