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April 9, 2008 by

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A Note from Jeff: A True Confession

January 4, 2008 by

I’ve just celebrated my one year anniversary as the Executive Director for the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education (CAJE), and I feel the need for a confession. There is something that I did in my youth that I might have “forgotten” to tell the Search Committee during the interview process and sort of slipped my mind when I was offered the job by the Board. With the spat of recent articles in the Jewish Press condemning this practice, I now feel compelled to make a full confession.   

I am a congregational school and community Hebrew school graduate. There, I said it and it is out in the open. Yes, I was young. Yes, the decision to do it was largely out of my control. However the time has come to take full responsibility for my actions, regardless of how “un PC” they may appear. As a boy growing up in Pittsburgh I attended the Hebrew Institute and Congregation Beth Shalom Hebrew Schools and as a teen attended the School of Advanced Jewish Studies, Pittsburgh’s community sponsored supplementary high school program. Though I eventually also participated in Camp Ramah, Young Judaea and Israel trips, if not for my supplementary school experiences, I would not have participated in these informal Jewish educational experiences. It was my congregational school experience that provided the basis and doorway into all of my other formal and informal Jewish education experiences.  

Reading the recent unflattering pronouncements about congregational education has caused me to reflect upon what I know, what I believe and what I want to know about congregational and other forms of complimentary Jewish education.

 ·         I know that between 65-70% of all children receiving a Jewish education do so in a supplementary Jewish education setting. This means 250,000 children are currently being taught by approximately 25,000 teachers in over 2,000 congregational and community school programs. 

·         I know that, as Scott Shay points out, each congregational school takes pride in its “uniqueness” and autonomy, and yet almost all of these programs appear to follow a very similar model. I want to know about the “different” models. Where are they and what do they look like? 

·         I know that we talk about success and failure of congregational education, yet I don’t believe we have clearly defined these terms. Is success knowledge and skills attained or is it continuation in post bar/bat mitzvah Jewish educational programs or is it Jewish grandchildren? I want to know how we define benchmarks for success. 

·         I know that there is a widespread perception that congregational and supplementary schools are failing. I believe this to be the “general perception” on the street. With funding from the Covenant Foundation the St. Louis Central Agency for Jewish Education is exploring perceptions about congregational education. This study has found that the less involved a person is in the school, the more negative his/her perception of the program. The more involved he or she is in the school program, the more positive he/she feels about the educational experience. I want to know the difference between perception and reality. 

·         I know that congregational schools can make a difference. According to Steven Cohen’s research based upon the 2000 Jewish Population Study, congregational education does make an impact on ones Jewish identity. The more hours, the greater the impact, with the greatest impact occurring when the congregational school experience is supported by additional informal Jewish educational experiences as well (camp, youth group, Israel). More is more. I want to know what it would take to make a greater difference for more of our students. 

·         I know that there are more professional development opportunities for Jewish educators than ever before, yet there still remains a critical shortage of Jewish educators. I firmly believe that without additional excellent Jewish educators we will be unable to provide excellent Jewish education. I want to know how we can do a better job of providing kavod to our educators and do a better job at recruiting and retaining our educators in the field.  

·         I know that twenty years ago in 1988 the Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York produced a study called “Jewish Supplementary Schooling: An Educational System in Need of Change”. This study found that  ”pupils do not learn very much, the progress in each subject is limited” and that “schools have not been able to increase the Jewish involvement” of students (p.13). The study also found great promise and opportunities for change. In particular the study called for greater involvement of families and formation of new “family Jewish education” initiatives. I believe that there has been change in the past twenty years. I want to know what has changed and what has improved. 

·         I know that there are a number of new change initiatives – (NESS, PELIE, STAR, L’ATID, ECE.) I want to know what we have learned from these initiatives. 

·         I know that the Reform, Reconstructionist, and Conservative movements have recently undertaken major initiatives in congregational education. I want to know if these initiatives have been successful and how they each measure success. 

·         I know that the publishing houses and movements are producing more and higher quality text books and materials than ever before. I want to know what impact this is having in the classroom. 

·         I believe that there exist models of good practice, models of successful programs, and new initiatives in congregational education. I want to be able to identify these programs and understand  the factors that enable congregational education to succeed. 

·         I believe that there are exciting new alternative models to congregational education, however I don’t know where they are. I want to know what these programs look like and what factors enable them to succeed. 

·         I know that the recent call for greater integration of informal Jewish education, into formal congregational school programs isn’t new. Over eighty year’s ago Samson Benderly, the founding Director of the Board of Jewish Education of New York first suggested blending the formal and the informal so that ”leisure time, living time would also be learning time.” Benderly envisioned Hebrew school in the form of an ideal Jewish community, and attempted to reproduce this community through integrating clubs, youth groups, summer camp, games, theater, music, family, in-home learning and other informal activities into the Hebrew school program. Similar calls for greater integration of formal and informal programs were heard in the 1960’s and 1970’s with the growth of retreat and Shabbaton programs. For example the 1975 issue of the Pedagogic Reporter was devoted to “Camping as an In-school Experience”. CAJE has always been a strong proponent of integrating the formal with the informal. I know there is a power within learning communities based upon integrated formal and informal learning experiences. I want to know where are the successful models of today that break out of the dichotomy of formal and informal, that break down the silos of classroom, youth group, camping, family education, and adult education and provide for an integrated holistic learning experience.  

·         And finally I know that CAJE would like to create a place and a time time, where practitioners, teachers, educational directors, rabbis, lay leaders, researchers, policy makers, and donors can all come together and reveal what we know, challenge our beliefs, explore what we don’t know and use our collective knowledge towards transforming our schools. 

This is what I know, believe and want to know. 

What do YOU know about congregational education? 

What do YOU believe about congregational education? 

What do YOU want to know about congregational education? 

Post your thoughts on the blog and let’s continue the conversation. 


 Jeffrey Lasday

What do YOU think?

December 25, 2007 by

CAJE has always been about collective wisdom.


Teaching and learning based on our collective experiences in hundreds of schools, youth groups, camps and synagogues – our thousands of interactions with learners both youthful and mature, both eager and reluctant.


So you know some things about Jewish education. You might even know something that only you know. You might be struggling with a common issue but feel alone in your struggle. No need. You might have insights, ideas or questions. It is time to share.


CAJE 33 is not a spectator sport.


Follow the links below to one or more of the discussions that have begun on the CAJE 33 wiki pages. Don’t be daunted by technology. It’s as easy as typing words in a box.


Have a hand in the program.


Your involvement will help to determine the nature of the program, the selection of sessions, the “who’s who” of presenters.


The conference starts now.


Choose the link you like:


Congregational Education in the 21st Century: Evolution AND Revolution

We’ll be devoting two intensive days of the CAJE conference (Monday and Tuesday) to a serious look at what works and what doesn’t in supplemental Jewish education.




If you could change one thing about your school, what would it be and why?



What is the coolest activity you’ve ever run in your classroom?



Education Directors

If you love kids and you convey that, even if you don’t really know that much about the subject you are teaching, they will be inspired by and they will go out and learn it themselves.

Does this make sense to you? Discuss



I am curious about what veteran educators might want to learn now after putting in their time in the field.


The Environment

Understanding the environment as a Jewish moral issue




Teens are far surpassing adults in their adoption of technology, the use of social media, and in the creation of online digital content. What does that mean to us as teachers? Is it time for educators who have been creating classroom content for years to change the way they do things? Are we afraid of becoming irrelevant as we see chalkboards, handouts and overhead projectors being replaced by Smartboards, blogs and PowerPoint presentations? Or is technology just another passing fad?


And now, a word from our Sponsor…

August 10, 2007 by

I’m currently sitting in Lambert (St. Louis) Airport writing this blog post as I wait for my plane to board. The last 24 hours have been overwhelming in everyway possible – and for that reason, I’m going to write two separate posts…

First off, I want to just make mention of the facilities that the Schusterman College Program and CAJE took advantage of at Washington University over the last week. Our program was fortunate enough to have exclusive use of an entire floor of the Danforth Residence Hall. As a result, we were able to do much of our program within the confines of one place, making for easy and seamless transitions, along with built in time for additional socializing amongst group members. In addition, we also had two spaces allocated for specific uses: a formal Beit Midrash room, along with a more informal workshop/seminar room. As the week progressed, it was this workshop room that became our catch-all room for hanging-out as a group and creating group identity between sessions and into the evenings and nights when people could often be found noshing, talking, singing, and more than anything, bonding.

Similarly, the outdoor spaces on campus were also for conducive bonding as an SCP group (that is, when temperature conditions allowed for it). In an interesting twist on campus design that I’ve never seen anywhere else, WashU has several hammocks set up, and our group utilized them, often late at night (who says college students sleep?).

When I first looked at the map of the campus, I felt daunted and overwhelmed by the magnitude and extent of buildings that I would have to conquer in order to attend sessions. This was not the case. Sessions were held in buildings close to one another, which were no more than an 8-10 minute walk from the Wohl centre (where the dining hall was located).

Oh, and food! We Jewish learners have to ear, right? For a conference of CAJE’s size, the food couldn’t have been more varied, nutritious and delicious! Frozen yogurt, salads, fish, delicious pastas, and of course, the incredible late-night snacks of cookies and brownies that kept us energized as we discussed and debated with one another.

The reason I’ve written this post is not to advertise Washington University (although it’s a gorgeous campus – particularly at sunrise!). What struck me most about the campus was it’s staff, and how they would do nearly anything to ensure that CAJE attendees had the most positive experience possible. It all comes back to creating, establishing and building upon relationships that we have with our students, our teachers and our peers. Furthermore, in establishing credibility as an organization, CAJE needs to prove and uphold their commitment to excellence by providing their members with conference facilities that meet the needs of attendees. In my opinion, Washington University in St. Louis certainly did this – and if the high caliber of conference facilities is any indication of what is to come at Vermont next August, there are very exciting things in the works!

(Stay tuned for my next post, which will address some of Iris’ questions, which she shared with the CAJE community in a previous blog-post!)

From the President – #3

August 8, 2007 by

It’s hard to believe it is already Wednesday! I hope each one of you has enjoyed 3 days of amazing study – days and nights of learning, of engaging, and of wrestling with the questions that Peter Eckstein, Iris Schwartz and their amazing conference team laid out for you, as well as questions of your own.

As a people, we are never seem to lack questions, so I have some for you.

  • What has been your greatest insight this week?
  • What will you take home and share with others?  
  • What will be shared with students? With colleagues? With parents?
  • What have you determined you will do differently as a result of the learning you did this week?
  • What will you want to continue to explore AND how can CAJE support you as you continue to study?

I am so sorry to have missed the experience that so many of you enjoyed (despite the heat).  Please sign into Word Press and add your thoughts so that I, and the over 1300 other members of the Coalition who are not there will learn from you. And, most importantly, share your thoughts so that the Coalition, your professional organization, can continue to support you and your professional growth.

I look forard to learning from you now and with you in the future.  Please stay involved with CAJE; share your successes, your ideas, and your questions so that we can, together, support the growth of a vibrant Jewish future.



Professional Conferences for Professional Amateurs

August 8, 2007 by

I had a blinding realization this afternoon when it occurred to me that it’s Tuesday – and my flight leaves on Thursday afternoon. I’m not ready to go home. Although I’ve attended lots of learning sessions within the context of SCP, and a few other interesting sessions since Sunday morning, I haven’t gone to as many as I’d planned to. The reality of CAJE is that unless I figure out a way to clone myself (or send spies into all the interesting sessions), I have to make decisions about what i’m interested in, and then follow through by walking across the campus and sitting down in a lecture hall. The same thing can be said about narrowing down my choices about professional opportunities in the field of Jewish education.

Until I got to CAJE, I had no idea that so many options existed for future careers! To be perfectly honest, I hadn’t planned on a career in Jewish education to start with – I was planning to work in a very different field completely unrelated to anything Jewish! But now I’m here. And I’ve heard about the joys (and the pitfalls) of working in a rewarding field like Jewish Education – but questions remain: how do I take the knowledge that I’ve learned and integrate it to enable me to work in Jewish Education? How do I stay sane working in a field that can be very challenging at times? And how do I weigh the costs and benefits of working in a profession that at times appears to have very few perks and lots of challenges – especially when the salary at times (and especially when starting out) leaves much to be desired?

I highly doubt that I will leave CAJE on Thursday afternoon with answers. Rather, I believe that over the next several months, these questions will be the basis (or building blocks if you will) for a very personal internal conversation about what my personal and professional goals are (and should be) in relation to Jewish education. I do believe that my relationship with my mentor, along with the relationships I’ve built and developed with fellow SCP participants, staff and other CAJE members will enable me to work through these very challenging issues. If there’s anything I’ve learned while at CAJE this week, it’s that when a question is asked, generally, I don’t have an answer. Instead, I have 5 more questions in response, and it’s these questions that enable me to start thinking more critically about education, Judaism and my role in Jewish Education.