F.A.Q.s or Did You Read Relational Judaism? 2

Joel Lurie Grishaver

1. “Why didn’t they come?”

There were forty families in the family class. At the most recent special event thirteen kids and five parents showed. I was asked, “Where was everybody—they love this class and I have been working with them since kindergarten?”

Then came my Q & A:

Q: Did the congregational Rabbi come?

A: No

Q: Was the educator there?

A: No

Q: Were the right families involved in the planning of the event?

A: No families were involved in planning.

Q: Who organized the food?

A: The teacher.

Q: Has anyone read Ron Wolfson’s  Relational Judaism?

2. “Should I buy I-Pads for my “Hebrew School?”

Has anyone asked “What are you going to do with them?

My friend and code-writing genius Russel Neiss says No.” I say, “Yes” and “No.”

I need to ask a number of questions:

  1. Is there an IEP for using them? Is there a reason you need them—or will the reason perhaps follow if you have them?
  2. Is there software you plan on using? There is nowhere near enough Jewish software to validate the costs.
  3. Do you invite Aish and Chabad to teach at your school? Most of what you google on Jewish topics is going to take you to Aish and Chabad sites.
  4. Do you care if your kids watch porn, text, or in some other way blow off your designated use? Don’t tell me you will put filters on the web-link. Any eleven- year-old who can’t hack their way past parental controls isn’t worth keeping.
  5. Do you have enough bandwidth, tech-savvy and other support resources available?
  6. Have your teachers been trained in how to teach with computers or smart-pads in the classroom.

If you’ve answered “yes” to enough of these questions then this magazine confirms that I-Pads will be “the love of your life.” There are lots of perfectly good uses for computer, or rather smart pads, or rather I-pads but do you have a trail of bread crumbs to follow to find them. Do not assume that students and therefore their parents will love you better if you have them.

Some schools are indeed putting technology to good use, but all of those schools have dealt with the above questions. Computers are good ways of doing research (but that means access to the web). There is some Jewish software and more is coming but not enough to support the hardware cost. There are a zillion good ways of using secular apps and sites—but you have to be literate in order to use them in a Jewish context—and you are never going to do as well as secular schools who didn’t manage to put a TV in every classroom. They had the government helping them do so. An episode of Sleepy Hollow that had a golem doesn’t justify YouTube any more than the old X-Files with a golem did.

I-Pads are perfectly useful tools but managing a lot of them is really hard—ask any mother with two kids and three tablets in a doctor’s office.

Besides, has anyone read Ron Wolfson’s Relational Judaism?

If fact, we (Torah Aura) are busy developing e-books, applications and projects all of which put technology to good Jewish use. There is a direction here, but buying the I-pads doesn’t get you there.

3. How Can I Reduce My School to One Day a Week (and still have it work as well)?

In 1981, the year we started Torah Aura Productions and began Torah Aura Bulletin Board, I wrote an essay called “Time Wars” (that had nothing to do with Dr. Who). It was a then reaction to the tendency to shorten three day a week schools down to two days a week because of working mothers having a hard time carpooling their kids. I wrote as if—but didn’t actually know—that it was the beginning of an end. Now most schools are only one or two days a week and still are downsizing. With the demolition of contact hours has come a radical downsizing of expectations. The question is no longer one of achieving less with less, but how much do we still have any right to hope for.

So this rabbi calls me and says that conditions on the ground have made it necessary for them (a traditional Conservative congregations) to condense their program that had been (a) two days a week and (b) a required junior congregation on Shabbat morning. Given the local pressures, the school was going down to one day a week. The Rabbi called me and asked me the best way to do this. I raised a couple of questions and found out that they already had these things covered.

First, I pointed out that neuroscience says that to move things from short term memory to long term memory (that makes learning a second language successful) takes three interventions a week. The Rabbi added that they were adding a second treatment with a fifteen minute a week over the internet class with a teacher. That built them up to twice a week, use of our new PrayerTech application will bring them up to three times a week. Success is again possible.

Second, I talked about Stockholm syndrome (where captives identify with those who are holding them captive). This has frequently turned schools into communities. The Rabbi took my point, saw me with a new congregational informal family program and raised me with a new youth director.

The basic truths here are the lesson. (1) Reducing number of Hebrew sessions per-week increases significantly Hebrew failure (because of the needs of long term memory needs). (2) Jewish futures are built out of the communal bonds built outside of the school experience. If you are going to reduce the shared hours, you have to build up the other communal contact points including youth group, summer camp, and Israel experiences. Reduce the class hours and you have to up group participation in community building experiences.

The Leaning Tower of Pizza

I learned in a high school science class that the Tower in Pisa will never fall as long as the balance point of the tower remains within its based. It is a precise measurement. I studied a lot of science and I used to be sure about a whole number of things. Now I learn Torah and am sure of very little. I no longer know the shape of things to come. Like most old men, I can tell you better what is gone than I can tell you what next will be. I am not saying that “I know nothing,” but I am now rather very much on the curve. I have read Relational Judaism . I have watched all of Metropolis several times, but all the dates that I have known for the coming of the messiah have passed. I don’t know why the leaning tower is still standing—must have been some intervention. I guess I am now more into dreams than visions.

2 comments

  1. OK, Joel, while I agree with your overall anaysis, and your thesis that you have to have good reasons and a good plan for the technology before you start buying it and using it, I’m going to take you to task on this quote: “Do you invite Aish and Chabad to teach at your school? Most of what you google on Jewish topics is going to take you to Aish and Chabad sites.” First, this is a gross overstatement. There was a time when this was true, and most of the content found on the internet was created by Chabad and Aish. This is no longer the case, and the preponderence of Chabad and Aish hits on a Google search probably reflects more about the SEO (search engine optimization) tatics that Chabad and Aish use and the peculiarities of Google’s algorithms. Secondly, what you cite as a reason to not use iPads (or by extension others forms of net access) is actually a teachable moment. For goodness’ sake, Joel, back in the 90s I was already teaching a religious school class to 8-12 graders on learning to be discriminating users of available resources, to recognize bias, to see who was behind a web site and what their Jewish agenda was. This is a teachable moment, not something to scare people away from using the net! Are Chabad and Aish the enemy? The information they provide simply needs to be given a context, and it is perfectly usable in all sorts of non-orthodox Jewish settings.

    As to science, when you consider the number of changes to scientific understanding that have ocurred since we were both in school, you begin to realize that science is not so static or precise. Quantum entaglement (what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance” hardly seems precise to me. Piza’s tower still stands, as does Brunelleschii’s dome in Florence. Good people die young. I’m not sure science or Torah will ever give us wholly satisfactory answers to all our questions.I do know that there is a place, and a need, for both, in this world.

  2. We have increased our technology to 25 iPads, a projector that works with the iPads thereby turning our white boards into almost a smart board at a fraction of the cost as well as desktop computers in each classroom. There are many wonderful apps to reinforce Hebrew alephbet knowledge; teach b’rachot and to teach holidays and Jewish symbols in fun ways. there are great map applications that tie in with Torah learning; the iPads have been great for research into a variety of topics. We brought in a trainer from the public school board who taught the staff about apps that allow them to make puppet shows and record the kids acting them out; the students can write and create books. Several teachers use them weekly to show the students G-dcast before they begin to discuss Torah.

    Management is challenging but it is much better now that we have a charging cart. How do we afford this many iPads for a school of 115? The synagogue has been generous and we also charge a $10/child technology fee that has allowed us to make some of our purchases. While some of us may not be comfortable with screens, the students are very comfortable and competent.

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