On Friday, I learned of the death of Jonathan Woocher, PhD.

Over the years, I’ve had mul­ti­ple oppor­tu­ni­ties to learn with Jon. He always was incred­i­bly kind to me, and even when we dis­agreed, or when some­one in a work­shop chal­lenged him — usu­ally on his take on some recent trend or another — he was never dis­mis­sive and always gen­er­ous. And if he felt his own side needed defend­ing, he always did so with intel­lec­tual rigor and humil­ity. I’m grate­ful and hon­ored to count him among my teach­ers. (And I can’t imag­ine I’ll ever stop feel­ing pangs of jeal­ousy for his job title, pos­si­bly the best in the field, if not of all time.)

What oth­ers have said is true: Jewish edu­ca­tion is stronger due to his intel­lect and thought-lead­er­ship, both of which will be missed. I’d only add that his men­schlekheit will be missed, too.

Baruch Dayan haEmet.

Douglas Rushkoff is cred­ited as the ide­o­logue behind the “dig­i­tal Sabbath.” He’s a smart guy: Professor of Media Theory and Digital Economics at CUNY; media com­men­ta­tor; author; first coined the terms “dig­i­tal natives,” “social cur­rency,” and “viral media”… yada yada… his whole bio is on Wikipedia if you want it.

Several years ago, he argued that peo­ple needed to take time away from dig­i­tal media. And because he was into the Jewish thing at the time, that idea mor­phed into the notion of a “dig­i­tal Sabbath.” And then some­thing called The National Day of Unplugging was estab­lished by ReBoot. (ReBoot is an orga­ni­za­tion built on an annual gath­er­ing which Rushkoff helped to con­vene, ini­tially. But he now calls it elit­ist.) The National Day of Unplugging exists to encour­age peo­ple to take their own dig­i­tal Sabbaths, all on the same day.

Now, Rushkoff says he does­n’t like the idea any­more. From the Guardian, Douglas Rushkoff: ‘I’m think­ing it may be good to be off social media alto­gether’:

I came up with this thing which I now don’t like: the dig­i­tal sab­bath. It feels a lit­tle forced and arbi­trary, and it frames dig­i­tal detox as a depri­va­tion. I would much rather help peo­ple learn to value look­ing into other people’s eyes. To sit in a room talk­ing to peo­ple – I want peo­ple to value that, not because they aren’t being inter­rupted by dig­i­tal media but because it’s valu­able in its own right.

That’s novel, I sup­pose. (Though I’m pretty sure Ari Kelman would­n’t think so.)

From “Synagogue-based Religious Schools: A Community Responsibility,” by Lisa Harris Glass and Stephanie Hausner

We have spent a gen­er­a­tion dis­pro­por­tion­ately focused on day schools, thereby rel­e­gat­ing sup­ple­men­tal reli­gious schools to sec­ond-class sta­tus. Our efforts have done noth­ing to increase day school choice in the major­ity of the Jewish com­mu­nity; but have served to suc­cess­fully demor­al­ize sup­ple­men­tal school edu­ca­tion direc­tors and dec­i­mate the bench of qual­ity, qual­i­fied, inspir­ing reli­gious school teach­ers. We have con­signed our num­ber one oppor­tu­nity to inspire/ignite a life­long love of Judaism and pos­i­tive Jewish iden­tity to “less than,” “wannabe” status.

Whoa. Because truth.

limmud handouts available for download.
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  • December 28, 2014

Here’s where you’ll find my hand­outs from Limmud 2014 in Coventry, England. (I’m post­ing them live on the day of the ses­sion. All hand­outs should be up as of January 1, 2015.)

If you have any ques­tions, or if you’re look­ing for some­thing that should be here but isn’t, drop me an email.

the handouts.

Hacking Hanukkah to Design the Jewish Future:

This return to the blog has turned into a shar­ing of other peo­ple’s wis­dom rather than my own. That is prob­a­bly the best assur­ance that it is actu­ally wis­dom! Today is no exception.

Read the rest

Max Steinberg grew up in the same part of Los Angeles where I did, and he grad­u­ated from my high school, though it was a decade after I was last there. So I never met him. But I’ve read a lot about him this week, after he died while serv­ing in the IDF in Gaza and his story became the par­a­dig­matic nar­ra­tive about Americans who go to Israel to join the army.

And I read with inter­est when one of my favorite writ­ers, Slate’s Allison Benedikt wrote about Steinberg yes­ter­day in a much-Facebooked arti­cle.

birthrightThe piece has come under fire because Benedikt seems to be claim­ing that Birthright killed Max Steinberg. Or at least that’s what the crit­ics are say­ing.

I don’t think that’s what Benedikt was try­ing to say. As I read it, she’s answer­ing a ques­tion that a lot of non-Jews (and non-engaged Jews) might be ask­ing: What made this kid — who never seemed to be all that Jewy before — decide to pick up and join the Israeli army? That’s a legit­i­mate ques­tion. How many American kids ship off to fight for the Dutch army or the Argentinian navy? (Not very many, I would think.)

Benedikt answers the ques­tion by explain­ing that (a) Steinberg’s par­ents credit Birthright, and (b) Birthright’s goal is to get American kids to care about Israel. Her assess­ment seems to be: Look! It worked.

And, “at some point dur­ing their all-expenses-paid ten-day trip to a land where, as they are con­stantly reminded, every moun­tain and val­ley is inscribed with 5,000 years of their people’s his­tory,” there is “the moment”— the moment when par­tic­i­pants real­ize just how impor­tant Israel is to them, to their fun­da­men­tal iden­tity, and how impor­tant they are to Israel.

According to Steinberg’s par­ents, that is exactly what hap­pened to Max.

Birthright’s defend­ers should take her arti­cle as a com­pli­ment, not an attack.

Benedikt does make one impor­tant crit­i­cal point:

People say Birthright is “just like camp,” and it sure sounds like a very con­densed ver­sion of the Jewish camp I attended as a kid, whose pur­pose was, at the very least, to fos­ter a con­nec­tion to Israel in young Jews—and at best, to get us to move to the coun­try and fight for it. My camp, filled with the chil­dren of lib­eral American Jews, did this by pre­sent­ing a very sim­plis­tic pic­ture of the polit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion in Israel and the threat to Jews world­wide, all within the con­text of help­ing to fix the world while hav­ing the time of your life. Birthright does a form of the same.

Um… are peo­ple say­ing she’s off base here? It seems to me that it’s a fair crit­i­cism. Birthright is a ten-day trip, partly because the 6‑week sum­mer trips that existed before its incep­tion weren’t attract­ing unen­gaged, dis­con­nected Jews (like, um, Max Steinberg). Since it’s begin­nings, I’ve heard lots of Jewish edu­ca­tors who are Birthright sup­port­ers (and I think I count myself in that group) admit that ten days is just a taste, and that it presents a “sim­plis­tic pic­ture.” (And we usu­ally say that if Birthright does its job, we’ll have lots of chances to add lay­ers of com­plex­ity to that pic­ture as the attendee engages post-trip.)

Is Benedikt’s atti­tude toward Birthright a lit­tle cyn­i­cal? Sure. It should be. It’s a multi-mil­lion dol­lar PR cam­paign for Israel and Jewish iden­tity. It deserves to be exam­ined with some healthy cynicism.

Moral of the story: Chillax. Allison Benedikt said noth­ing wrong.

item 1.

dbgToday is Israel’s inde­pen­dence day, if you’re Gregorically inclined. That’s because Ben Gurion declared inde­pen­dence on May 14, 1948.

Of course, he declared on that day that the new coun­try’s inde­pen­dence would be effec­tive the fol­low­ing day, imme­di­ately fol­low­ing the ter­mi­na­tion of the British Mandate. So if you’re cel­e­brat­ing the dec­la­ra­tion, today’s the day on the Gregorian cal­en­dar. If you’re cel­e­brat­ing inde­pen­dence itself, then I sup­pose you should hold off til tomor­row. Yom HaAtzma’ut, he offi­cial state hol­i­day in Israel (and the cor­re­spond­ing hol­i­day for Jews liv­ing else­where) is com­mem­o­rated on the fifth day of Iyar, or on the sixth day of the month if it turns out that Yom HaAtzma’ut (or the day before it — Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day) would fall on Shabbat.

This year, Israel cel­e­brated its own inde­pen­dence on Tuesday, May 6, which was the sixth day of the month of Iyar. Had they cel­e­brated on the fifth, then Yom HaZikaron would have fallen on Shabbat. So they pushed em both up a day. How do I know all this? Well…gcal-hebrew2

item 2.

This just in from Google: You can now dis­play Hebrew cal­en­dar dates (along­side the nor­mal Gregorian head­ings) in Google Calendar on the web. To enable it:

  1. Log into to your cal­en­dar.
  2. Go into Settings (click the gear icon in the upper right and select “Settings” from the menu).
  3. Under the General tab (which should be the one that’s active), scroll down to the “Alternate Calendar” option (it’s third from the bot­tom for me).
  4. Select “Hebrew cal­en­dar” from the dropdown.
  5. Click the Save but­ton at the bottom.

Now, you should see Hebrew dates along­side the English ones in your calendar.

My Students Don’t Know How to Have a Conversation:

As I watched my class strug­gle, I came to real­ize that con­ver­sa­tional com­pe­tence might be the sin­gle-most over­looked skill we fail to teach stu­dents. Kids spend hours each day engag­ing with ideas and one another through screens—but rarely do they have an oppor­tu­nity to truly hone their inter­per­sonal com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills. Admittedly, teenage awk­ward­ness and nerves play a role in dif­fi­cult con­ver­sa­tions. But stu­dents’ reliance on screens for com­mu­ni­ca­tion is detracting—and distracting—from their engage­ment in real-time talk.

Read the rest

To Advance Education, We Must First Reimagine Society:

As Abbott sees it, the need for reflec­tion has never been greater. Spurred by tech­no­log­i­cal advances, “civ­i­liza­tion is on the cusp of a meta­mor­pho­sis,” he says, that will lead either to soci­etal col­lapse and chaos, or to a resur­gence of lib­erty, com­mu­nity, and ethics. Either way, schools are stuck in the past: The empha­sis has been on feed­ing chil­dren sta­tic infor­ma­tion and reward­ing them for doing only what they’re told, instead of help­ing them develop the trans­fer­able, higher-order skills they need to become life-long learn­ers and thrive in an uncer­tain future.

Read more

If you’re the type of per­son that’s inter­ested in grap­pling with some of the… um… stick­ier parts of the Hanukkah story, the past few years have seen a bumper crop of impres­sive writ­ing on the topic.

I’ll write more later about my own take on all this. But for now, check out all this good stuff.
Read More

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  • February 27, 2013


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  • February 26, 2013

What if Mordechai, Haman, and the Wizard of Oz held a rap bat­tle? That’s the ques­tion or stu­dents asked.

The video is a project of one of our Emtza “pods.” Emtza is our seventh/eighth grade project-based pro­gram at Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles, where I work. (You can read more about the pro­gram in my pre­vi­ous post on the topic.)

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  • February 26, 2013

As part of my job at Temple Isaiah, I devel­oped Emtza, a project-based pro­gram for our mid­dle school stu­dents. When I say “I devel­oped,” what I mean is that I had a basic con­cept, an idea sapling. I handed that idea to an edu­ca­tor hired to run the pro­gram, Jessie Downey, who devel­oped the idea fur­ther, bring­ing it into the realm of real­ity and giv­ing it some real “umph.” Then she handed it to her amaz­ing staff of teachers.

This video — one of two — is a piece of evi­dence that we were on to some­thing. It’s a prod­uct of our stu­dents, who cre­ated it from scratch. They had a lot of sup­port from their teach­ers, but it really is theirs. I hope you get a kick out of it… I sure did. (Click “More” for an expla­na­tion of how the Emtza pro­gram works.)

Read More

Videoconference between Confirmation class and class­mate in London. Technology helps stu­dents cross oceans with­out even trying.

Now, if it is true that indi­vid­u­als develop a sense of con­nec­tion to and con­cern for a larger col­lec­tiv­ity in the ways that I’ve described – through the prac­tices of story, lan­guage, and love – then we should notice that peo­ple­hood edu­ca­tion does not con­flict with other sub­stan­tive, con­tent-rich Jewish edu­ca­tional efforts but rather com­fort­ably co-exists with them.

Jon A. Levisohn, “Pursuing the Pedagogy of Peoplehood: More than Mifgash” in The Peoplehood Papers, Volume 8: Nurturing Jewish Peoplehood in the 21st Century — What Should We Do Differently? (Center for Jewish Peoplehood Education, 2012)