Author Archive

A Note from Jeff: A True Confession

January 4, 2008

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

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?

From the President #2

August 7, 2007

Shalom to you all,

A friend from CAJE the conference just texted to let me know that the opening program is done and CAJE 32 has “officially” begun!

So, with the opening now history, I wish you each a week filled with much learning and teaching; a week where you find new ideas and share some of your own; a week where you see old friends and make new ones; and a week where you find much joy.

I look forward to many of you posting your thoughts and sharing your experiences in the days to come. What did you think of Scott Shay’s conversation and the points he raised? What was your best “CAJE moment” today? As you check your e-mail tonight, take a moment and post some comments!

May you go forth to study and celebrate. A vibrant Jewish future begins with an educated community and that will only happen if we, as Jewish educators, can increase our own knowledge and skills, celebrate our passion, and then ignite the desire for Jewish learning and living in others!



Notes from the President – Iris Petroff #1

August 7, 2007

Shalom Chaverim v’Chaverot,

As I type this I am still finding it hard to believe that I am not among you; the over 400 members of our CAJE community gathered together to study and to celebrate Shabbat in the way that only CAJE can offer.

Know that I am thinking of you all and wishing I were there to meet, greet, visit, worship, study, sing, hug, and celebrate with you. For now, I will wish you a most joyous and meaning filled Shabbat.

Please know that I, and other CAJE members who could not attend this year’s conference, will look forward to hearing of your accounts on this wonderful CAJE blog as the week continues. So do take a moment to write!

Shabbat shalom,


Iris Petroff

President, Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education


August 6, 2007

Remarks from the CAJE 32 opening session, Sunday evening August 5. 

Shalom CAJE 32! 

Here’s a story Peninah Schram taught me: Once upon a time there was a poor Chassid who wanted to study and learn.  He decided to attend his Rebbe’s tish. The Rebbe gave a very erudite lesson, citing Rashi, Ibn Ezra and Nachmanides The shi’ur went over our poor Chassid’s head. Then the Rebbe told a wonderfully mystical story containing references to the S’phirot. Our poor Chassid was totally lost – he felt very uncomfortable as those around him closed their eyes and began to sing a nigun. Our poor Chassid was tone deaf.  He couldn’t carry a tune.  He was ready to leave, but then the Rebbe stood and began to dance. Our poor Chassid found himself in the middle of the dancing mass of students twirling with fervor, moving in time with his Rebbe. The lesson spoke to him.  He was engaged in his own unique way. We take from the past, and apply to the future.  This story of our poor Chassid helps us understand the direction we must journey as we reach out to learners of the future.  At the beginning of the process of creating this conference a year and a half ago we came to understand that modes of education we are all used to need to be enhanced. Our students are different.  Their approach to learning is different. How they interact with Judaism is changing rapidly. I like to think of this as a revolution in how Jews of the future interface with their heritage of the past So, we need to redefine how we relate to our students.  We’re talking about a change in our frame of reference. We now must take into account the concept of virtual….

  • Classrooms
  • Communities
  • Friends
  • Networks

 Jews of the future are searching for ways to ENGAGE with their past and translate it into THEIR future.  Our job as Jewish educators is to redefine ourselves as Facilitators of Engagement.  We need to be ready to step out of the box in which we have grown comfortable; catapulting ourselves into a new frontier that defines teaching and learning in ways that we may not NOW totally comprehend. Hopefully, by Thursday, we’ll have a clearer idea. 

At this conference we will be asking 3 questions:

  • Who are the Jewish Learners?
  • How do we engage these learners? 
  • And finally, who will follow us in this task of building a Jewish future? 

The sessions are structured around these questions. Please refer to the program book for more details. 

So Iris Schwartz, the CAJE 32 Conference Co-Chair and I welcome you to CAJE 32.  Bruchim HaBaim to the beginning of a journey that we hope will not end on Thursday, but will continue on our new CAJE wiki, blog and website.  Together we can continue the dialogue that begins here. 

Notes from the Chair – Peter #2

August 2, 2007

You never know who you will meet in an airport.

On my way to St. Louis I found myself between flights in the Atlanta airport. As I was sitting by the boarding gate, I heard a voice ask me if the seat next to mine was available. I said yes and looked up to see a young women sit down. She wore the desert camouflaged regulation Army Combat Uniform. She was 18 and traveling from a base in Florida to one near St. Louis. And she was deploying to Iraq in a few months.

What does this have to do with a conference on Jewish education? Everything. Many times you never know what to expect. Students are surprising. Sometimes they rise to the occasion in ways we never can predict. Sometimes, we as educators find new ways to reach them. For me at least, the “aha moment” is when teaching is most rewarding.

The process of creating a CAJE conference is like that too. We – the visioning teams and the mazkirut – dreamed of ideas and programs that we wanted to see take place at CAJE 32. We went in surprising directions, the first being the transition to the concept of engaging in the future as the theme. I’ll mention this Sunday night, but for now I’d ask you to think about the distinction between learning and engaging.

The young soldier made that concrete for me. You see, I didn’t expect to have a personal encounter with a young warrior. I certainly didn’t expect that she would enable me to rearticulate my personal goal for CAJE 32. Yes, I dream that this conference will provide us all with tools to create new modes of interacting with our students. I hope that come August 9th we will have more comfort with technology and new ways of thinking. For me it will be a success if we participants continue to dialogue about what we’ve discovered after we leave St. Louis. But what I didn’t expect was that I would translate my vision in the following way: The heritage and traditions that we successfully pass on to those who follow us, who stand on our shoulders, will provide them with the tools to build a world where they would not have to send their daughters to war.

CAJE 32 is meant to be a rung on a ladder that will create new worlds for us and for those who follow. We are standing on the first rungs. Together let’s start climbing.