Learning To Thrive
On a misty morning in a damp wooded area of Long Island, Galit Mimran (above right) walked cautiously with her eyes closed and stepped forward. It was an unusual start to the day for her, a local shlicha for The Jewish Agency. But it led to an important realization that she hadn’t considered before.
“This was the first time I started thinking about thriving between Judaism and nature,” said Galit, a Jewish Agency For Israel community shlica on Long Island. “Now, I’m trying to think about how to combine teaching about Judaism, nature and Israel.”
Mimran was one of 45 Jewish educators from across the country that attended ‘The Why and How of Thriving in Jewish Education,’ The Jewish Education Project’s first multi-day retreat for educators, held in Glen Cove, NY in May.
“The concept of Thriving is a critical component in Jewish education: the greatest long-term value of a Jewish education comes from a young learner feeling that someone prioritizes their well-being above a lesson plan,” said Rabbi Dena Klein, Director of New Models for The Jewish Education Project. “It was inspiring to hear how educators are reimagining their work to incorporate thriving into Jewish text study, informal activities and in traditional classrooms to make young learners and their families feel like their Jewish education builds off of other aspects of their life that they cherish and value.”
Representing all flavors of Jewish education – congregational schools, day schools, JCCs, Jewish educational agencies, and independent entrepreneurs--participants learned how Jewish thought, positive psychology, and mussar, a stream of Jewish spirituality focused on living a life imbued with meaning, can help educators, children, and families have better, transformative Jewish educational experiences.
Presenters included Emilya Zhivotovskaya, a leading voice in the field of Positive Psychology and CEO of The Flourishing Center, Naomi Less, a musical artist and Jewish educator, and Rabba Wendy Amsellem of Yeshivat Maharat and Pardes.
While Mimran explored the woods, across the property Rabbi Sam Feinsmith rang a small bronze bell in a conference room. Twenty educators sat in a circle. The educators closed their eyes and focused on their breathing. For the next three hours, Feinsmith and the group delved into mindfulness and its application to Jewish education and Jewish practice. “Jewish learning is important. It helps make us more human,” Feinsmith said. Through silent meditation, breathing exercises, and discussion, the group gained a new appreciation for the importance of contemplative moments in Jewish educational settings. “When we did the Shema with Sam, I felt it my skin tingling. I felt in my eyes filling up with tears,” said Samara Rossi. Rossi left Feinsmith’s session filled with new ideas to try in her classroom. “I want to make better meditations every morning to start our day,” she said.
Left: Conference participants wrote notes on why it is important to thrive.
At the closing session of the retreat, Rabbi Dena Klein, opened the final session of the day with a question: “How do we help others to thrive? We are not only here for ourselves….We are here for the good of the Jewish community.” For the next 40 minutes, participants reflected on how they reimagined what it means to thrive as an educator and for their students during the retreat. They circled the room, posting responses on posters around the room. A message on a white sticky note, nestled in the back of the room, captured the spirit of the retreat: “Our work is better when we are thriving.”
“We were so lucky to have an outstanding lineup of educators and a wonderful group of participants, who left the retreat equipped with skills and techniques to transform their classrooms,” said Rabbi Jennifer Goldsmith, Managing Director, Leadership Initiatives.
Gabriel Weinstein is a Project Manager, Digital Content and Communications for The Jewish Education Project.