How to design world-class Jewish learning experiences for no cost 

COVID-19 is inflicting unlimited pain across the globe. But it is also teaching us some valuable insights that we can apply in our lives once it’s safe to gather in person. One lesson is that any synagogue or Jewish organization can design a world-class education program for no additional financial costs. Two primary factors have made this possible:

  • Almost any imaginable Jewish text and topic exist online.
  • As more people of all ages have become comfortable with technology, they are searching beyond their local communities to study Jewish topics.

In this redesign of Jewish education, rabbis and educators will need to take on three new roles: navigator, curator, and talent scout, in addition to maintaining their roles as teachers.

1) Navigator – מוֹרֶה דֶרֶך. Many fields today, like education, medicine, and social services, require “navigators.” Navigators help consumers explore and attain the benefits they are either entitled to or available to them. Navigators cut through the jargon and complexity of available options and identify new opportunities for consumers.

2) Curator – אוֹצֵר. A curator is a person with professional knowledge or expertise who collects, selects, and organizes content useful to an audience. Content includes texts, pictures, videos, and music. Curators engage their audiences with purposeful content. They help audiences save time by ignoring lower quality content and focusing on the highest quality content in which they are interested. Curation requires technical expertise in organizing and visually displaying content and broad knowledge of content.

3) Talent Scout – צייד כשרונות. Talent scouts exist in many industries, including sports, theater, and entertainment. They look for rising stars, individuals who have potential but need mentoring and experience. A talent scout matches individuals with organizations to make sure that they have the right setting to flourish. On an informal level, most of us have either benefitted from a mentor who guided us in the early stages of our careers or played that role in someone’s life.

The Jewish community has yet to tap fully into its vast, latent volunteer talent. Many congregants and constituents of Jewish organizations have Jewish backgrounds from their experiences in Jewish camps, day schools, programs in Israel, and undergraduates who took courses in Jewish studies. Professional educators can help these individuals navigate and curate the maze of Jewish content on the web and develop their potential. When educators and rabbis embrace their role as talent scouts, they will help transform learners into teachers and raise the quality of Jewish learning. 

But the classical role of a teacher will not change in this redesign of Jewish education. The digital web can’t replace the web of transformational relationships that develop between teachers and learners. Teachers often have the opportunity to understand their students’ lives holistically. They can interpret what a learner is asking beyond a specific question because they understand the context of a learner’s life. Teaching is as much about personal transformation and inspiration as it is imparting information. Because of the pervasive presence of technology, the most human role of a teacher is even more significant.

Synagogues and Jewish institutions can expect another wave of budgetary cuts as they begin to feel more of the pandemic’s financial impact. They likely have at least the next 6-9 months before people feel safe to be together in groups. That is enough time to launch innovative efforts like redesigning Jewish learning and offset some of the losses caused by COVID-19.

Note: This is the second in a series of posts on this subject.

About the Author
Rabbi Hayim Herring, Ph.D., is a national thought leader, organizational consultant and author on the American Jewish community with a specialty in synagogue life. He is President & CEO of the Herring Consulting Network.
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