David Perolman is the Assistant Director of K-12 Education at Congregation Beth Or in Ambler, PA.
“If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.” This wise and intuitive statement was spoken by none other than one of the fathers of education, John Dewey. We are all educators. Whether you spend the lion’s share of your time planning and executing traditional education programs, youth group programs, or simply spending time with your families, we are all constantly teaching each other. As Jewish Educators, we believe that we should lead by example in every facet of our lives. This resonated with me when I was asked to participate this year in a joint venture offered by NFTY-PAR and Camp Harlam. The purpose of this once-a-month professional development group was to bring formal educators and youth professionals together for an afternoon of learning from some top names in our movement. Of course, I could have said “I’m too busy” (which I was), or “I need to establish myself in my new role” (which I did). Luckily, I chose to pursue these seminars in addition to my responsibilities.
I was immediately intrigued and excited during our first session, as we were taught about the important work we do with our youth, led by then Senior Vice President for the URJ, Rabbi Jonah Pesner. Rabbi Pesner has since continued his excellent work with the URJ as the Director of the Religious Action Center. Rabbi Pesner talked to us about the rise of youth interest in informal Jewish education, how we approach our teens, and ways to engage students in a meaningful way.
Other guests included Co-Education Director at Temple Beth-El in Hillsborough, NJ, Lisa Friedman. Lisa was able to frame an extremely direct and clear idea of what inclusion looks like in our ever-changing world, and how to apply it to the classroom.
Rabbi David Gerber, Associate Rabbi at Congregation Beth Or in Maple Glen, PA, used technology to model that we are only as limited as the vehicle we choose to reach our students. We learned about making text studies interactive and using media to establish a mind frame before exploring text.
URJ Camp Harlam Director Aaron Selkow offered his thoughts on what makes an effective leader, and led us in a conversation about what it means to be the “last to eat.” Aaron also emphasized the important of feedback, and shared how Camp Harlam has been able to thrive as a result of this feedback.
Scott Hertz and Paige Erlich, URJ Director of Youth Communications and URJ Youth Communications Manager, respectively, provided insight into how to use social media in an ethical, responsible, and useful manner with our teens. Paige explained details such as Facebook ads/groups in a clever way, equating four of the key social media outlets (Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook) to the four brothers in the Haggadah.
Most recently, Rabbi Rex Perlmeter, founder of the Jewish Wellness Center of North Jersey, taught us about his holistic approach for congregations and individuals to strive for wholeness in body, mind and soul. He further shared his understanding of mindfulness as it relates to our work/home balance and the strength in being deliberate in the execution of our programs.
I am constantly looking for better ways to do what I am doing. Often a word, phrase, or conversation can help me to look at the world from a different perspective. After learning from these scholars, I can easily say that this was one of the best uses of my time in the past year. Amanda (Wachstein, Regional Director of NFTY-PAR) and Lisa (David, Assistant Director, URJ Camp Harlam) took my thoughts and feedback very seriously and I was able to see adjustments as our classes continued. As I begin my journey as Education Director of a smaller synagogue, I look forward to using this knowledge to improve all of our youth programs and make an impact on the world of Reform Judaism. As stated in Deuteronomy 4:9 “Lest you remove it from your heart, all the days of your life”. Translation: Whenever a person is not involved with study, he (or she) forgets. Let us never forget the sacred work we are doing, and the daily impact that our words, actions, and programs have on our teens.