While they live in cities that are more than 1200 miles apart, Susan Berson and her 7-year-old granddaughter Ellie have been studying the weekly Torah portion together, over Zoom, for the past year. Last year, they joined with other pairs of Berkeley-based grandchildren and their grandparents all over the United States and Israel, in a program organized and led by Edah, an innovative full-service Jewish afterschool program in Berkeley.
With Edah educators guiding them in group study before shifting to individual family breakout rooms, the generations engage in lively conversations – unprecedented for many – making connections between the text and their daily lives. Berson recalls that when they spoke about the story in Genesis of Abraham rushing out to greet the angels visiting him with warm hospitality, she told her granddaughter how much she appreciates it when Ellie runs out to greet her and her husband when they visit.
“The most important thing about the program,” Berson says, “is that the grandchildren get the idea that the Jewish story is important in their family, and that they can relate Jewish learning to their lives.”
Edah is a program of Studio 70, a non-profit Jewish educational center, which has received grants from The Covenant Foundation. Yafit Shikri-Megidish, executive director of Studio 70, explains that during the pandemic in the summer of 2020, Edah staff were thinking anew about online programming. They initiated a 6-week program bringing together their students and their grandparents for a weekly shared hour of Torah learning, with two different groups, based on age. For Shriki-Megidish, this was an opportunity for expanded learning and also for the grandparents to get to know the Edah community.
An Edah educator led a discussion of the week’s Torah portion, perhaps including puppets or videos for the younger children, and then gave a discussion prompt to the group, inspiring thoughts of family stories or their daily experience. For 20 minutes, the family pairs conversed, catching up on their lives and interests as well as addressing the prompt. Afterwards, the larger group came back together and shared what they had discussed. Usually, the event ended with singing.
After the six weeks, both the group of grandparents and group of grandchildren asked to continue. Edah then organized a year of joint learning for them. The grandparents were also invited to join in online celebrations, including a celebration of Edah’s tenth anniversary.
“It was magical,” Shriki-Megidish says. “I think it created a shared experience they didn’t have before. Now they can build on it and continue the conversation.”
Edah then expanded their offerings to include similar sessions for young teens (ages 11 to 13, including some Edah alumni) and their grandparents. In one session, the grandparents were asked to show something in their home that related to their Jewish identity, and to share the story behind the object – sometimes these were items seen frequently, but the stories had been previously unknown to the young people. One grandmother showed a wall hanging with a blessing she received from her mother, a Holocaust survivor, who received it from her father.
“The program has helped grandparents get into deeper conversations with their kids, beyond asking how was their day,” Shriki-Megidish says. She also emphasizes that the elder generation had an unusual window into the kids’ lives, seeing how they interacted with friends and teachers and learning about their interests in social justice and current events.
For Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, Edah educators invited all the children and grandparents involved in the program to join in a conversation with two Holocaust survivors. Participants had a chance to ask questions, and, afterwards, they divided into their family breakout rooms to talk about what they had heard.
“This gave the grandparents another opportunity to be involved in their grandchildren’s education and to bring their insight, wisdom, and what is important to them about being Jewish to the conversation,” Shikri-Megidish says.
About 40 families participated in the program at Edah, and Shriki-Megidish also initiated a group in Los Angeles, partnering with the Ikar community, as well as a program in Hebrew for students whose grandparents are in Israel, following the same format.
Shriki-Megidish, who worked as director of education at Edah before being named executive director, has a broad and varied background in education. Born in Jerusalem, she has worked in both formal and informal settings, with students of all ages and backgrounds; she served as principal of a middle school in Israel, worked with youth at risk, and has taught teachers.
At Edah, there is an emphasis on students developing Hebrew language skills as well as positive feelings about themselves and a sense of belonging to the Jewish people. Their groundbreaking programs combine recreation, enrichment, and education, and foster a deep sense of community among students and parents.
Shriki-Megidish’s mother participated in the intergenerational Torah learning, zooming in from Israel to meet with Shriki-Megidish’s daughter. “Every time the session ended, my mother would text that it was a joy, so precious to her. She got to know my daughter – her granddaughter – so much better.”
When the Edah facilitator recently visited Israel, all the participating Israeli grandparents wanted to meet him. “The program was such a gift for them,” Shriki-Megidish adds.
Another benefit of the program, as Susan Berson points out, is that the grandparents got to know each other and learn from each other, as well as from the kids, week after week.
She also credits the teachers and their very positive approach. “They were so kind and respectful to the kids. Especially when we were joining together after the break-out rooms, when we shared what we discussed with the whole group. They really wanted to hear what the kids had to say. Sometimes it’s hard for kids to speak up in a group and they made it much easier.”
For those students who don’t have grandparents, or whose grandparents weren’t able to participate, the organizers paired them with family friends or Edah educators.
“We wanted to make sure that everyone was included,” Shriki-Megidish says.
While programming at Edah will be shifting back to in-person and hybrid participation, staff will be sending a weekly email to students, suggesting a task that they do with their grandparents, whether on Zoom or by phone. The students will then report back to teachers about how they did.
“This was something both sides were excited about. We want to hold that connection,” Megidish says. “It was such a joy.”
By Sandee Brawarsky, 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