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And now, a word from our Sponsor…

August 10, 2007

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!)


Professional Conferences for Professional Amateurs

August 8, 2007

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.

Sunday… The fun stuff begins!

August 6, 2007

After coming down from the spiritual high of Shabbat, a part of me was set up to be disappointed with the programming planned for today. My thinking couldn’t have been any more wrong! Jeff Lasday spent an hour with us discussing the benefits of being Jewish educators (among them the high regard held by students and parents, the feeling of being able to assist in changing the world – one student at a time, and ultimately, knowing that students are the future of our world and we are able to do our part in being able to help shape that future) – and I had a precious moment to reflect on some of my favorite (and not so favorite) teachers and educators that I’ve had over my years as a student.

We followed through on that notion this afternoon when we had the opportunity to do our first real bit of professional networking. A group of veteran educators met us in our lounge and we spent some time discussing our own areas of interest and how mentorship could further our professional goals.

As a young Jewish educator, mentorship is a new and exciting concept. I have not had the opportunity to network with many seasoned professionals working in an area similar to that which I am working in (informal education and congregational program planning). Being able to sit down and discuss strategies, best practises and tools of the trade with a educational veteran was a privilege. The more I think about my own experiences in the Jewish day school system, the more I realise that part of my success came from my connection with my teachers – educators who were stakeholders in their students’ successes (and failures). Similarly, understanding the needs of learners in an informal education environment means that an educator is better able to connect with the learner while establishing rapport and ultimately, better understanding the true needs of that particular cohort of students.

In other news… We have now been at Wash U for 3 1/2 days – it seems like much longer, though! I only wish that there was more time to continue building lasting relationships with other SCP participants (current peers) and other Jewish professionals (future colleagues). Tomorrow we move into the “real deal” – CAJE proper begins, and the fun starts with sessions, EXPO and learning of all kinds. In the meantime though, we SCP’ers are enjoying each other’s company, our yellow shirts, and all of the excitement that comes with being on a college campus with 1300 equally interested and excited Jewish Educators…

SCP #1 – Rachel

August 3, 2007

It’s been a jam-packed 24 hours here in St. Louis. Our group has quickly meshed and has taken on a unique identity of its own. Today’s sessions concentrated around the theme of Jewish identity – and took the forms of group discussions on pluralism and dispelling myths and stereotypes associated with Jewish denominations; Jewish education and teaching individual learners; and ensuring the continuity of Jewish 20-somethings once they leave the comfortable bubble of the college campus.

During our meeting with Rabbi Avi Katz Orlow over at the St. Louis (Washington U) Hillel House, I identified strongly with the questions he posed to our group regarding how to keep Jewish identity alive during the prime 20 & 30-something years when we begin (and continue!) to question our Jewish identities and start on that all-important search for the suitable spouse/life partner. I left the Hillel house with an understanding that it is up to us, as the next generation of Jewish educators to find solutions (and creative ones at that) that will encourage students and life-long learners who have graduated from college to keep their Jewish identities strong and intact. Providing physical space and money isn’t enough of a solution to ensure that Jewish identity will remain alive, rather, empowering students to learn skills and tools of the trade that can be taken beyond the borders of campus will ensure that they will enter the adult world as a confident Jewish individual.

As Shabbat draws near, the air is growing thick with anticipation (and humidity). The next 25 or so hours are sure to be amongst the most spiritual, intense and beautiful that I have experienced. I look forward to sharing these thoughts with you in the new week. Shabbat Shalom from Wash U!