BRESS: On Monday, June 17, 2013, Jan (Smalley) Bress; Beloved wife of the late Kenneth Bress. Loving mother of Mindy Shreve, Bobby Bress and Danny Bress. Daughter of the late Isadore and Mary Smalley. Sister of Joel (Judy) Smalley, Howard Smalley and the late Sherwin Smalley. Grandma of Bella Bress. Aunt of Michael (Stacey) Smalley and Leslie (Mark) Bailey and other nieces and nephews. Services were held at Ralph Schugar Chapel, Inc. Interment Homewood Cemetery. Contributions may be made to P.O.W.E.R. , 7501 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15208 or Jewish Association on Aging, 200 JHF Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15217 or Marine Mammal Care Center, 3601 South Gaffey St, San Pedro, CA 90731 or a charity of donor's choice. www.schugar.com
Sen. Frank Lautenberg leaves long record of public service | 13 days ago by Staff and wire reports The Jewish Chronicle Copyright 2013 The Jewish Chronicle. All rights reserved.
I have not written on this blog for almost two months due to the crush of end-of-academic-year obligations, graduations (mine included for my Ph.D) and conferences. In addition, as I type this entry, our offices at the AJL are being packed up for moving to new space at Rodeph Shalom Congregation next week which has meant going through 60 years of files, books and boxes around here. So I am taking advantage of a quiet few moments to share some observations from two recent Jewish Education conferences I attended a few weeks ago in New York City. The first was the Network on Research in Jewish Education and the second was the Jewish Futures conference. They were a study in both generations and contrasts.
The NRJE is a consortium of largely university-linked academics that conduct research in a wide variety of areas of Jewish education and then share the results with the broader field here and through publications in academic journals, most notably the Journal of Jewish Education. The work presented here is often more read or consulted by training universities, stakeholders and funders of Jewish education than practitioners and consumers. If there is an Ivory Tower in Jewish education, this is it. Jewish Futures, on the other hand, is attended largely by younger professionals from the various fields of Jewish communal service who understand the digital age as their reality platform for Jewish education and community and not as a merely a tool for adaptation or conformity to existing definitions of Jewish education and community. NRJE was three days. Jewish Futures was three hours. NRJE presented papers. Jewish Futures tweeted observations. NRJE is keynote. Jewish Futures is TED Talk. NRJE discussed. Jewish Futures talked, texted, danced, sang and rapped. Neither of these conferences on Jewish education was much like the other including the fact that very few people actually attended both conferences even though they were in the same city and timed so that one could attend Jewish Futures a few hours after NRJE ended.
It is noteworthy that both conferences were co-sponsored by the Jewish Education Services of North America because it announced it was closing its doors the week afterwards. JESNA was a major field leader for the last several decades in serving communities in improving their Jewish education provisions. Times have changed though and its demise dovetail with similar changes in the institutional status quo such as the domino-like closing or revamping of central bureaus of Jewish education that were the central resource for Jewish education in most US cities for almost the entire 20th century. Jewish education is decentralizing, boutique-ing, specializing, app-ing, and the experience of both NRJE and Jewish Futures reinforced that reality for me. I am not denigrating either conference, just observing the very contrasting cultures and modalities.
NRJE had some excellent research presented to the participants. Among the findings that I found most engaging was a presentation of the melding of practice (i.e. actual teaching) and research that was presented by scholars from Brandeis University. They are making great strides in how we research the work of teachers and learners through immersion research and directed research and I think it bodes well for crossing the divide of making relevant research usable by front-line teachers. I also was on a panel about experiential education with a scholar who works in melding Jewish education with the world of gaming and a scholar who did some great work on how Jewish schools and organizations can meld Jewish education in to that right-of-passage the class trip to Washington DC. I also found a presentation about social networks very important, not the least because it was presented by two people actively involved in planning the Jewish Futures Conference, but because it introduced me the idea of weaving a network. I learned that social networks are not pre-existing, they must be woven to meet specific purposes most effectively. I didn’t leave understanding how to do that exactly, but I got that it was something important to learn about when I got the opportunity.
Jewish Futures, on the other hand, was a very different experience. The entire program was done en masse and it was both webcast and twitter/text-interactive. Rather than ask how and why Jewish education happens, the conference focused on the meta-issues: whose Torah is it anyway, the past, present and future of Jewish texts, and Jewish texts and learning in the 21st century. Its keynote speaker was not an academic but a Jewish pop-culture commentator who authored the book PresentShock. The subsequent speakers were all interactive with either the arts or technology and no presentation lasted longer than 15 minutes. It assumed you had the ability to text and/or tweet from your seat. The speakers were entertaining or, more accurately, edu-taining and all of them used multi-media methods to keep your attention.
And that was, to me, the conundrum. NRJE was substantive, loaded with real content and useful knowledge for policy and thought leadership in Jewish education. NRJE was also, frankly, boring. The format stayed the same for three days, it was clubby and lacked social inclusivity, and it got stuffy at points with academic in-speak. Jewish Futures, on the other hand, was stimulating, engaging and socially integrating. Jewish Futures also lacked substance. Everything was discussed at a general level with an intention more to inspire or touch than to engage or teach; the presentations were essentially teched-up sermons preaching to the choir about the new Jewish age. And, as I said above, almost no one from either one came to the other. So I am left both excited and frustrated by my experiences there. I know that the content of NRJE is critical to understand and improve what we do in Jewish education but I also know we are doing it, or at least sharing it, in a format that worked once but now isolates the findings and the good people who research them from the people who most need them. Jewish Futures is just that, the format of the future, but we are learning that the future means shorter attention spans, less substance and broader emotional impact over specific intellectual stimulus. Neither one of them is getting it right at this point and for the Jewish educational community to be best served there has to be more thought given to how to bring the knowledge base of one together with the world view of the other in order to best present and meet the needs of our shared Jewish future. Otherwise, we will never really get past using Google and Wikipedia to prepare Hebrew school lessons.
Toby Tabachnick, Staff Writer
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