Congregational educators (Hebrew School teachers, to the layman) are not in the business for the money or the glory. They do it for the love of Jewish education. Some are career professionals in education during the week. Others are accountants, attorneys, artists, dentists, or stay-at-home moms. They take time out of their busy lives to contribute to their communities and engage young Jews.
On Sunday, December 4, 2011, nearly one hundred Jewish educators from across Baltimore traveled to the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia to learn about the history of Jews and Jewish communities in the United States. Teachers from Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, Beit Tikvah Kesher School, Beth Am Congregation, Beth El Congregation, Beth Israel Congregation, Chizuk Amuno Congregation, Gesher La Torah, Har Sinai Congregation, Temple Emanuel, and Temple Oheb Shalom toured the museum together, sharing questions, insight and experiences. One Temple Emanuel staff member even found her family’s flatware among the artifacts!
Learning about the earliest Americans and the earliest American Jews, a teacher from Beth El expressed, “It is important for students to see that Jews have always fit into the American setting in some way –we were also colonists, pioneers, explorers…”
A teacher from Temple Emanuel, reflecting on the model of the museum, praised its balance across over 350 years of history and stated, “There is a strong interest and need to educate about our (whole) Jewish past, not just the Holocaust.”
An educator from Temple Oheb Shalom felt that the experience impacted him as a Jew in America by helping him “understand that Judaism in America is an ongoing evolving experience of which [he is] a part and that [he has] an opportunity to shape it.”
Of course the experience was not without critique. Educators wondered about the balance between Sephardic and Ashkenazi influences, the limited religious content, and the modern multimedia museum model. Imagine the task of selecting just enough of the history of Jews in America to fit onto 3 floors! The thought-provoking conversation led to ideas about classroom applications and thoughts for further study and learning. The NMAJH also explained a bit of their mission as, “a place for all Americans to explore, offering a highly engaging and thought-provoking look at one ethnic group’s experience with freedom.” With this in mind, most agreed the museum achieved its own goal.
As Director of Professional Development at the Louise D. and Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education, I work with school administrators and teachers with the objective of embedding learning into every day. On my side, that doesn’t mean only students. It means educators, too. Teachers, assistants, madrichim, principals, and directors – all growing.
During this trip, the educators had an opportunity to invest in their Jewish and American learning as a collective. The classroom can be an isolating place, and gathering educators from all across the city provides an opportunity to share in the love of faith and community, all while emphasizing lifelong learning.