July 2017

Jewish Education...Heart First

In the Talmud we read that a person can only learn from the place of his heart. That means that un- less a student is engaged from heart first, the head will not follow. This teaching means a lot to me because I have found it to be true in my own Jewish education. As a child in religious school, I was bored. My education in the 70s and 80s focused mostly on the history of Judaism culminating in Holocaust studies.

But the things that I truly remember from my youth created a warm feeling of belonging and joy were heart experiences. I remember the sound of the youth choir I sang in. How it felt to step up and take my first solo. I remember the taste of Shabbat challah, and the shoebox model sukkah that I created. I rememeber the joy of the Purim Carnival and the pride I felt when I was old enough to create, display and sell something at the Hanukkah Baazar. When I was a teen, I learned through the services I designed for my youth group, and later as a young adult, I connected through Torah study when I realized I could better understand my own story if I looked into the mirror of the stories of the Torah.

Unfortunately, in classical Jewish education, there was no opportunity for individual and personal connection. In the classic cheder of yore, students were expected to gain knowlege through intellectual engage- ment. Sure, honey was spread on the pages of the first Hebrew primer, but how much was symbolic honey spread throughout the learning in order to help students tell their own stories and connect more deeply to Juda- ism? Luckily in that setting, Judaism was immersive. There was learning beyond the learning because every moment of life was infused with Jewish meaning. To- day we do not have that luxury.

It is said that words that flow from one heart, enter the heart of another. Think back on the great teachers of your life, be they family members, friends, or instructors you met in an academic setting. It is likely that the ones that were the most passionate about the lessons they imparted, were the ones who really made an impact. We are so fortunate to have wonderful educators here at Beth Chaim. Amongst our many talented teachers, Narda Oz continues to be the heart of Jewish education at Beth Chaim. She loves teaching so much, and that love is expressed through the knowledge she imparts to her students. Students feel understood because Narda, though she asks much from them, real- ly takes the time to get to know each one of them indivudually.

For the past three years we have taken a deep look at our religious school. We have held visioning sessions with parents, teachers, and students. We have evaluated classes and experimented with some new learning styles, and now we understand that what we really need to be doing is to engage our students, hearts first.

We are so blessed to welcome our new Educator Sherrie Klein. Sherrie brings her beautiful soul to her work as an educator. Engage in just one conversation with her about her vocation and you will sense her deep passion for Jewish Education. Sherrie also brings years of experience. She is known among her peers as a master educator, and a she and I share deep love for creative ‘heart’ learning. We have done so much in recent years to assess where we are as a community. How exciting it is to anticipate that this year ahead will be year of great change for our religious school. We are so fortunate to welcome and support our new educator, Sherrie Klein, as she will inspire us to make the changes that will help our children to become immersed in Jewish learning...heart first.