When we think of Los Angeles, we think of art. After all, who doesn’t know of the iconic Hollywood sign in L.A.’s Hollywood Hills? Who hasn’t heard of the great film studios and the storied venues where musicians, visual artists, vocalists, dancers and so many others come to take a chance on their dreams?
Think of Los Angeles again. Only this time use a Jewish lens. Now, you probably envision a community rich in its Jewish practice, culture and diversity, third only to New York and Chicago in terms of Jewish population; and a world-class center of Jewish education, to boot.
With so many of L.A.’s Jewish artists working as part-time teachers in synagogue religious schools, leading choruses, helping tutor b’nai mitzvot or offering art classes to senior citizens, Miriam Heller Stern, Dean of American Jewish University’s Graduate Center of Education, began asking questions:
What if instead of standing on the margins of Jewish education, artists took center stage?
Why not connect the artists who are Jewish, with religious school curriculum?
What if arts could become the conduit through which Jewish Education is taught?
“What’s unique about the L.A. Jewish community is that it’s a very creative community. Lots of Jewish artists come here to pursue their careers in performing arts, visual arts, music or film. Over time, I started encountering many people who were working in the field of the arts and dabbling in Jewish education. They’d give theater workshops or do week-long residencies at a camp. But that’s what they were doing on the side. As Jewish educators, they operated in a marginal space. But they were offering a rich way of engaging with Jewish content; I thought maybe I could merge my professional passion for the arts with Jewish education.”
The result? Dream Lab.
Initially funded by a Covenant Foundation Ignition Grant in 2014 to convene a think tank and then later supported by an L.A. Jewish Federation grant to launch a teaching fellowship, Dream Lab is a strategic initiative aimed at infusing the field of Jewish education with creativity.
With a year-long teaching fellowship at the Graduate Center for Jewish Education at American Jewish University at its core, Dream Lab exists for professional artists and creatives who wish to deepen and expand their practice as Jewish educators. Last October, 30 creative practitioners from Northern and Southern California convened to talk about creative practice as educators and meet with Dream Lab’s seven fellows.
And now, just two years since its inception, Dream Lab has received another grant from the Covenant Foundation, which will allow Jewish artists and educators across the disciplines to develop and share new teaching methodologies and provide each other with valuable professional feedback and support.
“By mobilizing diverse Jewish talent,” said Stern, “our aim is to provide a meeting ground for a new movement toward creative Jewish education, grounded in research and theory from the disciplines of art education, philosophy, psychology and curriculum development.”
In September of 2015, seven artists began the first year-long Dream Lab fellowship. Their goal “is to explore how to redefine the form and function of a Jewish education as a facilitator of creativity, interpretation and personal Jewish expression.”
Learning from the collective pedagogies of the different guest teaching artists, the seven fellows have since been studying how to implement the fusion of greater creativity, artistry and expression into Jewish education. During their monthly meetings, they study Jewish texts and ideas and discuss pedagogical assessments and human development with the goal of “incubating new creative methodologies of facilitating learning through creative processes,” Stern explained.
She describes Dream Lab as part “pedagogy test kitchen” and part “Inside the Actor’s Studio” in which the Dream Lab Fellows will learn to teach Judaics through the arts.
“What we call teaching artists, they themselves call `creative practitioners,’” said Stern. “We are expanding the definition of artist to include film makers, theater makers, writers, musicians and others. We’re playing with terminology in the field that’s useful to bring like-minded people together.”
The Dream Lab is an opportunity, said Stern, to redefine a vision of teaching Judaics through the arts.
“Our goal,” she said, “is to make the case, through our experiments, for bringing the arts to center stage in Jewish education.
Dream Lab Fellows will then co-create classroom lesson plans, courses and curricula with AJU educators to implement programs at supplementary schools, day schools, youth groups and camps.
Stern worked closely with Aaron Henne, the Artistic Director of theatre dybbuk, a Los Angeles area arts and education company whose work brings a focus to Jewish folklore, rituals and history. Henne is also one of Dream Lab’s seven fellows. He said that Dream Lab’s intent is to expand the footprint of Jewish arts as a vehicle of Jewish education.
“When people hear of arts education, they often think of it as siloed or separate from other topics,” he said. “The Dream Lab’s idea is that art modalities can be used to expose other topics. In this case, it’s Jewish learning. And it’s towards this goal of using art to teach Jewish education that Miriam envisioned.”
Stern added that the “dream” of Dream Lab was that Jewish creatives (as she calls them) have much to offer. “We should take their potential contribution as a serious opportunity to revitalize Jewish life against the landscape of a particularly creative moment in secular culture,” she added.
“There are a lot of Jewish artists who have great intentions about what they want to contribute to the Jewish world through education,” said Stern. “But they don’t know how to articulate their desired outcomes. They don’t know how to describe it and measure it, but they know what it looks like. This is our purpose, to help weave the arts into the agenda of Jewish education. We want artists to develop sophisticated students who can let their biggest questions about Judaism speak through dance, music and art.”
“Dream Lab also attempts to address the sense of profound isolation that many artists experience as freelancers in Jewish education,” Stern said. “Through Dream Lab, we cultivate a professional guild for creatives who want to deepen the impact of their educational work. When you put a group of genius artists together, that’s where you see the magic.”
“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