This post is by second year Education Fellow Ben Chaidell.
ISJL Education Fellows often work with our communities on how to create successful assistant teacher programs that put teenagers in younger students’ Sunday school classrooms. These emerging leaders are commonly referred to as madrichim, which means “guides” in Hebrew. The teens are the guides for the younger students and serve as role models for continued involvement in and enthusiasm for the Jewish community.
Congregation Adat Chaverim in Plano, Texas has built a very successful madrichim program as part of its dynamic school culture. While the congregation is only about 15 years old, it has grown to about 200 families and almost 150 students in its religious school, including over 41 madrichim.
Implementing and maintaining an active and helpful madrichim program is no simple feat. So, what draws 41 teenagers to Sunday school on a morning when they could be sleeping? And how do they arrive ready to assist teachers and younger students?
Education Director Valerie Klein does some things differently at Adat Chaverim, and she gets good results. First, the madrichim are also known as macharniks, from the Hebrew word machar which means “tomorrow.” The macharniks are the Jewish leaders of tomorrow. Serving as macharniks keeps them engaged with the congregation through their high school years and equips them with the skills necessary to serve the Jewish community in the future.
Second, the macharniks cover a wide range of responsibilities. They teach, lead learning stations and games, and participate in classroom discussions and art projects. Further, as a group they organize the Hanukkah and Passover all-school programs. Past programs they have organized include “Willy Wonka Hanukkah” and “Who Stole the Afikoman Mystery?”
Third, Valerie and machar coordinator Joanna Rudoff set the macharniks up for success. Joanna runs check-ins and training sessions for the macharniks, who each receive their own manual at the beginning of the year detailing their responsibilities. I had the opportunity to sit in on the session in which the older macharniks passed on advice to the younger ones. Some wise gems included: “get to know your kids,” “they’ll respect you as much as you respect them,” and “don’t say anything you wouldn’t say in front of your grandma.”
Valerie credits the success of her program to the expectation that students stay involved after their bar/bat mitzvah in a unique choice-based high school program. Students earn a certain number of points to “graduate” when they are seniors from each of the following categories: youth group, high school classes, and gemilut chasidim (acts of loving kindness, which include serving as a macharnik). This flexibility enables busy high school students to schedule their Jewish involvement in a way that works for them.
Ultimately, however, the macharniks keep coming back because religious school is simply fun. Valerie recognizes that it’s not usually the teachers who motivate their students to look forward to religious school; instead, it’s the friends the students make at religious school that make them look forward to returning. As a result, Valerie encourages her students to spend time together not only at religious school but also over the summer at Greene Family Camp. Over 40 campers and staff from the congregation attended Greene Family Camp this past summer, an astounding number for the size of the congregation.
I’ve certainly had a lot of fun with the folks at Adat Chaverim and learned a lot as well, and I can’t wait for my next visit!
Skype. Gchat. iPhone.
These are some of my primary tools in my modern Jewish education career.
Utilizing technology is important for pretty much all Jewish educators these days, but when you’re serving an entire region, they become more than enriching add-ons. They become absolute necessities.
I work as a virtual supervisor (not a term that was thrown around much back when I was in grad school at HUC!). That means that while I’m based in San Antonio Texas, the other ten people in my department are based out of the ISJL office in Jackson, Mississippi. When I first took on this role, I admit that I worried: what if my staff didn’t get what they needed from me. Mentorship is so important, and I want to always be a good supervisor to my staff.
But then I recalled my previous professional settings where I had supervisors who were sitting just inches away, and yet remained completely unavailable to me. I began realizing that meaningful connection isn’t just about physical presence, though that is important (and I do fly to Jackson quite frequently). It’s about mental presence. It’s about tuning in, and being responsive, and being accessible. Reachable, even if that means leaning pretty heavily on technology. Most of all, it’s about communication. And so that’s what I’ve committed to: being an always-mentally-present supervisor even when I wasn’t always physically present.
The way I work with my staff mirrors the way we work with our Southern communities, often quite far-flung, and ensure their positive Jewish experiences. My unconventional supervision succeeds because it fits with this model. My staff is constantly on the road, serving nearly 80 congregational schools. We guide hundreds of teachers and reach thousands of students, from afar – but again, thanks to email and messaging and video conferences, we are always in touch.
Each community we serve receives a weekly email from their fellow. We distribute a monthly e-newsletter from the department. We are on daily calls, webinars and Skype sessions with our communities. Most importantly, we see them three times a year, and we make every moment count. When we aren’t teaching or leading a program, we are celebrating Shabbat with families at their dinner tables, we attend birthday parties for the children of the congregation, and we schmooze in the homes of our host families.
We have the privilege of becoming part of the community – and technology helps make it possible. Particularly in a region like the South, where there are more small Jewish communities than large ones, and often many miles separating these communities, anything that helps strengthen connections and communication between people is truly a blessing.
Hmm. Anyone know a good bracha for kicking off my next Skype session?
People worry that this age of technology is creating distance between people. For us, it allows our impact and contact to be greater. How do you use technology to connect to others? We would love to hear your stories and comments.
When you think “summer in Mississippi,” the first thing that comes to mind is the heat.
But for some people, what comes to mind is Jewish education.
Yes, that’s right. Jewish education. Because for ten years now, summer has meant the ISJL Education Conference and teacher training institute – and communities throughout the South send representatives to Mississippi to attend the annual event. They come to learn, and they leave ready to teach.
The reality for many small Southern congregations is that Jewish educational resources are hard to come by. Often times, parents are the volunteer teachers, and may not have a background in Jewish education. But they are committed to instilling their heritage in their children. And so they gather, each summer, in Mississippi.
Because Jewish education happens everywhere.
To see some of the images from this year’s gathering (accompanied by a fun ‘soundtrack’ provided by the ISJL Education Fellows), you can view the video montage of the ISJL’s Education Conference 2012.