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This is a guest post by Dr. Eliezer Jones, Director of Educational Innovation at Yeshiva University’s Institute for University-School Partnership. It is cross-posted at EJs Cafe.


Yesterday was the end of the three-day Ravsak/Pardes Jewish Day School Leadership conference in Los Angeles which I attended. In fact, I actually stayed on a bit longer speaking with Ken Gordon of PEJE and JEDLAB fame engaging in a very thoughtful conversation about Jewish education, its present state, its future and ways to move the needle (the theme of the conference) in our schools and the field. I could not think of a better way to end the conference as it was the personification of my conference experience.

The conversation was an engaging dialogue of innovative ideas, challenges, diverse thoughts and mutual respect for each others commitment to Jewish education. This continued even when what is true about Jewish education and life for each other was different. This is what the conference was all about for me, and Ken, abstractly and in reality, was actually a thread that ran through most of my experience there.

Ken and I developed the “W” at the Design Thinking deep-dive facilitated by Upstart Bay Area.


The “W”

It was a joint venture to solve the issue of the wallet which we both wish we did not have to lug around. It is a smart watch with an OS app that holds all your credit credit numbers, your ID, a scanner for documents you may want to hold in your wallet, and the ability to be scanned by the various scanners we encounter in life. It may not look like much now, but KickStarter here we come! However, regardless of whether we make millions off the “W” we learned to expand our thinking and increase our mental flexibility through the framework of design thinking, which was worth more than millions for the work that we do.

Ken also was responsible for destroying my tower of bottle caps you see below that I created in a session on the importance of play.

Tower of Bottle Caps - moments later destroyed...

Tower of Bottle Caps – moments later destroyed…

This session was one I did not connect well with despite the value I place on play in the classroom and workplace. The focus was a bit too open-ended for me and, while I see the value in opened-ended play in, for example, formal settings like therapy to aid in expression for the young trauma victims, I needed more of an educational framework and goal for this session. Yet, there were those that really connected to it and, ultimately, that is what mattered. The conference had sessions, activities and deep-dives for a diverse and eclectic groups of Jewish educators.

Jewish day schools, like the Jewish people, are a beautiful tapestry made up of different colored, sized, and shaped threads. Having a gathering of Jewish educators which does not offer different learning opportunities, approaches, challenges to assumptions and various ways to incubate new ideas would truly be a wasted opportunity. This conference certainly did not waste what was afforded to them. From sessions on design thinking, the Maker Movement, importance of play, changing culture, retaining teachers, Jewish framework for innovation, and empathy for staff going through a change process the conference hit the mark and those were just the sessions I attended. There was a wide breath of other ones to ensure every aspect of a school, from the teachers to the board, was impacted and challenged to expand their thinking.

I suppose if pressed to suggest one thing that I wish was different at the conference was that it truly was as diverse in attendance as it was in amazing content. Since I began working for the YU School Partnership a few years back, I have attended the North American Jewish Day School Conference which is a partnership between the YU School Partnership, RAVSAK, Schechter Network, PARDES and PEJE. This year RAVSAK/PARDES put on this amazing conference and the YU School Partnership/Schechter Network will be putting on iJED on March 2nd which ,from everything I see, will also be amazing. However, what this conference lacked, as will certainly iJED, is the full fabric of the Jewish Day School tapestry.

There are many things that all Jewish day schools contend with regardless of denomination or non-denomination, and at the same time there are differences we can learn from that help us challenge the status quo in our own schools. As Dr. Rob Evans said at the Monday morning keynote, “I do not see in schools enough constructive disagreement in the service of growth.” I want to see more of that in our schools and think we need more of that at our conferences. We are a better Jewish day school system together just as we are a better Jewish people together.

For these reasons, I am excited that next year, March 8-10th, 2015 in Philadelphia, we will once again have one conference. However, this year I wish we were living as we preach by sharing and saving Jewish community dollars, sharing and cultivating ideas for the greater whole, promoting Jewish educational diversity and celebrating Jewish educators together as a field. Until then, I thank RAVSAK/PARDES for a wonderful conference, wish the YU School Partnership/Schechter Network hatzlacha in March and can’t wait till we reconvene in 2015 in what I felt was the ideal way to celebrate Jewish education; together.