Apr 05 2016

How to Think About Transformative Jewish Education

Boy emerging from cave

This post is based on Mandel Center Director Jon A. Levisohn’s introduction to the recent Conference on Transformative Jewish Education, held at Brandeis in March. The conference web page has more blog posts and other resources.

When people describe Jewish educational programs as “transformative,” what do they mean?

Some argue that “transformative education” is an empty bit of hyperbole that does not mean anything in particular. There’s no reason to believe that there’s any well-reasoned conception of transformation that grounds the use of the terms. And there’s certainly no reason to believe that those who are using this language have any evidence that their programs are actually transformative for their participants.

The skeptics have a point. We often make claims about our programs that we cannot really justify. And there’s no reason to think that, each time someone uses the term “transformative” to describe a program, those usages can all be subsumed under one coherent conception.

Nevertheless, when we talk about “transformation” in Jewish education or use the adjective “transformative” to describe a program, there’s something else going on. The term, I believe, points to a desired outcome: an aspiration for the program to have a certain kind of impact on the participants. Continue Reading »

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Mar 04 2016

Hebrew Infusion at American Jewish Summer Camps

Published by under Research

Praise for the kitchen staff/Tzevet Mitbach at Camp Galil (Habonim Dror Camp in Pennsylvania)


By Sarah Bunin Benor

Editor’s Note: Over the last three years, Sarah Bunin Benor, Jonathan Krasner, and Sharon Avni have visited and surveyed Jewish summer camps across North America to learn how Hebrew is incorporated at camp. This research is a project of the Mandel Center, with funding from the Consortium for Applied Studies in Jewish Education (CASJE). Next week at Foundation for Jewish Camp’s Leaders Assembly, the researchers will share some of their findings and offer an interactive space for camps to share experiences and best practices. This spring, they will release findings from the survey portion of the study of Hebrew at camps; a book about the project will be published next year.  

Achshav kulam na lavo la’aruchat erev” (Now, everyone, please come to dinner), said one young man to the other madrichim (counselors) and chanichim (campers) at Habonim Dror Camp Galil, a small progressive Zionist summer camp in Pennsylvania. From the kikar (square), not far from the gan (garden), they entered the chadar ochel (dining hall). Several Hebrew words were featured on plaques above the mitbach (kitchen). Soon after dinner, they sang and danced to Hebrew songs like Lo Yisa Goy and recited the blessings for Havdalah in Hebrew.

With all this Hebrew, it may seem that Camp Galil is geared toward Israelis and other Hebrew speakers. However, this is not the case.

Continue Reading »

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Feb 04 2016

Israel Education Needs Coaches, not Cheerleaders

By Sivan Zakai and Hannah Tobin Cohen

Imagine you’re playing in the Super Bowl. Would you rather have the encouragement of an enthusiastic cheerleader or the guidance of a skilled coach?

The field of Israel education is crowded with cheerleaders. Believing that it is their responsibility to champion Israel, teachers and parents aim to instill in young children positive feelings toward the Jewish state, in the hope that they will be protected from bad press and negative feelings about Israel as they grow older. The only problem: It’s not a winning strategy. Continue Reading »

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Oct 26 2015

How to Talk to Your Kids About the Violence in Israel

By Sivan Zakai, director, Children’s Learning About Israel project. This article originally appeared at Forward.com, Oct 19, 2015. Reproduced from here by permission of the Forward.

These are dark days for the Jewish people. In Israel, Jewish children head off to school not knowing when or where the next attack will occur. But Jewish children in the United States are geographically removed from the fray, and their bodies are not on the front lines in this new frightening chapter in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So what do American Jewish children know and feel about the conflict? And how should we — their parents, grandparents and teachers — talk to them about it? Continue Reading »

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Oct 21 2015

Wet, Hot, Hebrew-Infused American Summer

By Sarah Bunin Benor, co-director of the Hebrew in North American Jewish Summer Camps project

Image from "Wet Hot American Summer"What is a Hebrew word doing in an American Netflix preview? Near the end of the official trailer for Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, this appears briefly on the screen: “וגם (featuring) David Wain.” Wain, the show’s co-creator, plays Yaron, the one Israeli counselor at Camp Firewood. The insertion of a foreign word – not decipherable to most prospective viewers – fits in with the absurd, “campy” nature of the film. But as a sociolinguist, I see a whole world of significance in that word and in the Hebrew used in the show. Continue Reading »

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