Some say I just was looking to see some beautiful fall foliage. Others know that I have a soft spot in my heart for carved wood synagogue sanctuaries. Yet others might suppose that as a shul-hopper, I decided to take a few days to check out Congregation Or Hadash in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania. In fact, I went to Fort Washington on a mission: to learn from and connect with other education directors of Reconstructionist Congregations.
The theme of the RENA conference was “Experiential Learning” with a focus on how to incorporate the style of programming from Camp JRF into our schools and congregational education models.
Our first session focused on using theatre in the classroom. Alana Sklover, the facilitator, a former Camp JRF counselor and current RRC student, presented a variety of creative ways to teach Hebrew, Bible and prayer through movement and interactive competitions. The opportunity to be silly with my colleagues really broke the ice, as well as opened us up to new ways of making learning exciting and interactive. We even had a sharing session at the end where we exchanged best practices in the areas of Hebrew games and kinesthetic activities.
Gidon Isaacs, Education Director of the SAJ, and I facilitated the second session on incorporating film into the classroom. We studied texts by Mordecai Kaplan on the topic of how studying history can influence Jewish identity. Then we watched a short film called “The Tribe” which brought out these themes in a modern context. The film traces the story of the Barbie doll, created by a Jewish woman, to suggest some answers about American Jewish identity. After the film, we engaged in a lively debate about how to focus our curriculum so that we can reach our students who only come to our classes a few hours a week. Each education director shared both challenges and successes on this topic.
During the second day of the conference, we were treated to a session on the music of Camp JRF. Our facilitator, RRC student and former Camp JRF educator and songleader James Greene taught songs and shared a variety of theories on music education. From sharing the top songs of the summer (yes, the campers voted) to enlivening the room with creative new tunes for prayer, each participant left with a new perspective on how music can enhance our schools.