Showing posts with label Experiential Learning. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Experiential Learning. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

The best use of my time ever
(for professional growth)

I should have posted this sooner. If you listen to me you only have two days to act. I hope you do. Like many of us in Jewish education, I have devoted a lot of time to my own professional development. I have always asked my teachers to attend conferences, online learning and other ways to build their professional tool box. Being a Dugma Ishit (personal example) has always been a core value to me, so I have done a lot of it. In addition to the learning, I love the networking and building relationships with colleagues.

Four members of SEC-4 with four 
Mstaff at the 18 x 18 Summit last week.

I won't list all of the conferences and programs I have attended, planned or even staffed. I will tell you about one though - and I have talked about it before.

In the late spring of 2019, I began a 10 month engagement with M2: the Institute for Experiential Jewish Education's Senior Educators Cohort. I was in Cohort 4 (SEC-4). Cohort 7 is now recruiting and the deadline is this Thursday, June 22. If you are a Jewish Educator do not pass go, do not collect $200 - go directly to the application form!

Sorry. I am a little excited about this program. You see, I have had a great time at a lot of the professional learning programs I have attended over the years. I have a lot of friendships that came out of them and I learned a lot.

SEC-4 was a on a completely different level. I was already doing a lot of learning about Experiential Learning and sharing it with my teachers, because I have believed for several years that it is the secret sauce to connecting the current and coming generations of learners. And IEJE has really created a new academic field for us to understand how to make it work in our different settings. And they have created a lexicon to help us understand it and to transmit it to our teachers an students.

When I finished the first five day seminar, I went up to Kiva Rabinsky, who is the Chief Program Officer and one of our teachers that week, and told him that I had never spent a week of professional learning where so many of my waking hours were spent actually learning. We all got to know one another and develop friendships - we still maintain and actively use our Whatsapp group, and the program ended in March of 2020! AND the learning was intense.

I had intended to complete the program and then begin sharing it with my faculty. After I returned from the first seminar, a few teachers asked me about it and I could stop sharing specifics with them. They insisted that I needed to teach it as quickly as I learned it - it made so much sense to them, I was so passionate about it and they did not want to wait. Thank God I did what they suggested. Because the final seminar ended just hours before the COVID-19 lockdown. It actually was ended two hours early so the Israeli staff and participants could board an earlier flight so they would not have to quarantine for two weeks on arrival.

Thank God I did what they suggested, spending the fall and early spring teaching my teachers what I learned at SEC-4 and helping them begin to use some of the ideas in their lessons. Because when we made the swing to Zoom on March 15, 2020, they were already thinking about how to make those Zoom classes less frontal and more experiential. I am certain they would have done an excellent job teaching online and later in hybrid mode without the M2 learning. I am convinced that it contributed a lot to how overwhelmingly successful they were in facing all that the pandemic threw at us as teachers. And they were awesome.

So stop reading my ranting. Sign up for SEC-7. You're welcome.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Virtual Experiential Education: It Works!

I do not believe that anyone who is reading this does not already know about, an amazing curated blog that covers Jewish Philanthropy and Jewish Education. "To assist organizations progress as they adapt to the continuing changes and challenges of the 21st Century, eJewish Philanthropy was launched in 2007 as an independent on-line publisher and a facilitator of resource mobilization serving the professional Jewish community."

There are some very important articles that originate or end up there. This is on of them. If you want to make a comment, I urge you to so on their page: in order to engage in the wider conversation. I include the article here because I think it is relevant and would like to talk about it with you.

Virtual Experiential Education: It Works!

By Anna Serviansky

In designing JustCity/CityStage 2.0, JTS’s Pre-College summer program for teens, our team of educators intentionally crafted a setting and learning environment where the objectives of experiential education would be met. While we were unsure how this unchartered territory of an online format versus the in-person experience we had curated for years would be received, it took only the first day of seeing the program unfold in action to realize that our careful planning was producing the results we hoped for. A community of learners was formed, the social emotional needs of the group were met, and the teens were excited to learn in the dynamic, experiential environment we engineered. As we step back to review what made our program a success, I can distill the elements that took place and see that in fact they mirror what researchers have been studying for decades.

While some might question whether excellent experiential education can happen online, if certain conditions are present, then the setting is less important and learning outcomes will be met in the positive, reflective manner that contributes to the personal growth of our learners. While informal Jewish education, which includes experiential education, tends to be tied to say the place of camp, JCC, youth movement, or synagogue as juxtaposed to the formal classroom setting, this notion of “place” is becoming less important to where informal and experiential education can thrive and accelerate outcomes.

In fact, as Dr. Barry Chazan writes describing informal Jewish education, “It works by creating venues, by developing a total educational culture, and by co-opting the social context … it does not call for any one venue but may happen in a variety of settings.” (Chazan, The Philosophy of Informal Jewish Education, 35). Our finding was that indeed, in our virtual platform, we were able to create a venue and social context where our learners could process their own Jewish identity within the current milieu among a community of like-minded peers and knowledgeable educators.

Moreover, reviewing Dr. Jeffrey Kress’s rubric of quality experiential Jewish education, we have a road map for not only what made our program successful, but also what can be translated to future impactful virtual programs. (Kress, Experiential Jewish Education Has Arrived! Now What?, 326). I will divide this rubric into two categories and explore how we might continue to make use of the six elements he outlines.

Logistics, Relationships, and Participant Involvement. Our schedule was modified to meet the needs of our participants and educators (ibid). We had three sessions spread throughout the day with ample breaks. Our first class was a text-based class on Judaism and justice that used contemporary and ancient writings as a jumping off point for students to relate to their own questions on certain justice issues from immigration to the environment and more. Our second class was a creative arts workshop where learners had an opportunity to explore those justice topics deeper through poetry, song, and theater. And at the conclusion of each day, a third educator facilitated participant involvement where teens planned their own reflections and social activities. All of the educators nurtured learning environments where they modeled how to do Judaism and social justice and how to form a community around these issues from different perspectives that teens could relate to. They also purposefully constructed relationships between the teens themselves throughout their programming.

Ritual, Spirituality, Programmatic/Developmental Elements. For a pluralistic program like ours, we celebrated Shabbat Friday afternoons with reflections, divrei torah, and singing. As when we are in person, we continued our model of a diversity of forms of spiritual exploration and reflection tools not only during Shabbat, but also as a way to process our learning, both context and social-emotional, through journaling, the arts, and more. The positive energy of our educators who used music, creative check ins, and digital strategies transferred to our teens who often wanted to hang out outside of scheduled times. And, we focused on opportunities where our learners could become skilled practitioners, applying what they learned in real time from how to study a Jewish text to how to advocate for causes to how to have tough conversations with those of differing views.

Our virtual program included all six of those elements that comprise excellent Jewish experiential education. And, so, perhaps we should not have been surprised that the “venue” itself did not matter and that a virtual program can provide learners with what they need. In their own words, teens reflected on the power of this experience:

“I didn’t think I’d create the same bonds I have at other summer programs because we were online and not spending time together 24/7, but I was so wrong. I made so many friends, and it’s just been so amazing!” Miriam S.

“My favorite thing about this program was getting to learn from my peers. Rather than just being talked at by our teachers, we were able to have open discussions and hear each other’s ideas on relevant issues. I also really loved being able to connect Jewish texts to modern day social justice issues. I had never done that before, and it was super interesting.” Yaya S.

The hallmark of any good experiential Jewish education to my mind is when the participants do not want the experience to be over. Many of them wished they could continue their learning together and spoke extensively about how much they had appreciated the community during a challenging summer. And so, while the world is changed, we must continue to bring the very best of experiential Jewish education virtually, and when we do so, we will continue to meet our objectives of developing strong connections to Judaism and to one another.

Anna Serviansky is Associate Dean of List College and the Kekst Graduate School and the Director of JTS Pre-College.

Monday, March 30, 2020

The Socially Distanced Full-Contact

Seder ™

Before our children were even conceived (the youngest turns 22 on Sunday) my wife Audrey and I developed what we called the Full-Contact Seder. The idea was to create a Seder that was so engaging that the children we would someday have would be an experience that filled them with wonder. Thanks to being at the seder at Kibbutz Lotan in 1989 - where we saw five little ones mesmerized by the shadow-maggid their parents performed - we were determined. And with the help of family and friends, I believe we succeeded for many years. 

We continue to make our seder with many of those same friends and when COVID-19 decided on a Zoom seder for us, we dusted it off. Here is the introduction of the planning document. I happily share the planning document which are welcome to copy or download. The comments are live on the document, and I invite your thoughts, suggestions and ideas. You can find it at this link:

Socially Distanced Full-Contact Seder ™

Welcome to the Family Virtual Seder Planning Page!
Also known as the Socially Distanced Full-Contact Seder ™

So it took a few (thousand) years, but we finally have a seder that is fully a product of experiential learning. I was opposed to having an actual plague this year, but you all know how THOSE guys get when they start getting silly.

My understanding of the plan is that we are going to a modified digital version of the Full Contact Seder we did when all of our kids lived at home and were too young to tell us to cut it out.

Below is an outline of the 15 parts of the seder (and some of them are subdivided into more parts). Each has at least one link to a site that will explain what it is about or other relevant information. We agreed that each participating family will take responsibility for at least two of the items. That may include dealing one of them off to a child(ren) or even the one communal grandchild. If you can deal more than one off (keeping at least one for yourselves, of course) awesome! We can skip or just talk about the ones no one took!

The task for each part or sub part is to creatively express, teach or engage us in the meaning of that part of the Seder.

We are using Zoom on a professional account, so the only time limit is the patience of everyone attending (so no filibusters!). You can share your screen with the group, so if you have something prepared on your computer or on another website (e.g. a YouTube Video, Prezy or the like) there is no problem.

As soon as you decide which TWO parts (or sub-parts) you want to own, please put your name on the chart below so we don’t have two families or individuals planning the same part.

I will post prayer sheets, etc. as pdfs for all to download. If you would like to post anything, go ahead or send it to me and I can convert it and post if you prefer.


Here is the link again.
Socially Distanced Full-Contact Seder ™

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The year of exhaling (a bit) - תש''פ

The new Hebrew year, 5780, will be written תש''פ

That can be translated to mean: to exhale, to blow out, to hiss, to sting or even to blow fiercely. (Isn’t language wonderful?)

Let’s look at the first translation. Rabbi Isaac Luria, often called the ARI, was a mystic who lived in Tz’fat in the 16th century. He told the story of how God had to contract Godself (the Divine Essence) in order to make room to create the universe. He called that act of contraction Tzimtzum – God removed a bit of Godself to make room.

My friend and teacher Joel Grishaver (who may be a descendant of Rabbi Luria) described Tzimtzum as if you had just exhaled after quickly inhaling, making your chest and stomach contract.

Sometimes, when we withdraw a bit of ourselves, we make room for others to step up and take ownership of what is happening around us. That can be particularly useful in experiential learning.

We as teachers have to step back sometimes – just a little – in order to invite the learners to take ownership of their own learning. My wish for the new year – the year of exhaling (a bit) – for us, the teachers, is that we all develop our capacity and the skills needed to draw our learners in deeper and make space for them to step up. Let’s all put a little Tzimtzum into our lesson plans!

(Incidentally, the story goes on that God put the Divine Essence that was removed into vessels made from earthen clay. They cannot hold the Godstuff and shatter. He said our job was to remove the worthless shards of the vessels - sin, bad behavior, evil, etc – from the world and seek out the sparks of Divine Essense – good loving, kind deeds,Mitzvot, etc. This process is called Tikkun Olam – World Repair).

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Waiting for Superman: New CAJE, Old Battle

Another great piece from eJewishPhilantrhopy! Sadly NewCAJE comes when I serve at Eisner Camp, so I was not able to be there. Sounds like it was excellent. I truly appreciate and agree with David Steiner's conclusion, and would have loved to have been in the room! Thoughts?


by David Steiner

Conflict is the gadfly of thought. It stirs us to observation and memory. It instigates invention. It shocks us out of sheep-like passivity, and sets us at noting and contriving … conflict is a sine qua non of reflection and ingenuity.
John Dewey

The highlight of NewCAJE #4 held at Nichols College, just west of Boston, was not the exemplary learning or rich celebrations of Jewish culture. It was the “Rumble in the Jungle,” the debate about the nature of Jewish education for the 21st century, which was set up like the famous heavyweight championship fight between Mohammad Ali and George Foreman in Zaire and played out like the battle of the Mitnagdim and the Hassidim.

Dr. David Bryfman
In one corner, there was Dr. David Bryfman, Director of the New Center for Collaborative Leadership at the Jewish Education Project in New York, and, in the other was Rabbi Danny Lehmann, President of Hebrew College of Boston. The room was packed, the stakes were high and, in place of a referee, Rabbi Cherie Koller-Fox moderated. There were no KO’s, but the crowd, passing judgment with the SMS app on their smart phones, gave a lean victory to Dr. Bryfman with the cellular poll asking which speaker would be most accepted by the audience member’s congregation or school board.

Rabbi Danny Lehmann
What were the stakes? The debate was set up to address the future of Jewish education. How important is Jewish literacy to the 21st century learner? What is the importance of Judaic text-based education in experiential learning? What is the importance of recreation (a sense of fun and belonging) in a Jewish education context? These were the questions, and if you removed references to the 21st century and experiential education, you might just think you were transported back to the era of apostasy following the false messiahs of the 17th and 18th centuries.

Standing in for the Hasidim was Dr. Bryfman, a new Baal Shem Tov, hoping to convince the crowd that the individual experience of a child, at the center of Jewish education, is best served with “positive Jewish experiences,” while his opponent, the Mitnaged, standing in for the Gra, Rabbi Danny Lehmann took the position that positive experiences are not a substitute for engagement with Jewish texts, which is at the center of Judaism.

To help decide whose vision of Jewish education is more appropriate for the 21st century, this writer turns back to the first century of the Common Era when a similar battle was being waged. In preparation for the Jewish people’s departure from their home turf in Roman occupied Palestine, Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Akiva argued the question: “Which is greater, education or action?” Tarfon insisted on experience, while Akiva defended learning. In the end, the rest of the rabbis settled the dispute by saying: “Education is greater because it leads to [proper] action.” Notice that education comes first, and, more importantly, not all action is proper.

In making his case, Dr. Bryfman delivered a body blow with an anecdote. He told the story of a woman who remembered the food she ate to break her fast on Tisha B’Av over two decades earlier at a Jewish summer camp. His point, we remember and identify with the world we experience. But Rabbi Lehmann, the southpaw, came back with an upper cut by lamenting the lack of substance and asking what is the benefit of an identity which is hallow? He asked why should we remain Jewish if it doesn’t stand for anything. Essentially, he was saying that there are many identities out there, and educators help to define Jewishness so young Jews will choose our identity.

Experiential education, John Dewey’s brainchild, was the centerpiece of the New CAJE debate, but there was a distinctly non-Dewey feeling in the air. Experience was being touted by Dr. Bryfman as a panacea for the ills of a religious school system that was failing our youth, while Rabbi Lehmann sounded like the naysayers of Progressive education. Both thought their educational philosophy is a natural outgrowth of Dewey, who would respond to them,
“[A]ny movement that thinks and acts in terms of an ‘ism becomes so involved in reaction against other ‘isms that it is unwittingly controlled by them. For it then forms its principles by reaction against them instead of by a comprehensive, constructive survey of actual needs, problems, and possibilities.” 
It reminds me of the joke about the two scholars fighting over the true meaning of the Rambam.

“My Monides is right.”

“No, My Monides.”

Remaining loyal to Dewey, we can say that, “There is no such thing as educational value in the abstract.” Kal v’chomer, if this is so, then how can there be a panacea.

In my session, Exposing the Gorilla’s in the Complimentary School Classroom (and thinking about what to feed them), a group of religious school directors introduced themselves by telling each other where they are from and the particular challenges of their schools. We looked at this question through the lens’s of geography, demography and finance. What we discovered was just how complicated our situation is.

The problems of Jewish education are numerous but not uniform. (Repeat 3x) Like the seventy faces of Torah, each educator faces different challenges. Some of us are in big cities with large Jewish populations. In these cities, day school becomes an option, most often, when the public school system is failing. The consequence tends to be two forms of day schools; Jewish day schools and private schools for Jews. In all densely populated Jewish communities, the synagogue doesn’t need to be the center of Jewish life and bagels at the local deli may satisfy families’ needs for Jewish community and ritual.

In small towns, isolation from highly trained teachers can be a major obstacle. One participant in my session told me about the positive role the Institute for Southern Jewish Life has in supporting these schools. Many are limited by finance. They can’t afford professional development for their teachers, and some even need to draft unpaid teacher volunteers. ISJL supports these schools through conferences, teacher mentorships and ongoing support.

I could go on about the challenges of the various religious schools, but my goal is not to make lists. I want to direct the reader’s attention to the fact that discussions about the nature of religious pedagogy, whether it is experiential or more like a traditional beit midrash, mislead us into believing that we can find uber remedies. In American public education, this is called “Waiting for Superman.” It doesn’t work.

For millennia, Jewish communities have been led by the mara d’atra, usually rabbis, but essentially the “teacher of the place” whose charge it is to serve as a facilitator of Jewish knowledge and practice. Left to it’s own devices, this system wouldn’t work because the communities would eventually become so disparate in there beliefs that they would not find a common core.

This is why they chose a big Jewish library of content to stand at the center of the curriculum. Each mara d’atra would have his favorite books and ways of teaching and expertise, but they would all emanate from a common set of constantly developing knowledge, an oral Torah. Left alone, this wouldn’t work either because some communities allowed their Torah to include false messiahs and unaccepted revelations.

This is when the librarians came in and said, as I learned from my teacher Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman, there need to be some borders for Judaism. This is where our system of checks and balances comes to play. We are pluralistic because we want the entire family at the table. It also teaches us to be humble and not assume that we have the monopoly on what’s right. We are tolerant because we stand for something, which means that not everything goes, i.e. we cannot have people at our table that will not sit with everyone at the table.

And we allow some deviance because the best laid plans of mice and men sometimes go askew, and we have to address issues that we never thought would come up, like we do in conducting wars against terror or finding ways to accept the sexuality of all our family members.

Rabbi Lehmann is right that we have to look to our own library and grind our teeth in pursuit of these answers, and Dr. Bryfman is right in our need to create laboratories, a term I borrow from Dewey, where Jewish students can have Jewish experiences that make them want to be members of the tribe, and both of them are wrong if they think that theirs should be the dominant paradigm of our religious schools.

In Hebrew, we have three letter roots for our words, and often they become the source of a system of binary thinking that can be wonderful and terrible in the same moment. The root, shin, chet, reish, can create the word shachar, dawn, the beginning of light, and shachor, black, the absence of light. This gives us a spectrum on which to find ourselves. The same can be said for pey, shin, tet, which can create pshat, the simple or literary meaning, or moofshat, abstraction. Again, a binary. It’s the same idea that Bialik wanted us to learn in his brilliant essay, Aggadah and Halacha, Legend and Law. Each is the side of a coin. They cannot exist without the other. Think heaven and Earth, water and land, the workweek and Shabbat.

There are, however, other paradigms in Judaism. Seventy faces of Torah is a three dimensional paradigm. It recognizes the limitations of spectrums of thought. Seventy faces of Torah is why we need more organizations like New CAJE because Jewish educators need to come together and discuss our challenges and constantly brainstorm their solutions and share what works and what doesn’t. This is why I went to New CAJE, not for the heavyweights and their rumbles, not to make choices between mitnagdim and Hassidim, but to be in the company of my peers and colleagues and to face the challenges of the 21st century without waiting for Superman.

David J. Steiner, Ed.D. is working to complete his rabbinic ordination. He has been a congregational director of education for both the Reform and Conservative synagogues, and he recently returned to America from a fellowship at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.

Monday, June 17, 2013

"School as camp?" We can do better!

Jeff Kress has been my colleague in the Leadership Institute for the past nine years. He has taught me and many others a great deal about Social and Emotional and Experiential Learning. For the past year I have been part of and SEL study group with him, Evie Rotstein and a small group of congregation-based educators. We have spent our time exploring different aspect of how focusing on these types of learning can be effective. Yesterday, Jeff published the article below on

I am not going to add anything today except to say I think it is worth all of our time to read it, and that I have collected a small group of links to articles that relate to this topic at the end of the posting.

Click here for the original posting on eJP and to read other comments.

A More Accurate Analogy?
Thinking About Synagogues, not Schools, and Camps

Posted on June 16, 2013 
by Jeffrey S. Kress, PhD

It seems that the idea of making supplemental schools more “camp-like” has gained even more momentum over the past year. In that time, I have engaged in many conversations with practitioners and researchers who shared my mix of hopefulness and skepticism about the idea. The hopefulness often springs from the freedom to think creatively about education while at the same time maintaining a developmental-growth framework to inform new initiatives. Skepticism, on the other hand, often emerges from pointing out the ways in which schools were not like camps (camps being seen as voluntary, having more contact hours, etc.).

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Summer Camp in the Classroom?

There have been a number of articles and a bit of buzz about making religious school  more like camp. My teacher Jeffrey Kress wrote "So, You Want Your School To Be More Like Camp?" back in March. My camp counselor and colleague Roberta Louis Goodman has created "Camp NSCI" for the 3rd and 4th graders at North Shore Congregation Israel in suburban Chicago:
"Camp NSCI with its ruach (spirit) interpreting Torah through drama games and film making, and cool materials for visual arts, Hebrew chuggim (electives) that have included sports, cooking, smartboard, computers, ipads, yoga, games, singing, visual arts and more!"

And even one of my congregants, who grew up at Camp Ramah has asked for our music curriculum to become more like his camp memories (I think we are almost there, Ted!).

I have been thinking for a while about this and what I might have to say here. My first impulse is to agree with much of what Jeff has to say in his article in the Jewish Week. We have to ask what about camp do we want to emulate. And like him, I believe there are certainly some aspects we can draw from the camp experience. And I will blog on that later in the summer. From Eisner Camp. Where I am going on Sunday. Because camp is a huge part of why I became a Jewish educator.

But here's the thing: while there are many facets to what is the "essence" of Jewish camping, I believe it all comes down to the 24/6+Shabbat aspect. It is the total immersion of the camper in the community of camp. It is the keeping of parents and school friends at arm's length for 2 - 8 weeks that allows the camper to enter a completely different head space. There are mores at camp that have little meaning at home. Some good, some less attractive. But they are components of an immersive culture that take campers to a different world. Eisner director Louis Bordman calls it being "under the bubble." It is a magical place. And so is nearly every other Jewish camp.

But that was all my first impulse. Yesterday my Club Ed shipment arrived from Torah Aura Productions.*  Inside was a copy of Experiencing Jewish Prayer.Wow.

So I grew up at Olin Sang Ruby Union Institute in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. Where Joel Lurie Grishaver tested what eventually became Shema is For Real and the Prayerbook Board Game.  As a camper in 1975, I remember the staff and my rabbi, Mark S. Shapiro, taking us on a journey through Jewish prayer each day during Shiur/Sicha (today we call it Limmud), culminating in the Prayerbook Board Game. It was the second iteration of the program since Joel had developed it and OSRUI had published it.

Since then, Joel has used it as a springboard for the Shema is for Real Hebrew curriculum and he has revised the original as the All New Shema is for Real. He has been doing the experiential approach to teaching prayer for longer than most people have been able to spell experiential. Each version was designed for a new generation of teacher and student. Yet each left a decidedly "classroom" feel to it.

Experiencing Jewish Prayer is something else. In some ways it is another take on Shema is for Real. Which is a very good thing. But it is so much more. As I read through it this morning, I was imagining teaching with it. I didn't feel myself in a classroom. I felt like I was under a tree or on the Quad at Eisner having a lot of fun with campers who were getting into the idea of talking about and more importantly playing with the idea of prayer.

There is a version of the classic four corners game with several questions about God. The visual representation makes it easy for a teacher who has never been to camp to visualize how to make it work in a classroom. There are texts for chevruta study. In invitation to create a human sculpture of a car wash that feels like it comes from the New Games Book - a standard in my library as a camp counselor. (You should get one!) To understand the idea of long and short brakhot, it invites students to team up, get a siddur and analyze actual brakhot to determine which is which. It is filled with stories and analogies and metaphors.

I still believe that for religious school to become like camp, we need to keep the students overnight for a few weeks and separate them from their own bedrooms and social media. But I think that the peulot (activities) in this book will give my teachers a very real opportunity to make prayer come alive in ways we had only been able to do at camp or in youth group. I am buying one copy for every teacher in the relevant grades to start off. And one grade will be using this as a text as well.

If you are not a member of Club Ed (Torah Aura's review approval service), then call them at 800 BE TORAH and order a copy for your review. You will be glad you did.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Seeing through the eyes of another.
The "Nalaga’at" Center.

Dr. Eliezer Jones is a friend of one of my colleagues on the Jim Joseph Foundation Fellowship at the Lookstein Institute at Bar Ilan university. He has been blogging daily about the Israel trip we just completed this morning. I want to share his posting about our dinner this past Monday because I think the experience and his posting raise the issue of experiential learning. We all do it. Do we do it well? Could we do it better? What are we missing? You can see the rest of his posts on Eliezer Jones's blog. The restaurant/theater is called Na Laga'at which means please touch, because people who are deaf and blind (as their actors are) need to use touch to communicate.)

Another amazing day on the JJF Fellowship Israel retreat. In fact, I feel a bit guilty that I have not been blogging about every aspect of the different days as there have been so many memorable experiences. For example, today we began with a presentation from Rabbi Seth Farber, Ph.D. Rabbi Farber is the founder and director of ITIM, The Jewish Life Information Center which is “dedicated to making Jewish life accessible to all” by fighting for social justice. Then we spent three hours learning together at ALMA Home for Hebrew Culture. ALMA “seeks to acquaint Israelis with the wealth of Jewish heritage” and is a secular Beit Medresh. However, although they are experiences I will never forget, it was how we spent dinner that changed forever the way I view an aspect of the human experience. We had dinner at The "Nalaga’at" Center.

According to their site, “The "Nalaga’at" Center, located at the Jaffa port in Tel Aviv, was founded by the "Nalaga’at" non-profit organization and opened its gates to the public in December 2007. The Center is comprised of the "Nalaga’at" Theater, home to the Deaf-blind Acting Ensemble; Café Kapish, with its deaf waiters and BlackOut, the pitch-black restaurant with its staff of blind waiters. The "Nalaga’at" Center currently employs some 70 people, most of whom are deaf, blind or deaf-blind.”

The JJF Fellows ate at BlackOut, the pitch-black restaurant served by blind waiters. To describe the level of darkness that exists there is to only to describe it as imagine you were blind, which for most of us is impossible to describe. I have never experienced such darkness. There was no adjusting to the darkness, being able to see edges or small rays of light. It was pitch black and my body was reacting in a way I did not prepare for.

As soon as we were escorted to our table conga line style and, yes, we did make choo choo sounds, I began to get anxious. This is not something I generally get. I was fidgety and talking more than I generally do, which is a lot. I began to notice perfumes, cigarette smoke (there is no smoking in the restaurant) and the aromas of the food as my other senses began searching to connect to something. I began to hear noises that overwhelmed my ability to hear the person across the table from me. My senses were frantic.

When are food came, things calmed down a bit. I ate delicious fish with my hands (although I had a fork and knife I kept bringing an empty fork to my mouth) that was warm but not hot lest I burn myself. There was no coffee or soup for that same reason. We had to pass each other water by touching each others hands. Someone spilled, but neither of us knew who it was. We shared bread. My friend kept putting half eaten bread back in the basket. Not cool. The waitresses had bells around their wrists so that we heard them coming and that they would not bump into each other.

This dinner, in such an intense manner, allowed me to “see” through the eyes of another that I would have never experienced unless I too, G-d forbid, were blind. It was only an hour and a half in the darkness, but I not sure I will see things the same way again. I am grateful for the experience and it enhanced my already strong support for experiential learning. I would recommend any school trip to Israel to incorporate The Nalaga’at Center. For those who do not make it here, there are many ways to learn about differences in others in the classroom through temporary experience (i.e. use a wheel chair in school for a day) that can make a significant impact on the perspectives of the students. Technology can also be of great assistance. Click here for a post about using virtual reality used to assist users in experiencing the positive symptoms of schizophrenia.