“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much": An old adage by Helen Keller, but one that might also serve to define the central motivation of the Shinui Network.
Established in 2012 with a Signature Grant from The Covenant Foundation, Shinui was built on the premise that innovation in part-time Jewish education is essential, and that by drawing together those who are already working toward that goal and creating a network, Shinui could offer educators an opportunity to connect and support each other.
“What sparked the idea for Shinui,” explained Anna Marx, Shinui’s Project Director, “is the acknowledgement that we’re all doing this—so, couldn’t we have a greater impact on the field if we worked together and supported one another?”
By “this,” Marx is referring to the work being done behind the scenes in myriad part-time Jewish educational contexts to revive, update, refresh and renew part-time Jewish learning. “We recognize that the needs of each community involved in our network are different,” she added, “but there’s so much that we can learn from one another, and we can help each other on the journey.”
Made up of 10 community agencies (located in Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Toronto), each Shinui Network member is a chosen a professional who, as some part of their portfolio, works on congregational education in their community.
“The roles of our network members are unique,” Marx emphasizes, “because while most are educators by training, their job is to support other educators—which means they aren’t necessarily the ones working directly with other families.” Marx pointed this out to highlight the essential nature of the “support” piece of the Network.
“For our agency representatives,” she said, “Shinui offers a unique opportunity to talk to others who are in a similar role. While they are highly connected educational professionals, they are not directly providing education to families themselves. Rather, these are the professionals who understand the real and urgent issues their local educators face today and design professional learning and other services to support them throughout the year.”
That unique and very connected Jewish professional who represents his or her community amongst the Shinui network agencies is called a “manche” or a “coach,” in Shinui parlance. The manche is the person on the ground in Houston or Toronto or Philadelphia, who works with local congregations and organizations, helping to bring innovation to local Jewish programming. That person then communicates back to the Network to share ideas and challenges-- and garner support.
“Ultimately, our initiative is helping people to learn from one another,” Marx said. “Early on, we worked on this concept of give/get. We asked ourselves, ‘What can organizations give to one another and what can they get from one another?”
“What we uncovered,” she continued, “is that the network is most helpful when each manche brings to the table their own unique and geographically-inflected perspective. Because their cities each have distinct cultures and Jewish communities, the outside perspective they gain by talking to others—essentially comparing notes--provides an invaluable viewpoint that they might not have otherwise.”
Professional Development takes on myriad forms and there are many spokes in the wheel, so to speak, to make the process move forward. Bringing people together is a crucial spoke, and cultivating a network that’s actually productive, is another.
What’s more, PD doesn’t just happen in a vacuum where a trainer and a trainee, meet. Rather, sometimes the trainer and the trainee switch roles, blend knowledge, wrestle with difference and lean on one another for support.
“There’s a lot of modeling that goes on,” Marx added.
Some of that modeling is now occurring through a new partnership with The William Davidson Graduate School of Education at The Jewish Theological Seminary.
“Dr. Bill Robinson approached us not long after he became Dean of the Davidson School,” Marx shared. “He knew that we represented many agencies who were already working on innovating Jewish educational programming and at JTS, through The ReFrame program, the same kind of work was occurring. This was an opportunity for our organizations to support and impact each other.”
To date, the Davidson School has brought the manchim together for two facilitated retreats, where they shared theories of change from their own communities and worked toward identifying a shared outcome for part-time Jewish education together.
“The partnership with the Davidson School offered us an important opportunity to work together to reflect on the individual approaches of our partner agencies and to begin to think forward about the impact we might make as a North American network. Our time together at these two retreats confirmed our assumption from the early formation of the network: we are stronger together,” Marx said.
Ultimately, Marx emphasizes, this work matters, plain and simple.
“It matters that the kids who receive some or all of their Jewish education from a congregational program – or any part-time program - have a really good experience,” she said. “It matters that they feel good, that they learn deeply and then carry with them a positive story that will guide them later in their lives.”
“Too often, we get discouraged, we want to wash our hands of the problem,” she added. “Achieving such lofty goals in just a few hours a week is hard, and we have high expectations.”
“But it matters,” she said. “Our kids matter.”
“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