Every night, instead of tidying up or cleaning the kitchen and then rushing into the bedtime routine for her ten-year-old daughter, Jennifer Loeb sits down for ten to fifteen minutes to do something she truly enjoys. Sometimes it’s calling a friend. Other nights, she sits and meditates while her daughter reads a book in the next room. Sometimes mother and daughter watch a TV show together. “I’m taking time for myself, and that’s something important I’m teaching [my daughter],” Loeb explained.
This new routine, which Loeb said has been life-changing, was inspired by her participation in the Orot: Center for New Jewish Learning program called The Peaceful Parent Project. Launched last year with the support of a Covenant Foundation Ignition Grant, The Peaceful Parent Project is a six-week live immersive group experience that integrates Jewish texts, mindfulness practices, and other sources of wisdom, to nourish and support parents emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually, so that they can in turn better nurture their children. Orot’s cofounders, Rebecca Minkus-Lieberman and Covenant Award recipient Dr. Jane Shapiro, have always been responsive to the “deep human needs” of their learners, helping them to find refuge, comfort, and coping strategies for difficult times amongst the treasure troves of Jewish wisdom. As a parent (Minkus-Lieberman) and both a parent and a bubbe (Shapiro) themselves, they know first-hand the daily challenges parents face.
“We believe that if parents have the space, tools, and opportunity to nourish themselves and care for themselves, that it will naturally ripple out and affect the interactions with their kids,” said Minkus-Lieberman. “[The experience] touches people’s heads, hearts, bodies, spirits—the whole of a person,” she added.
Over the course of six 1.5-hour sessions, parents explore various themes, including shema (listening deeply to yourself and your children), ahava (choosing the path of love), shavat va’yinafash (finding rest amidst the chaos), re’iyah (seeing your children for who they really are), anava (cultivating humility and embracing vulnerability), and hitchadshut (seeing each day as a parent with fresh eyes and new heart, and bringing holiness to the mundane). Minkus-Lieberman, who teaches the course, draws from Jewish teachings (including mussar and Hasidic texts), mindfulness, meditation, philosophy, and contemporary poetry and other modern sources. She begins each session with a breathing exercise and meditation, allowing time for parents to settle their thoughts and engage in personal reflection. After covering the day’s texts and theme, each session ends with suggested practices, both something that parents can try out for themselves and something they can try out with their children.
The most recent cohort of parents began the course in-person back in March. Then the Covid-19 pandemic arrived. But parents didn’t want to stop. They were facing compressed time with kids, a lack of structure from school, emotional uncertainty, isolation, and a lack of support structures. “They needed to feel grounded,” Minkus-Lieberman said.
Fortuitously, she and Shapiro had just finished testing out an online iteration of The Peaceful Parent Project right before the pandemic hit. The online version had been successful, so they quickly transitioned the current parent cohort to all-virtual sessions.
Talya Gepner, parent to a two-year-old and a nine-year-old, was trying to figure out how to take care of herself, engage in her career, and support her children while they were out of school. Inspired by the cohort’s discussion of the “Shabbat mind”—a mindset of finding moments of pause and connection with yourself and your children—she instituted a new weekly family practice at Friday night dinner. Rather than asking for the week’s positive highlights, she creates space for her children to express a full range of emotions while they reflect on both the good and challenging aspects of the week.
“It gives parents a chance to be more authentic, too, and to validate for kids that we don’t have all the answers, we’re not perfect, and we’re learning, too,” said Gepner.
The Peaceful Parent Project theme that stuck most with Jennifer Loeb was shema—listening. Her ten-year-old daughter was going through a rough time during the pandemic, because she couldn’t see her friends. Loeb did her best to empathize but was struggling with how to support her daughter. In the shema session, she learned how to “be in the problem” with her daughter, rather than trying to fix it. “I held her hand and I looked her in the eye, and I said ‘I know it’s so, so hard,’” Loeb explained. “It made her cry more, but it felt like a shared emotion instead of me watching her go through something.”
The shema session also helped Carolyn Reinglass, a full-time parent to five children ranging in age from eight to 19, who faced the enormous challenge of accommodating remote learning for all of them while also dealing with stress from the fact that her husband works in a major care center for Covid patients. Reinglass was particularly moved by the Sefat Emet’s (Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter of Ger, 1847-1905) commentary on Parshat Vaera, in which he says that “true listening means being open, receptive, and fully present to all things.”
“I learned to pay attention more to my parenting and to increase the space between my children’s actions and my responses to their actions. I am also more intentional about meeting each child as an individual person and listening more to his or her needs, versus imposing a system that I think should work for all of them,” Reinglass said. This space and intentionality has also enabled Reinglass to reframe the current situation, and she now thinks of her family’s time together this summer as an opportunity to slow down and embrace the smaller moments, such as when her children initiate art projects, bake, plant, or play outside in the sprinklers.
Jennifer Loeb was also inspired by a text from neurologist, psychologist, and Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl, which speaks to the power of taking a breath and pausing before responding to stimuli. Loeb called this piece of learning “pivotal” and has adopted the practice of pausing, frequently taking a moment to decide which version of herself will respond to her children.
The practice of pausing and taking a breath was also instrumental for Naomi Shapiro, who found that her patience was wearing thin and her anxiety was increasing while she was home with her two children, ages five and eight, and also working remotely full-time. “Taking a breath and then responding—I have done that too many times to count! That’s been a very useful tool,” she shared.
With no end to the pandemic in sight, and uncertainty surrounding school reopenings and the entire academic year, the need for parents to have this safe space—a “micro-spiritual community” as Shapiro calls it—for learning and support will likely only deepen. As such, she anticipates a flood of interest come September. And, now that The Peaceful Parent Project has gone entirely online for the foreseeable future, the program is no longer limited to participants in the local Chicago community. Indeed, after opening up the program nationally and doing several info sessions on Facebook Live, Minkus-Lieberman heard from parents all over the country (and even one from Brazil!) who are interested in joining a cohort.
“These are parents who have no community right now and are desperate to be with other Jewish parents,” said Minkus-Lieberman. “It’s a gift to be able to offer this right now.”
By Yonah Kirschner, for The Covenant Foundation
“Together we will create Jewish experiences where preteens and their families can learn, explore, and feel more connected to each other, and to Jewish life” - Deborah S. Meyer, Founder and CEO, Moving Traditions
“Education holds the key to changing the world and making it better. For education to achieve all that it can, we must have teachers who believe in the moral, ethical, Jewish ideas we teach and who are committed to inspiring their students”
—Rabbi David Eliach, A Covenant of Dreams: Realizing the Promise of Jewish Education, 2009
“There are children, grownups, everywhere
That would love to hear your voices
Singing for our health to be bright
So that we can join together...and paint our world with healing and hope”
-From the original song, Painting Our World with Healing Hope, by Karina and Debora Zilberman
“Families that share stories about parents and grandparents, about triumphs and failures, provide powerful models for children. Children understand who they are in the world not only through their individual experience, but through the filters of family stories that provide a sense of identity through historical time...Through sharing the past, families recreate themselves in the present, and project themselves into the future.”
—“Do You Know…” The power of family history in adolescent identity and well-being
Read more about Dr. Marshall Duke and his work, here.
“There are people out there who are educating their hearts as we speak. They’re getting on with the work, they’re loving their kids, they’re loving their students, they’re loving their communities. We must retrain our vision toward those people—we must develop eyes to see and ears to hear where that love is already happening—that is worth our energy and our care and our time, to tend that love, to show that love ourselves.”
—Krista Tippett, Founder and CEO, The On Being Project
"Civil discourse requires us to listen generously and to act as though—and to really believe—we could be open to persuasion. We each may think: 'I did not cause this situation, I am not to blame.' Yet we each have the capacity to help society turn the corner, if we honestly ask what went wrong and what we can do about it."
- Martha Minow, the 300th Anniversary University Professor at Harvard University and Joseph William Singer, Bussey Professor of Law, Harvard University
The Wow Metric of Success: Jewish Life in Bloom on the Farm: Spring has arrived, and the Jewish community is busy planting with purpose. In Vaughan, Ontario, the yellow coltsfoot and purple-blue scilla are just starting to flower at the Kavanah Garden, a half acre community garden that’s part of Shoresh, the Canadian-based Jewish environmental organization that includes the Kavanah Garden and Bela Farm. Last Sunday, on “Yom Manual Labor” volunteers gathered to turn the soil, plant seeds, paint outdoor tables and participate in construction projects with the Shoresh team, preparing the garden for growing season.
“Our Jewish community is only as strong as its ability to include all members in the fabric of Jewish life. Doing so helps each of us recognize the unique strengths we all bring to the Jewish community, and that community cannot possibly be complete until we actively and intentionally welcome each other.”
-Meredith Englander Polsky, 2017 Covenant Award Recipient, Director of Institutes and Training, Matan, and Developmental Support Coordinator, Temple Beth Ami Nursery School
“From all of my teachers, I have grown wise.” Psalms 119:99. Framing Jewish Education, a project of The Jewish Lens and supported by The Covenant Foundation, was created to engage teachers, students, and families in conversation about the value of Jewish education and to illustrate the power of great teaching and learning via a curriculum based on visual literacy and text.
“For me, study is a divine and daily imperative; I study a page of Talmud daily so that I am not only teaching. My teaching is constantly being fed by my learning.” —Erica Brown Associate Professor, George Washington School of Education and Human Development. Director, Mayberg Center for Jewish Education and Leadership, 2009 Covenant Award Recipient
The Covenant Classroom means something different to every educator but common goals are to motivate, engage and be inclusive of all learners. In this volume, we’ve collected an array of Teachings on Inspiration and Motivation in all areas of Education.
#ThankATeacher It has been twenty-five years since The Covenant Foundation first opened its doors, and we continue to be humbled by extraordinary Jewish educators from across North America and across the spectrum of Jewish life who have devoted their careers and considerable talents to the field of Jewish education. Now, in celebration of a quarter-century-old tradition of honoring Jewish education and educators, and to kick off a year of public engagement around great teaching, we’re proud to share The Covenant Foundation voices app with you: a new digital way to give and share your gratitude.
“There are just two outcomes that really matter: First, that students feel Judaism is the fertile ground in which they get nurtured to grow, and second, that they find Judaism joyful.” Rabbi Joy Levitt, Executive Director, JCC Manhattan
“What would it look like if we bet on Jewish early childhood education for the long-term, as our tradition instructs? The task might seem large, but the reward, we know, is great (Pirkei Avot 2:15).”
“Countless leaders have been inspired by the story of the Jewish people leaving bondage in Egypt – those whose names we know, like Martin Luther King, Jr. and those whose names we never will know, whose every-day acts of kindness and resistance fuel social change. This story, our story, has become a cornerstone of modern social justice work.”
—Abby Levine, Director of The Jewish Social Justice Roundtable
This is how I see a “Covenant Classroom”: a place where challenging topics are passionately discussed; a place where complex ancient texts are grappled with; a place in which self- esteem grows, and motivation to learn increases exponentially because of it. An environment in which each Jewish soul is given the confidence to continue the eternal search for meaning.”
—Dr. Sandra Ostrowicz Lilienthal, Curriculum Developer and Instructor at The Rose and Jack Orloff Central Agency for Jewish Education of Broward County and 2015 Covenant Award Recipient
“When powerful, new approaches to learning are introduced through digital tools, meaningful disruptions occur along the way… When this happens, new approaches which previously seemed inaccessible, are suddenly within reach.”
—Barry Joseph, Associate Director for Digital Learning, Youth Initiatives, American Museum of Natural History
“The future of Jewish teen engagement can in fact be found in 3D printers, and in text-people, and in service, and outdoor education, and in anything that brings teens into contact with authentic learning experiences and passionate, caring, knowledgeable educators.”
—Charlie Schwartz, Senior Jewish Educator, Director, BIMA & Genesis, Brandeis High School Programs
Portal seems like a particularly apt metaphor for entry points into Jewish life and learning because ultimately we want those experiences to be deeply experiential and transformative. We also want them to be accessible. A portal has no toll; passage is free. At the same time, a portal is particularistic, not a generic entrance. It conveys a sense of magic, ritual, and power. Similarly, we want to convey that Jewish life is rich, layered, and meaningful beyond what is immediately apparent. We want the encounter with Jewish life to take you on a journey that is profound and surprising. And, given that each of us may enter through the same portal but have a completely different experience of what is on the other "side," the possibilities are endless.
— Judith Rosenbaum, Executive Director, The Jewish Women’s Archive
"We need a new kind of creativity in the classroom that’s going to reach Jewish kids… If a teacher is imaginative, he or she is going to connect to students’ hearts and souls.”
—Dr. Arnold Eisen, Chancellor, Jewish Theological Seminary, Board Member, The Covenant Foundation.
"There are four types of students... The sponge absorbs everything. The funnel brings in on one side lets it out the other. The strainer lets out the wine and retains the lees. The sieve lets out the flour dust and retains the fine flour." —Pirkei Avot 5:15
"There’s a misconception that a venture must depend on large grants from big donors. It makes more sense and it’s more sustainable to test out an idea, and see whether it has the opportunity to make an impact on people’s lives."
— Ariel Beery, founder, PresenTense
I think [creating new Jewish texts] is a really good description of what we’re trying to do. These days we’re increasingly creating products that are intended to be shared on the web. We’ve felt and continue to feel that this medium, and virtual communication as a whole, is being under-tapped for its possibilities for making art.
— Reflections from Sam Ball on the New Jewish Filmmaker Project