Rachel is Prizmah's Director of Educational Innovation. Learn more about her here.

So That the Children Will Ask: Education and Innovation in Jewish Learning

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People often marvel about my title at Prizmah, “director of educational innovation.” What does that mean? 

At first, I did not understand the question—isn’t it clear? And then I realized that the question comes from classic Jewish textual training to scan for extra words. Why add “innovation” when that is implied in the word “education”? Doesn’t the process of education require a regular search for new insights, methods, curricula and pedagogies?

Yet for so many of us, the word “education” and especially “Jewish education” is often not connected to the word “innovation.” Somehow, education has become known for its dull, receptive and impersonal drone—think of the teacher in Charlie Brown. This is super strange given our tradition’s emphasis on questions, deep engagement, the priority given to struggle and deep analysis on personal, communal and national levels. When did “innovation” drop from “education”? I am not sure.

But I am excited to let you know this: It is back!

In this issue we highlight ways in which many great educators are engaged in deeply considering how to awaken our students, connect them personally and deeply with their tradition and teach skills that will enable them to own their “mesorah” according to their own paths, way beyond their time in the classroom.

Serving the Judaic administrators and leaders in day schools is one of the greatest joys of my job. I am inspired by them daily and excited about the kinds of work they are developing. In this issue, you can have a taste of just some of the wonderful approaches being created and shared. 

I encourage all of us, parents, educators, professionals and students, to consider what makes us wonder, what makes us engage with our tradition, and why? What experiences make Jewish life and learning coalesce into something radiantly meaningful? Where are the challenges, and how do we not shy away from them but explore them as powerful opportunities to learn and create new understandings?

The educators in these pages want you to ask, they want you to engage and wonder.

After all, at the Seder the whole drama of the evening unfolds as a prompt to get the children to ask. Because asking questions is the key to connection. It turns out that the secret to amazing Jewish education is in the DNA of the Torah: Get them to ask and wonder, and we will live and thrive. 

So, my friends, here is to innovation! May it always be synonymous with “education!”