This past week, I was lucky enough to fly to Chicago and attend the Covenant Foundation’s awards dinner and symposium. Many months ago, I received the generous invitation to attend the conference as their guest, but also as a guest of my mother, a previous winner of the Covenant award and well-respected Jewish educator. Mostly, I would be there to accompany her; I was my mother’s plus one.
But in terms of the facts (i.e. I am a teacher and a writer) none of what I do is explicitly Jewish education. And in terms of the facts (my mother is very at home in this setting) she didn’t really need me there. And so it was that upon arrival, as Jewish education’s best and brightest swarmed my mom and welcomed her, I found myself feeling a little bit out of place, unsure of my purpose.
As a teacher, I’m used to being up in front of the room. As a writer, I’m used to being squirreled behind a computer. Here, I was sitting at round tables with people whose biographies revealed their very obvious connection to the professional Jewish world. I was an imposter, sharing a hotel room with an insider.
As a writer, I sit at my desk and wax on about the lack of affordable Jewish day care options in the United States. I spend hours composing a homily about the injustice of the synagogue pay-to-pray model, or why it is that certain writers who disparage Jewish tradition make me angry. I expend sweat and tears when I write about how celebrating Christmas made me a better Jew, how I struggle to connect with Judaism sometimes because I’m not sure I believe in God, how raising girls both frightens and thrills me. The writing never comes easy (at least to me) and I believe that the conversations I can potentially start by writing are as important as other intangible aspects of social action.
I hope that in my writing, I am raising questions and pointing out inequities, outmoded ways of thinking, and truths about life as a young Jewish parent in a complicated world.
But writing about change, or the change that I’ve called for in the Jewish community, is just one of the elements it takes. Change needs to happen on the ground, in the Jewish trenches. And at this conference, I was witness to hundreds who are actively working to create that change, and do good things.
And holy annual report, people, there is a lot of good happening. In a program called Edah, in northern California, people are changing the model of complementary Jewish education for kids K-8. At Mishkan Chicago, people are getting together and finding ways to be Jewish that’s stripped of the old conventions (and away from old models like pay-to-pray). In Toronto, Shoresh has established ecologically conscious programs infused with Jewish values. At Camp Ramah in New England, kids with special needs can participate in all of the Israeli dancing and arts and crafts and song sessions and bonfires that neurotypical Jewish summer campers do. G-DCAST is creating mobile apps and animated short films for people looking for easily digestible Torah. Moving Traditions advocates for a wider view of gender in Jewish education, and I could go on and on and on.
These people, these Jewish educators and innovators, are thinking and traveling and talking and convening and breaking out into sessions and building cornerstones for our kids. For my kids.
I am beginning to realize that maybe I did have a purpose at this conference, after all. I think that maybe my purpose was to observe, and then write and tell you, my cohort, those with young children and sticky dinner tables and unfolded laundry and splitting headaches and hopes and dreams for your kids, that irrespective of any Pew study–the state of our Jewish union is not just strong, but it’s smart. It’s varied. It’s creative. It’s exciting.
As we struggle to try and build a world for our kids that’s deserving of their fresh-faced, eager, precious selves, and as we search for answers in our quest to raise ethical, compassionate, worldly, and accepting Jewish children, it helps to know that really good work is being done out there. Click through these links; expose yourself to ideas other than those in your circumscribed geographic and socio-economic boxes. I’m going to. Because it’s nice to be inspired again, to be renewed with a sense of I-can-do-great-things, and my kids will, too.