Artifacts offer links to the past, evidence of history, and hints of the humans to whom they belonged. They also open new possibilities in the present.
Through the careful consideration of objects, we are admitted to stories; through stories, we encounter other people. And each encounter represents a chance to form a meaningful connection, to think critically and care deeply. In learning about the American Jewish experience, this connection has the potential to feel personal and to spark students’ curiosity about the legacies they may choose to carry.
Recognizing the high impact and efficacy of object-learning, the National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH) in Philadelphia offers ways for Jewish educators to discover the pedagogical value of objects, cultivate opportunities to implement techniques, and feel empowered to conduct object-learning in their own classrooms. The museum offers a number of programs and resources, including specific lesson plans that draw on NMAJH’s collection, student activities and resources, and teacher trainings.
And NMAJH’s National Educators Institute (NEI), founded in 2016, is its professional development program through which Jewish educators can learn how to integrate new pedagogies and guide their students to practice a caring approach.
The NEI’s centerpiece program—supported by The Covenant Foundation—is its annual, four-day seminar that brings educators to Philadelphia for talks, workshops, onsite museum learning, and access to experts. (In addition to the onsite NEI, NMAJH educators travel to two communities each year to provide day-long professional development seminars.) NEI activities include group workshops, panels, customized work sessions, and small discussion groups—ensuring that educators have what they need to absorb content and build a teaching community.
One of the annual seminar’s key features is its embrace of different Jewish educational models. Jewish day school teachers as well as congregational school teachers (whose students are grades 5-12) are welcome to participate. To address the differences between Jewish day school and supplementary Jewish educational settings, the NEI presents two tailored tracks. However, even more importantly, the museum becomes a place for these educators of different pedagogical and teaching backgrounds, from across the U.S., to gather and learn together.
“[NMAJH] is a leading institution creatively teaching, interpreting, and inspiring dialogue about the American Jewish experience,” explains Dr. Josh Perelman, NMAJH’s chief curator and director of exhibitions and interpretation. “The museum is dedicated to bringing educational lessons based on its collection and content to classrooms across the country.”
The NEI’s national focus is consistent with the museum’s mission to preserve, explore, and celebrate the history of Jews in America. In its teacher trainings, the museum’s goal is to represent a more complete and nuanced history that extends beyond common portrayals in typical places. This representation of Jewish life includes stories from diverse places in the U.S. as well as pointing out when Jewish history is interwoven with well-known American narratives.
One of the ways that the museum inspires pride in Jewish students—and curiosity in students of all backgrounds—is to reveal Jewish presence and participation in significant moments in American history. In turn, the NEI focuses on preparing educators to develop effective pedagogical approaches to histories that are at once important and complex.
The NEI is open to educators who teach Jewish and general history as well as those who teach language arts, social studies, art, theater, and music. Across different subject areas, the NEI seeks to empower teachers to help students develop their interpretive skills, social-emotional skills, and sense of pride and connection. In the process, the hope is that museum resources and collection items will be meaningfully, substantively introduced—enhancing students’ research skills and facilities with different sources, and enriching classroom conversations.
The summer 2019 NEI seminar on The Art and Science of Teaching Jewish History in America, for example, featured sessions covering a wide sweep of topics. These included how to present “current issues” to students; recognizing core themes—and challenges—in American Jewish history; and teaching around tensions in American Jewish history (with the Civil War as a case study subject). The seminar also featured an opportunity to interact with NMAJH’s online collection—familiarizing teachers with how they might use museum online resource in their classrooms—and Ronit Lusky’s workshop on “reading” objects. The object-learning workshop took as its central question: “How do we ‘read’ objects and construct meaning built around an approach of close observations, thoughtful interpretations, adventurous questioning, relationship-building, and rich conversations with peers?” As a way to begin answering this question, NMAJH offers an even more robust resource: its free, downloadable classroom curriculum.
OpenBook: Discovering American Jewish History Through Objects (available online at info.nmajh.org/openbook) is a national curriculum to teach American Jewish history through objects and hevruta, or partner learning. It was created to facilitate object-based teaching, thoughtful interpretation, and open dialogue. In addition to its use of hevruta learning, OpenBook exercises Jewish practices of interpretation, providing sample “Talmud” pages in which the visual immediately communicates the method—placing the central text or object in the center, with interpretive and contextual work around its perimeter. The OpenBook Talmud pages explore ways of knowing, teaching, and learning. At the 2019 NEI seminar, these ways coalesced around four important topics: “What Does Religious Liberty Look Like?”; “American Responses to the Holocaust”; “Jews and the Civil Rights Movement”; and “What is the Power of Music?”
The above special topics indicate the wingspan of the museum’s professional development activities and teacher resources.
As part of the NEI’s professional development model, participating educators are almost immediately encouraged to begin thinking about how they can put object-learning to use as they fulfill their own curricular goals. That teachers will produce new content for their classrooms—and subsequently experiment with presenting these lessons and activities—is a goal and expectation of the NEI seminar. To advance educators’ efforts, NMAJH is dedicated to creating a community of NEI alumni so that participants continue to feel connected and can share information, knowledge, and wisdom. Educators are also asked to share the results of their teaching experiments and experiences with the museum over time, creating a cycle of trial and refinement that the museum learns from as well.
Teacher feedback is essential as NMAJH continues to raise the bar for its own contributions; soon, they will roll out three new lessons on colonial Jewry antisemitism, and American Zionism. These lessons will encourage students to consider the relevance of history to their own lives. They will give young people the opportunity to realize that they are not only students of the past, but also makers of history.
By Miriam Haier, for The Covenant Foundation.
Miriam is the Director of Content and Strategy at Pure+Applied, a multidisciplinary design studio in New York City
“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