Welcome to the archive of featured initiatives! The following educational initiatives are presented by common interest or theme. Here you will find progressive institutes and programs that we consider to be outstanding innovators in Jewish education. If there are any programs you would like to see featured in a future initiative write-up, please make a comment below or send us a suggestion.
Initiatives Spotlight: Education for Educators
Initiatives Spotlight: Teen Programs
Campaign for Jewish Boys: The Brotherhood
After the success of Rosh Hodesh! It’s a Girl Thing! Moving Traditions decided there needed to be an counterpart program for boys. Moving Traditions’ formed this program from their research, which concluded that boys have one-third less Jewish involvement than girls by the 12th grade. Two-hour Brotherhood sessions draw on Judaism and gives boys the opportunity to explore issues they care about, such as friendship, sex, power, money, and work. Participants are engaged through enjoyable activities that create a safe space and enable boys to engage in meaningful discussion. By making a Jewish activity something of a comfort and useful in daily life, The Brotherhood aims to bolster boys’ Jewish involvement well beyond their Bar Mitzvahs.
Initiatives Spotlight: Organizations that Catalyze and Support Change
Think of Darim as a cosmetician specializing in internal makeovers for organizations in need. Based on the belief that every Jewish organization should have the opportunity to function at an outstanding level regardless of budget or other limitations, Darim assists all types of Jewish organizations that desire to increase their professionalism and relationship-building capacity. By making effective use of internet strategy, general technology, marketing and communications consulting, and professional development opportunities, Darim teaches others how to break through the barriers that thwart high levels of service. They coach organizations in articulating goals, developing a thoughtful and manageable strategy, and guiding the development and implementation of new ideas. Darim helps Jewish organizations understand how to be more responsive and effective in meeting the needs, the interests and the goals of their community. This is made possible through hosting successful social media boot camps, webinars, coaching and consulting. organizations are able to collaborate with and reach out to other innovators who share the same philosophy and goals. These innovators complement each other in their expertise and strengths.
Synagogue 3000 (S3K) is a transdenominational organization committed to success across the Jewish denominational spectrum. Instead of importing new members to the synagogue, therefore, successful engagement efforts export the synagogue to new members. Moreover, these efforts are not predicated on producing any immediate rise in members altogether. They seek only to make an exciting form of Judaism available to young people wherever they are. Therefore, S3K seeks to establish a national network of synagogue satellites for young Jews, ideally planting one in every city where young Jews gather. Additionally, the goal is to involve young Jews not necessarily as dues-paying synagogue members, but as Jews committed to the causes that synagogues hold dear. The Institute identifies key trends, convenes conversations around topics of common concern, promotes collaborative research, and disseminates important new knowledge to leaders in congregations as well as academic, communal, and philanthropic institutions. Its Synagogue Studies research initiative is utilizing the latest scholarship from fields as diverse as anthropology, congregational studies, ethnomusicology, Jewish studies, religious studies, sociology, and theology to help guide thinking on both a macro and micro level.
Therefore, S3K connects young people not just to stand-alone social or cultural events (as important as they are), but to the institution of the synagogue; and it does so in ways that research has shown to be effective.
Partnership for Effective Learning and Innovative Education (PELIE)
As a partnership of visionary funders, “PELIE’s mission is to substantially improve complementary Jewish education in North America and to thereby transform the reality, perception and funding of the field...PELIE believes that great Jewish education is the product of the interaction of the following six key educational components working together on an ongoing basis: program assessment, developing and implementing a clear sense of mission and vision by lay and professional leadership, leadership development, teacher training, curriculum development, and parent involvement (family education).” Currently, PELIE is working with communities in Boston, Philadelphia and elsewhere to catalyze system change in current complementary Jewish education models. Additionally, PELIE vocally advocates for successful educational experiences in existing Jewish educational models and showcases the programs that work. Ultimately, other organizations can connect, learn, and benefit from such programs.
Initiatives Spotlight: Family Programs
PJ Library is a Jewish family engagement program implemented on a local level throughout North America. They mail free, high-quality Jewish children's literature and music to families across the continent on a monthly basis. Book selections for the PJ Library program are chosen from among the very best of Jewish children's books and music. Compelling stories and captivating illustrations are the hallmarks of PJ Library books. The music CDs are sometimes tender and moving, sometimes fun and snappy. They are all carefully chosen by the Book Selection Committee. Every PJ Library book arrives in the family's mailbox with an accompanying printed reading guide. The guide provides information about the Jewish concepts referred to in the book. It also suggests topics for discussion and activities aimed at enhancing family reading experience.
Initiatives Spotlight: Family Programs
Shabbaton Program at Congregation Beth Am
This program is designed to foster and strengthen relationships within families as well as bolster family-to-family connections in the Beth Am community of Los Altos Hills, CA. Their Shabbaton program offers an educational experience outside the traditional classroom for those that enjoy and value family time and life-long Jewish learning. Three Shabbats of the month Beth Am immerses participants of all ages in Jewish music, prayer, culture and holiday education. This fun style is designed to make synagogue participation feel like a regular part of life. Thanks to the “Shabbatots” daycare program, parents with young children who would otherwise need a sitter or forgo the experience altogether may fully participate. Families both individually and collectively tackle tough issues concerning Jewish identity, what it means to be a Jewish family, how families evolve, and more all before Havdallah.
Kadima Reconstructionist Congregation Education Program
Characterized as experiential, holistic, unbiased, and inter-generational, the Kadima School in Seattle, WA begins with a preschool/parents program and continues on through the high school level. During B'nei Mitzvah preparation, students move beyond route memorization to engage in Torah study and various approaches to Biblical criticism, Jewish spirituality, the structure and purposes of Jewish liturgy and debate ethical issues. Striving to achieve a new model for inter-generational education, the school engages parents and children in meaningful, spiritual and educational experiences outside the limited number of school hours. Shabbat programs are essential for achieving this goal. Kadima’s curriculum hopes to provide students with an understanding of social problems and equip them to improve social conditions through tikkun olam (repairing the world) activities.
Temple Judea Religious School
What makes Temple Judea in West San Fernando Valley special is their heavy emphasis on family involvement in the k-12 religious school. Like a child’s full-time school, parents have the opportunity to be just as involved with the administration yet they may also take adult classes within the same institution. “The goal of Jewish education at Temple Judea is to deepen Jewish experience and knowledge for all Jews, in order to strengthen faith in God, love of Torah, and identification with the Jewish way of life.” A major goal with Hebrew study is for students to become “synagogue-functioning Jews”, meaning they can fully understand and follow any prayer service. Additionally, Temple Judea does not believe the B’nei Mitzvah is the end of the road. Education as a life-long process is a major tenet. To accommodate different life styles and preferences, Temple Judea offers traditional weekly classes and an alternative “Nisayon” program. “The Nisayon model is a camp model which includes classes for two weeks in the summer, one week in the winter, and family programs throughout the school year.” There’s really something for everyone here.
Initiatives Spotlight: Totally Different Programs
The Bible Raps Project is an innovative educational tool that uses rap and hip hop to enliven the core Jewish texts. It is designed to make the tradition more appealing and more accessible through the use of technology, rhythm and rhyme. Besides touring around Jewish camps and colleges, Bible Raps offers a teacher’s toolkit that allows educators to maximize the benefits of using Bible Raps in their the classroom.
Wilderness Torah is an organization that seeks to revitalize Jewish life by reconnecting Jewish traditions to the cycles of nature. The organization offers a number of programs, all of which are designed to facilitate individual spiritual growth, strengthen multi-generational community, and connect people to nature through land-based festivals, rites of passage, and sustainable life skills education. Among their diverse offerings are wilderness retreats on the three Pilgrimage festivals of Passover, Sukkot, and Shavuot, as well as B’naiture, a two-year, experiential program for youth aged 11 to 13 that uses nature as a vehicle to explore the transition from childhood to adolescence. This groundbreaking program weaves Jewish teachings, story, and song with personal challenges, outdoor skills, non-parental mentorship, peer group community building, and nature awareness activities to provide an exciting, embodied way for youth to explore coming-of-age.
Genesis at Brandeis University
By creating a meaningful, challenging, and multidimensional learning experience, the Genesis summer program in Waltham, MA enables high school students to explore their Jewish identity in a creative and diverse community. There’s no time for tanning and frisbee here. Students at Genesis, about 700 to date, study Jewish texts, traditions, and perspectives that are fused with additional subjects ranging from law to technology to world religions. By encouraging students to ask questions, Genesis deepens their students' awareness of what Jewish "community" is all about. The courses and social action projects are meant to expose students to a variety of perspectives on complex, compelling topics that encourage critical thinking and challenge assumptions. Students are able to "learn from and work with activists, artists, and community leaders on different causes and approaches to social justice.” Sounds like a breeding ground for tomorrow’s scholars, movers, and shakers.
The Tikvah Project on Jewish Thought at Princeton University
The Tikvah Project promotes various opportunities for undergraduates to professional scholars and everyone in between. “Tikvah aims to bring Jewish ideas and thinkers into conversation with the broader historical, philosophical, and theological traditions of the West and beyond.” This particular undergraduate summer program unites students from North America and around the world at Princeton University for 20 days of intense learning and discussion. Students explore timeless and contemporary questions by delving into Jewish thought, Jewish texts, and Jewish perspectives. Topics include justice and injustice, hope and redemption, law and authority, and more. The program utilizes seminars, lectures, and panel discussions with prominent thinkers and writers in the field. Additionally, Tikvah does not require its students to pay to participate. Even better, participants are provided with a stipend to attend! Consequently, admission is competitive.
Kutz campus - NFTY Leadership Experience
As an association of the Union for Reform Judaism, NFTY’s campus for Reform Jewish teens strives “to provide a holistic residential program where teens and adults work in partnership to enhance the talents and skills of each individual through mentorship and peer leadership.” While there are several NFTY programs, this particular one challenges and dares participants to develop their leadership abilities and take them to new heights. Students entering 10th through 12th grade choose a major focus area ranging from digital media to Jewish studies to mentorship and advocacy. Additionally, participants have free range to choose elective classes for a well-rounded experience. Ultimately, participants will develop their leadership skills, bring them home, and use them to strengthen their local community. Pretty “nifty,” eh?
Initiatives Spotlight: Preschool and Elementary Education
Luria Academy is a nurturing, child-centered, value-oriented environment dedicated to academic excellence and Jewish heritage. Luria incorporates innovative teaching methodologies and state of the art technological educational tools. By exposing our students to a uniquely integrated Judaic-secular curriculum we offer them an extremely rigorous and high quality Torah and secular education. Above all, Luria fosters Jewish pride - Ahavat Yisrael - and a deep sense of compassion and commitment for all mankind - Ahavat Olam.
The Montessori Program at the Robert M. Beren Academy
This Orthodox day school in Houston, TX accommodates preschool through high school students. They added a Montessori program for 1st through 5th grades to provide co-creative style learning for children in their most formative years. They are literally breaking the conventional boundaries of anything institutionalized Jewish education has done before. The Montessori philosophy allows each child to grow and interact in their educational environment according to their terms, interests and comfort levels. Children participate in activities designed to nurture cognitive, emotional, spiritual, religious, moral and physical growth and development by emphasizing the sensory, tactile, hands-on, self-directed, learn-at-your-own-pace educational philosophy. There are no report cards. Instead, teacher provide descriptive reports, which allows students to be evaluated beyond the black and white confines of the traditional letter grade system. Additionally, students are grouped together by academic level rather than strictly by age.
Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters – is not your average free-spirited, flowing type of hippy. They go even further from the mainstream. This is a home-based, supplemental family focused program that teaches, enables, and encourages parents to be better informal home educators in supplementing their child’s formal educational enrichment. Parents receive a progressive series of 60 weekly packets of daily fun, interactive, but covertly totally educational activities. Every other week they attend group meetings with other parents and HIPPY staff. Building on the successful proliferation of programs now serving over 22,000 families worldwide, the international network strengthens the ties among existing programs in addition to supporting the growth of new ones. The nature of the program breaks the limitations on localized programming, enabling it to reach those far and wide.
CBI Preschool at Congregation Beth Israel
Located in Charlottesville, VA, CBI Preschool is another program on board with co-creative learning for the little ones. Content is determined by the needs and interests of the students, but teacher guided activities allow for a complete educational experience. The daily schedule is structured, yet flexible, providing a variety of experiences, levels of difficulty, and pacing. For example, the concept of written language is explored in a natural way as children dictate stories to teachers, “pretend write,” and listen to books at story time. Through cultivating the child’s natural sense of wonder, appreciation for nature, and establishing an awareness of G-d, CBI Preschool strives to instill a joyful sense of being Jewish in their students. Furthermore, they intend for their students to develop an appreciation and knowledge of Israel, Jewish traditions, values, and mitzvot.
Initiatives Spotlight: Camps
Forget “out of the box,” Adamah Adventures is an experience that takes teens out of this world! The adventure starts at base camp in Atlanta, GA where campers train and prepare for their journey. Then, they split into smaller groups and travel the country to their various camping destinations. Regardless of previous experience, participants learn or build on their survival skills and wilderness training in preparation for the big outdoors. Next, they take off hiking, whitewater rafting, rock climbing and much more. Every activity is linked back to core Jewish values and reflections. Teens wrap up their action packed experience by cooking their Friday night dinner over an open fire and enjoying Shabbat under the stars. With a variety of excursions to choose, Adamah Adventures provides Jewish teens with an intense outdoors experience while instilling self-confidence and independence in a meaningful, spiritual Jewish context.
Eden Village Camp
Just one hour north of New York City lies this 248-acre utopia of healthy, sustainable, organic, and kosher living. Campers, families, and visiting organizations can learn about incorporatining Jewish awareness, sense of self, environmental awareness, and tikkun olam (repairing the world) in a summer, long weekend, or just a day visit. Even if Eden Village Camp didn’t come with an incredible Jewish experience, it would still be pretty unique. Where else can a kid can learn to make goat cheese, harvest bees, study nature, and cultivate their spirituality in a supportive and nourishing Jewish environment? The traditional sports and arts and crafts fun of camp is included too
URJ 6 Points Sports Academy
With the establishment of 6 Points Sports Academy in Greensboro, NC, the young Jewish athlete no longer has to make the painful decision between a Jewish camp or the intensive sports camp experience. Now, he or she can have both. Here lies all the pluses of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) camp but with an athletic twist. Campers receive individualized, one-on-one instruction from experienced coaches to improve their game. In the process, they learn teamwork, leadership, sportsmanship, and, most of all, what it means to be a proud Jew. Each session fuses sports values with Jewish teachings in a supportive, welcoming setting where each camper can grow physically and spiritually into his or her own.
The Jewish Journey Project is a collaborative, innovative, and flexible model that seeks to revolutionize supplementary Jewish education for children in grades 3-7 in the New York City area. JJP engages participants in experiential learning based on their individual interests, schedule, and learning style, providing experiences that include the individual, the family, the synagogue, The JCC in Manhattan, the 14th Street Y, and the larger New York Jewish community. All JJP participants receive a Passport to help track their journeys along five different Pathways: Torah, God and Spirituality, Hebrew, Jewish Peoplehood, and Tikkun Olam. Upon completion of a course, participants collect a distinctive stamp for that Pathway. Participants will be able track their progress throughout the semester on an interactive website and create a Travel Journal of pictures, videos, and written entries about their JJP experience. Further, MeetUp, which is the home-base for each synagogue, provides time and space for JJP participants to gather together as a synagogue community on a regular basis. MeetUp allows synagogues to impart their vision to JJP participants and provides a forum for participants to share their Jewish Journey experiences with fellow travelers.
Chai Mitzvah is an initiative for synagogues, community groups, and special-interest groups to encourage deeper engagement in Judaism and community life.
As a new life-cycle event, the program deepens Jewish engagement and builds community through learning about Jewish heritage, participating in a new ritual, engaging in social action, joining a community discussion, and celebrating achievement.
Chai Mitzvah is celebrated roughly every 18 years after the traditional age of Bar or Bat Mitzvah. As an unaffiliated, non-denominational independent 501(c)3 corporation, Chai Mitzvah is committed to collaborating with communities in providing a very low cost way to help members grow their Judaism.Through encouraging Jewish connections throughout our lives, this program will help revitalize not only synagogues and communities throughout our country, but also individual Jewish lives. Becoming a Chai Mitzvah is a time to expand one’s Jewish horizons at key life stages and to think about one’s life in Jewish terms
Project Zug is an initiative employing the traditional Jewish method of “hevruta” with modern technology of distance learning, to bring together the two largest Jewish communities of today, Israel and the United States. The creators hope that learning in pairs will reduce the geographical and cultural distance and strengthen the bond between American and Israeli Jews.
The program is offering five courses in its pilot phase
on topics including: Rabbinic Literature, Art, Spirituality, Philosophy and Social Justice. Each week, a Zug/pair will receive a one page text with guiding questions, and will discuss the content during a time that fits in their schedules.