The Conference on Alternatives in Jewish Education

CAJE 33 – One Year Out

Posted by Joel H. on August 12, 2009

As we look back on the past year, we wanted to offer a note with a few thoughts about CAJE and some updates we think you’ll be interested in.

  Joel M. Hoffman, PhD & Mel Birger-Bray

Where Are They Now?

David Frank
Abby Eisenberg
Joel Hoffman
Mel Birger-Bray
Mary Lou Allen
Jeff Lasday
Yoram Schwell
What about you?

David Frank

David FrankDavid Frank has returned to his artistic roots to work as a photographer — Did you know that he used to teach photography? — and his work has been accepted into several prestigious shows. His web site showcases some of his stunning shots. Take a look! (And why not buy a print or two? We [Joel and Mel] wouldn’t be surprised to see them in museums in a few years.)

Abby Eisenberg

Abby Eisenberg

Abby Eisenberg is working at the Jewish Theological Seminary as Admissions Director of the Graduate School and the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education.

Joel Hoffman

Joel HoffmanJoel Hoffman continues to write, to teach, and to consult to Hebrew Schools. His latest book, And God Said: How Translations Conceal the Bible’s Original Meaning, comes out in a few months from St. Martin’s Press, and his lecture circuit will bring him across the country again this year. He’s also started two blogs: a general blog and a blog on Bible translation.

Mel Briger-Bray

Mel Birger-BrayMel Birger-Bray is still working at the American Technion Society and has remained deeply involved with Jewish education. She continues to teach at Congregation Or Ami and serves on the board of Congregation Beth Ahavah.

Mary Lou Allen

Mary Lou AllenMary Lou Allen has put her expertise to work as a consultant, working on various high-level Federation projects, as well as with the State of New Jersey.

Jeff Lasday

Jeff LasdayJeff Lasday is working as Director of Education at PELIE (“Partnership for Effective Learning and Innovative Education”), one of JESNA‘s parner organizations.

Yoram Schwell

Yoram SchwellYoram Schwell has moved to Israel, where he is working as an independent consultant.

Where Are You?

The CAJE community wants to know what you’re up to. Post an update on CAJEnet!

One Year Out

We can hardly believe that it’s been a whole year since we gathered together in Vermont: Storahtelling‘s brilliant opening, the keynotes, Rabbis Larry Hoffman and Ed Feinstein, the Roundtable Fishbowl, Doug Cotler‘s amazing finale… and so much more. It was a thrill and an honor for us to be involved with such an event.

Nor can we believe that we’re not in Texas now. Who would have thought the year would play out this way?

Still, we are thrilled to see that CAJE 33 – like the 32 conferences before it – had such a widespread impact. And we are heartened to see that groups like MANAJE are continuing to bring enrichment to Jewish educators. CAJEnet and other on-line locations have taken on new roles as e-meeting places for new and old CAJE members. (And the CAJE 33 website has photos from CAJE 33, and even some videos, courtesy of Yair Gil.)

There’s a lot happening around the country, both formally and informally. So we’re convinced that the future holds great things for Jewish education.



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CAJE Legacy Campaign

Posted by jefflasday on February 9, 2009

We very much regret to inform you that CAJE will close its doors at the end of February. This may be a shocking statement, but it is part and parcel of today’s excruciatingly difficult economic environment. The mind-boggling part for CAJE is that we have just held one of our most successful conferences. CAJE 33 was well attended and inspiring. But even after accounting for the revenue from CAJE 33, the combination of past debt and the fragile economy forced us to take the unprecedented and painful step of canceling CAJE 34, then letting most of our staff go and preparing to close our doors. We still have huge debts to pay, including money owed to the University of Vermont, and we don’t feel right about ending our service to the Jewish people without first making an effort to pay back what we can.

Help us keep the honor and dignity we have earned by participating in the CAJE Legacy Campaign.

For many of you, CAJE has been a valued asset and a faithful friend. When you’ve called on us, we’ve responded with programs and conferences that have brought significant improvements to Jewish education. Now we are calling on you. Help us pay as much of our debt as possible so that we can close our doors with honor and dignity. We will achieve this goal if each CAJE member and supporter contributes $250. But any gift would be deeply appreciated, and all gifts of $100 or more will be recognized on the CAJE website.

Time is short for CAJE to pay its debts and your response is urgently needed. All donations must reach the CAJE office by February 27th.

Here’s how to contribute your tax-deductible gift to CAJE:

  • Make your online contribution to the CAJE Legacy Campaign by going to and clicking on the Donate to CAJE button.
  • Send your check to the CAJE Legacy Campaign with a check made out to CAJE at 520 8th Avenue, Second Floor, North Tower, New
    York, NY 10018.
  • Go to CAJENet at and enter your donation at the top of the home page.

Please do whatever you can to protect CAJE’s legacy as the organization that has served Jewish educators for more than 30 years.
We know that many of you will want to gain a deeper understanding of the financial difficulties facing CAJE, and learn what CAJE is doing to assure the continuation of our mission even as the current organization ends its activities. Please click here to read about how this financial situation happened to CAJE, the recent actions that CAJE leadership undertook to maintain the organization, and the next steps CAJE is working on with JESNA to assure the continued support of Jewish educators.

We also encourage you to participate in the ongoing conversation on CAJEnet:

Thank you for being a part of CAJE.

With great appreciation for your support,

Iris Koller

Jeffrey Lasday
Executive Director

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CAJE Will Not Hold Conference in 2009

Posted by jefflasday on January 12, 2009

It is with regret, that we have to inform you, our dear members and longtime CAJE friends, that CAJE, the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education, will not hold its annual conference originally scheduled for August 2009 because of the current economic environment.

As you are aware, this is a very difficult time for Jewish not-for-profit agencies in general and it is also an especially tough time for us at CAJE. Due to the current dramatic economic downturn coupled with the financial constraints faced by our members’ organizations, congregations and schools, the CAJE leadership has had to face the inescapable conclusion that CAJE can no longer offer our distinctive services to the field, and that we will be unable to convene the CAJE conference in 2009.

Unfortunately, this decision has immediate ramifications. CAJE has significantly reduced staff, as well as made other budgetary cuts. Sadly, we have bid farewell to David Frank, our Director of Conferences and Mimi Mark our Director of Development. Both David and Mimi have made significant contributions to CAJE and their presence will be sorely missed.

Without a 2009 conference the Coalition will not be able to continue as it has in the past. We understand that canceling the 2009 conference creates a loss of services for many Jewish educators. Thousands of you, our faithful members and supporters who attended our conference every summer depended on the CAJE conference for both professional development and inspiration. We know that CAJE provides support that allows you to continue and grow in the important work that you do. Therefore, CAJE is working closely with JESNA – The Jewish Education Service of North America – to explore how Jewish educators across the country can best be served, and how we can ensure that the mission and vision of CAJE will continue into the future.

The next few months will be a time for rethinking, and change. We will keep you informed as CAJE works with JESNA, to move the ideas and goals of CAJE forward.

We thank you for your efforts and commitment to Jewish education. You made CAJE the amazing organization that it is. Thank you for partnering with us in our quest to improve Jewish education.

For questions or more information please feel free to contact either one of us.


Iris Koller, President
Jeffrey Lasday, Executive Director

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CAJE 33 – More Videos

Posted by Joel H. on November 17, 2008

A quick update: Israeli Documentarian Yair Gil has now released three four videos from CAJE 33:

All of the videos are available in regular and high quality.

Thank you, Yair!

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CAJE 33 – The Video

Posted by Joel H. on September 16, 2008

Just in from Israeli documentarian Yair Gil is this video:

It’s available in normal YouTube quality and also in high-resolution.

Take a look, and spread the word!

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Some Results from the Roundtable Fishbowl

Posted by Joel H. on August 18, 2008

The Roundtable Fishbowl at CAJE 33

The Roundtable Fishbowl at CAJE 33

The Roundtable Fishbowl at CAJE 33

In its first ever Roundtable Fishbowl, CAJE 33 convened seven scholars, practitioners, and consultants to discuss the future of Jewish supplemental education in North America.

The two-day free-ranging discussion covered synagogue life, the question of “Why be Jewish?”, integration of schools into synagogues, community, bar/bat mitzvah, authenticity, spirituality, expectations, and much more.

Below are e-mail addresses for the fishbowl participants (who have generously agreed to continue the CAJE 33 discussion on-line), and some brief highlights:


One direct and concrete result was the consensus on the need for better integration of religious schools into the synagogue. The participants all agreed that schools suffer when they are disconnected from synagogue life. Rather that being their own units run by a principal, principals should work with other synagogue leaders to create a center for Jewish life that welcomes children.

Equally, it became clear that any solution to the Religious School crisis will have to involve the entire community. (Some suggestions for the community are summarized below.)

Bar/Bat Mitzvah

In response to a question from the audience (questions were submitted via real-time e-mail), Rabbi Larry Hoffman claimed that we don’t do enough to validate people who just senn their children to Religious School to become bar/bat mitzvah.

He pointed out that these parents invest considerable time, money, and energy to make sure that their children become bar/bat mitzvah, and we do a disservice to them and to our communities when we don’t recognize the value in that. Rather than affirm these parents’ commitment to giving Judaism to their children, leaders chastise them for not doing enough.


One point of disagreement was the role of expectations. While some people advocated raising the proverbial bar, and, like a good piano teacher, only teaching to students who were willing to learn, others thought that each community should come to its own consensus on what quality looks like.

Formal/Informal Education

According to the panal, both formal and informal education formats have imporant roles, and both have to be expanded.

Hebrew is probably best taught in a formal setting. Identity may demand something else.

Dr. Steven Cohen raised the interesting possibility of investing in non-scholastic contexts for Jewish children to come together. His example was a Jewish soccer league, though he was clear that other similar programs could be equally valuable.

Another suggestion was based on the observation that classes for children up to about 10 years of age tend to function better than 6th/7th-grade classes. Perhaps those older children shouldn’t be in classes as all. Perhaps formal classroom education should run through 5th grade, to be replaced by something else before bar/bat mitzvah.


If we take the religious school seriously, we have to offer children more than just information and data. Children no less than adults require some sense of spirituality. If religious school doesn’t offer it, or at least the promise of it, the students will search elsewhere. Some will try meditation, yoga, etc., and others will leave Judaism altogether.


There’s little point is creating a good religious school model if there won’t be any Jewish children to attend, so we have to balance long-term and short-term goals.


The word “authenticity” came up several times, but time constraints prevented the participants from exploring what they meant by it or why it’s so important.

Identity Formation

There was general agreement that a successful religious schools must not only convey information but also help in identify formation, and that this topic demands much more attention. While we have found people who know a lot about how children learn Hebrew, do have yet to identify experts in identify formation.

The People

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Jewish Identity = Ecological Identity

Posted by shomreiadamah on August 15, 2008

Dear CAJEniks,

On behalf of the whole Ecotrack, I want to say THANK YOU for helping us to bring our message that “Jewish identity=Ecological identity” to the wonderful world of Jewish educators. I’m attaching a link to the story that just came out in the Jewish Advocate in Boston–and we are so thrilled. And we heard that this summer 20% of CAJEniks were newcomers… and that many of these folks came just for the ecotrack. Truly, most of our 60+ sessions were overflowing; many with 20 and 30 somethings.

(Read the Jewish Advocate article…)

This summer is the 20th anniversary of Shomrei Adamah, the first Jewish environmental organization. In the early days, it was very hard to convince Jews of the importance of the work of ecology — that an ecological vision and practice is authentic to Judaism and can only be good for the Jews (and good for the world). For years, Shomrei Adamah was seen as somewhat fringe, outside of what is generally considered authentic Jewish thought and practice — certainly “alternative.” Likewise for many of the other Jewish environmental and farm and wilderness groups that have sprouted wildly in the past 5 years. Its been tricky for all of us to secure the funding that we need to thrive, expand and grow.

BUT NOW with the support and network of CAJE, we believe we can take a giant leap forward and really integrate ecological identity and practices into Jewish life. We believe we can both enhance Jewish life and perform great mitzvot for the world.

A couple of us are hoping to launch a new venture, inspired by the success we felt at the CAJE conference — I don’t want to jinx it, by spilling the beans before it’s time… but I hope to be back to you in September with something concrete.

In the meantime, we’d be happy to work with you in various capacities, from scholar-in-residencies to program development. Hazon, Teva, the Shalom Center (Green Menorah), Jewish Farm School, COEJL, Canfei Nesharim, Arava, JNF, Kaya Farms all have publications and materials that can help you and we’re hoping to have more material for next year’s CAJE. My website has a bunch of free downloads (in addition to books) that I invite you to explore:

Finally, I’m interested to know if you think that a CAJE track with “certification” as a CAJE Jewish ecoeducator would be a good idea?

Thanks again for your generous hospitality and strong support. I’m not much of a blogger (this is my first!) so feel free to email me directly if you want a quick response.

Shabbat Shalom,


Posted in CAJE 33 followup | Tagged: , , | 8 Comments »

Closing Night Poem: This Curious Quinquidial Fray

Posted by Joel H. on August 15, 2008

In response to everyone who asked, I’ve put my poem from Wednesday night on-line.

NEW! Watch the video:


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Some Preliminary CAJE 33 Highlights

Posted by Joel H. on August 15, 2008

It’s impossible to summarize CAJE 33 in a few pages, let alone a few lines. Still, here are just a handful of my personal CAJE 33 highlights. In loose chronological order:

  • Ellen Dreskin’s Friday night service.
  • Richard Freund’s Shabbat sessions.
  • Tisha B’av kinot.
  • Bicycling on the Lake Champlain causeway.
  • Storahtelling‘s opening.
  • Monday’s Roundtable Fishbowl.
  • Macy Hart‘s keynote.
  • Drinking cups made from corn.
  • Manny Gold’s keynote.
  • Dynamic conversations over lunch.
  • My father Larry Hoffman‘s plenary session
  • The beautiful UVM campus.
  • Ed Feinstein‘s stories.
  • Doug Mishkin‘s music.
  • The wonderful UVM staff.
  • Doug Cotler‘s stellar closing program.

What were your favorites?

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Gearing up for CAJE 33

Posted by Joel H. on August 6, 2008

Zac staying on top of things

Zac Staying On Top Of Things

Thirty Walkie Talkies

Thirty Walkie Talkies

Allan Making Arrangements

Allan Making Arrangements

Abby Hard At Work

Abby Hard At Work

We’re gearing up for CAJE 33!

Fifteen-hundred people, hundreds of sessions, thousands of handouts, 18,000 evalutation forms, 30 walkie-talkies, a slew of workstations and laptops, 8 golf carts, and 1 dromedary. (You only see the dromedary if you drive up Vermont Route 22a. It’s not on campus.) All to get ready for CAJE 33.

The Dromedary on VT Rte. 22a

The Dromedary On VT Rte. 22a

I arrived in Burlington on Monday, and the massive preparations have been going exceedingly well. The weather is great (and the views from campus are outstanding). The people are friendly and helpful. The buildings are new and welcoming. The food is delicious.

All that’s missing is you.

David Takes a Phone Call By Lake Champlain

David Takes a Phone Call By Lake Champlain

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