Wednesday, April 13, 2011

When Mia, the famous Bronx Zoo Cobra, slithered her way to temporary freedom in a corner of the reptile house, the irony was simply amazing. Afterv all, a cobra adorned the headdress of the ancient Pharaoh’s, including, in all likelihood, the Pharaoh of the exodus story we will tell in a few days. Snakes show up in yet another way in the story of the exodus: When Moses and Aaron came before Pharaoh, they demonstrated a sign of their Godly mission: Aaron threw his staff to the ground and it became a snake. Not to be outclassed, Pharaoh had his magicians create snakes. But the snake of Aaron and Moses was on top of the game, and swallowed the snakes of the magicians. So, the snake was first a symbol of slavery, appearing on Pharaoh’s head. But then became a powerful symbol of freedom -- exhibit A in the demonstration of the power that would become fully manifested in the exodus of the Israelites. Our contemporary Cobra too, became a symbol of freedom. Within hours of the her escape, Mia had a fan base rivaling any rock star. People began using social media to represent her and her (mostly fictional) exploits. The Bronx Zoo Cobra captured our imagination in her dash for freedom. We cheered her on, hoping she would find fulfillment (just not in our home). The drive towards freedom and fulfillment is powerful. Yet, in our world, there are those who are not fully free. Our world has human slavery, totalitarian rulers, and prejudicial laws and systems that prevent people from living full lives. And Pesach, along with the snakes, both ancient and modern, reminds us that we need to use our power to work for freedom in our world. Wishing you and yours a Happy and Inspiring Pesach, Rabbi Arnold D. Samlan

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Professional Learning Communities for Teachers by Jamie Faith Woods

The DeLeT Alumni Leadership Group presented at the Jewish Day School Leadership Conference, January 17th-19th in Teaneck, New Jersey. Below are their reflections of one participant.  Jamie FaithWoods of Jewish Community Day School of Rhode Island (Brandeis, Cohort 1):

“I was asked only a couple of weeks ago to be on a panel at a presentation about Professional Learning Communities, by Naava Frank . I was one of three panelists. I sat alongside Jared Matas JCDS (Brandeis, Cohort 2) and Maureen Mintz, the director of professional development at South Area Solomon Schechter , a DeLeT site school from its inception. When preparing for this presentation, we all shared our stories over the phone. Maureen spoke about how the PLC at her school really began when a DeLeT alum approached her with a new idea. You see, she had just returned from a conference and attended a presentation about the values of PLC and how to get started. I was curious about who this alum was and which conference she was referring to. Unbeknownst to Maureen, as we uncovered minutes later, it was actually my presentation, entitled “Enacting the ‘L’, ” at last spring’s DeLeT alum conference that this teacher had attended. From there she returned to her school inspired, and with a proposal. SASSDS has since institutionalized this work in a very impressive way. While it is certainly significant to inspire change on any level, the ripple effects, particularly at an event such as this conference, are what I’m feeling most hopeful about at this moment in time.

Administrators who attended the session looked to us to help guide them in making a formal PLC work at their schools. They listened as we spoke earnestly about how to listen to their teachers.

DeLeT’s reputation preceded us....Early on a participant chimed in to say how she didn’t find it coincidental at all that the beginnings of this movement (in day schools) came out of a DeLeT alum conference. She spoke highly of DeLeT’s reputation in regards to preparing teachers to be reflective practitioners and to make their work public.

Cross-posted with permission of the author, Jamie Faith Woods from the DeLeT Alumni Network Blog

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Sustainable Congregational Learning

Congratulations to our client, Congregational Beth Israel on the write-up in Reform Judaism Magazine of this wonderful program.

Funding: Unlikely Dollars, Unfettered Dreams

by Debby Waldman

The leadership of Congregation Beth Israel (CBI) in Charlottesville, Virginia needed help. Many of its members who lived in this university town felt homesick during family-oriented holidays. They’d say, “I want to have a seder, but my parents aren’t here and I don’t have anyone to do it with” or “I want to get together with people for Shabbat, but who? And how?”

At first, Ellen Dietrick, director of the temple’s early childhood education program, was puzzled by such comments. “I was thinking, ‘They have a whole community—ours,’” she recalls. “But they weren’t thinking of it that way.”

They are now, thanks to Shabbat Connections, an innovative program CBI was able to initiate thanks to two Legacy Heritage grants of approximately $25,000 each. Since 2007, nearly 80 families—about 20% of the congregation—have participated in Shabbat Connections, meeting regularly in small groups at each other’s homes for holidays, and at least once a month for Shabbat.

Creating such a program might sound easy: simply encourage families, couples, and single adults to sign up; help them identify their goals for celebrating Shabbat and holidays; divide them into groups of four to seven family units; provide them with a book and a CD; and have a mentor check in with them from time to time as needed.

But, “you wouldn’t believe how difficult the matchmaking was,” Dietrick says. “We worked with a paid consultant, an expert on community-building, for two years to put together mini-communities of people who would enjoy spending time together, learning from each other, and supporting one another’s Jewish quests.”

The first step was to survey interested families to learn about their Jewish backgrounds, Shabbat practices, and goals. From there, CBI formed mini-communities—among them seniors, empty nesters, families with elementary school children, and young adults—who expressed similar needs and desires for Shabbat and holiday observance.

Shabbat Connections no longer receives funding, but nine groups continue to meet regularly—as do other groups of families who were inspired by the model. “When I go to services on Friday night or to Torah study or High Holidays, I really know many of these people,” says Shabbat Connections participant Lisa Colton. “I’ve been in their homes, helped their children build with blocks, and listened to them bless their sons and daughters at a Shabbat table—and that makes those relationships so much more meaningful. When I walk into the synagogue building, I’m not thinking I’m a customer of an institution charging me $1,500 a year in dues. It feels like my home, my community, my space.” CBI’s preschool children share in the enthusiasm, greeting each other on Friday mornings by announcing, “I’m coming to your house for Shabbat tonight!”

Reprinted from Reform Judaism Magazine with permission of the author Debby Waldman and the Magazine editor.  To read more about this fascinating project see the CBI White-paper on the Knowledge Communities Web Site.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Working with lay people, supervisors, and parents: setting agendas, getting buy-in, and making decisions

Join the Panim Institue for Jewish Service-Learning Professional Development session is Thursday, May 6th at 1:00 pm. 

Dorene Blair, of Lexington Youth Theater and Knowledge Communities will be sharing her expertise on how to build a volunteer program that "runs itself."  Dorene has years of experience running a family based theatre program that engaged volunteers of all ages. 

Click here for more information about the Panim Professional Development Network.

The PANIM Institute is proud to offer ongoing professional development offerings for Jewish educators, service-learning professionals, and youth workers. Our sessions include guest teachers to share their expertise, pre-assigned community members to share their personal stories both for feedback and to share best practices, discussion of the issues most raised as of interest to practitioners, and - of course! - time for questions and sharing your best practices. I hope that we will build a strong community of learners and facilitators!

May’s session will bring in guest teacher, Dorene Blair from the Lexington Youth Theater ( who will lead us in a session focusing on working with lay people, supervisors, and parents: setting agendas, getting buy-in, and making decisions. As always, our session provides the opportunity for discussion, questions and learning from the best in class practices of our peers in the field.

Where: It's a Webinar - you can participate from any Internet connection. Phone-only access is also available.

What Else?: Please consider joining our Jewish Service Learning Yahoo group to continue the conversation. Visit and click on “join this group” to join in the conversation!

We will be using a website called WebEx to facilitate the conversation. If you have not participated in a WebEx Webinar before, please plan to sign on about 5 minutes prior to the call, so that the program can initialize on your computer. If you have any questions, let us know!

"See" you soon!

Rachel Meytin

Friday, April 9, 2010

Each person has a piece of the soul of the other

Each person has a piece of the soul of the other.
This is the foundation of all foundations:
to recognize that all Israel is one soul.
This foundation we must keep repeating throughout our lives.

Rabbi Shlomo Aviner citing Rabbi Moshe Cordovero and the Ar"i.

May we be blessed with responsibility for one another.

Thank you to the Nesiya Institute for this wonderful holiday blessing.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Being Great Connectors by Marci Mayer Eisen

Those of you who work with me know that I am most motivated by creating connections. Social group work sees the small group experience kind of like a mini society – a place to not only develop friendships, but to also learn leadership & decision making, acquire new skills, enhance self-esteem, and on a very basic, human level, help create a sense of meaning and belonging. These theories can apply to all types of groups from a kids’ summer camp cabin to a board of directors.

This past summer I attended the International Association for the Advancement of Social Work with Groups in Chicago. We talked about the potential, the power of the small group to change lives. At the conference we also heard from one of the top influencers of the Obama campaign and his take on the reemergence of group work values and skills. You simply can’t talk about large scale community change without exploring the power of the small group to impact that change.

I worry that we rarely teach our staff to be great connectors. Oh yes, we work hard to help people connect to our organizations, but do we do our best to help participants connect with each other?

Malcolm Gladwell in the book Tipping Point has an entire chapter on Connectors. He describes them as people who help others connect up with the world. Research confirms that it’s hard to feel connected to a community - or even an organization - without having your own small group or groups through which you are strongly engaged. And it’s sure much easier to get people to make commitments, including time and money, when they have multiple connections.

I even recently learned about research that training “sticks” better when those in attendance feel connected to each other. And we all realize that Partnerships and collaborations flow so much more easily when the relationships, communication, mutual support and trust are already in place.

The more that technology isolates us, the more we want basic human connections. Just think about Facebook and Linked-In and other sites.

We, the Jewish community professionals, can create connections for so many. No matter your professional role – every single one of here has the ability to be a Connector. Let us think about our opportunities - and our responsibility - to take the initiative to help each person who walks through our doors (or calls us or emails us or messages us) find those experiences and relationships that will directly lead to a feeling of belonging and deeper sense of what it really means to be part of a community.

Marci Mayer Eisen
Professional Excellence Project/JProstl

Monday, March 8, 2010

CoP Facilitator as Talent Scout

I was thinking of facilitation this week as I had occasion to listen to Rabbi Yaakov Jaffee of the Maimonides School in Brookline talk about this week's Torah portion.

Exodus, 25 verse 2: 2 'Speak unto the children of Israel, that they take for Me an offering; of every man whose heart maketh him willing ye shall take My offering.'

According to Rabbi Jaffee, Bezalel is described not only as the gifted artison of the Mishkan but also the kind of leader who recognized the individual gifts that each Israelite was moved by his heart to bring for the Mishkan and was able to foster the coming together of these diverse talents and gifts to create the magnificant and holy mishkan.

As a community of practice (CoP) facilitator I see part of my role as that of talent scout. My job, like Bezalel's, is to:

a) identify the gifts and talents of each member of my CoP -- their passion for technology, their ability to lead others, their writing skills, their ability to see and organize the details, their out of the box thinking, or their logical clarity.

b) help members recognize how their talents can make a significant contribution to the community -- pointing out the opportunities and needs of the community as they arise

c) motivate, coordinate and facilitate the collaborative efforts of many talented members toward collectively building the knowledge and practice of our community.

After assembling the talent in the community, my role (much like in corporate talent management) is to review the needs, talent and skills of the community and ask "what is missing?" What expertise do we need to have in our community in order to allow us to tackle the kinds of problems we need to in our field? And then to continue the search to bring in the appropriate talent, skills and knowledge to move our community forward.