The Conference on Alternatives in Jewish Education

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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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Details on the Roundtable Fishbowl on the Future of Jewish Education

Posted by Joel H. on July 21, 2008

By Joel M. Hoffman

(See the full-size graphic.)

(Also take a look at some results from the Roundtable Fishbowl.)

“What does success look like?”

“How do we get there?”

These two huge questions will occupy seven leading Jewish thinkers and practitioners over the course of two days at our Roundtable Fishbowl. And in preparation, we want to hear from you! If you have questions you’d like addressed, or ideas you’d like to contribute, e-mail them to Fishbowl@Caje33.Org — then come to the fishbowl to see if we’ve included your suggestion in the discussion.


The Roundtable Fishbowl sessions will take place on Monday and Tuesday, August 11-12, from 2:15 to 5:00 in the Royall Tyler Theater.


The topic of the first day is “what does success look like?” Each synagogue has a certain number of children aged 5-17. What should we do them? Why? Is “seating the children behind desks for 2-5 hours a week” a good answer? What are our goals? How do we balance formal and information information? What is the role of curriculm? What about teachers?

The second day is devoted to “how do we get from here to there?” What should we keep of our current programs? What can we modify? What must we abandon? How will we staff our new programs? How will we fund it?

Our seven participants will dicuss their views on these all important topics, and you will even be able to join the conversation electronically via SMS and e-mail. (We’ll have wifi for your laptop, or you can use one of several computers we’ll have set up.) You can even get a head-start by sending e-mail now.


Participating will be:

Dr. Joel M. Hoffman will moderate the event.


Get involved now! Send your comments, ideas, and questions to Fishbowl@Caje33.Org. You can also contribute during the fishbowl itself by sending e-mail to that same address. Use your own cell phone, Blackberry, PDA, or laptop computer; or use one of the stations we’ll have set up.

Don’t miss out

This is only going to happen once, and only at CAJE 33.

Posted in CAJE 33 Information, Chair, Joel M. Hoffman, Roundtable Fishbowl | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

CAJE 33 Sneak Peak

Posted by Joel H. on June 27, 2008

This just in! The entire CAJE 33 program is on-line. Take a look!

We’re working on putting the entire CAJE 33 program — that’s hundreds of sessions! — on line. Look for it soon. In the meantime, here’s a sneak peak at the 27 sessions that will meet on Tuesday at 2:15PM, along with the people presenting them. That’s right, you have all this to choose from, and that’s just during one small part of only one day! (Obviously, this is preliminary information that may change.) Browse the session at your leisure, and click on the presenters’ names to get their bios.

Haven’t signed up? It’s not too late! Go to to get started.

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The Roundtable Fishbowl

Posted by Joel H. on April 1, 2008

By Joel M. Hoffman

(Also take a look at details on the Roundtable Fishbowl and results from the Roundtable Fishbowl.)

The Roundtable Fishbowl

(See the full-size graphic.)

Hi Everyone,

I have lots of news about CAJE 33. Even at this early date, we already have over 400 people 1,400 people signed up! And with tracks on the environment, the future of Jewish education, teacher training, and much more, it’s shaping up to be a very exciting 5-days. No wonder there’s such a buzz in the air about CAJE 33.

The Roundtable Fishbowl

I’m particularly excited about the roundtable fishbowl, which brings together seven people who collectively represent over 100 years of formal education and nearly 300 years of experience. They’ll engage in a directed conversation about the future of Jewish education, with Monday and Tuesday afternoons devoted to every aspect of what our schools should like like, and how to get there.

The audience will listen to the conversation, and even have the opportunity to contribute by sending text-messages or e-mail to a moderator. (Computers will be set up around the room to help make this possible.)

The People

The seven participants – three rabbis, two PhD’s, one principal, one lawyer, a change-management expert, and 4 graduate-school faculty members (these people all do more than one thing!) – represent every aspect of congregational education and come from a wide variety of religious and institutional backgrounds.

This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity puts David Behrman, Mara Braunfeld, Dr. Steven Cohen, Rabbi Ed Feinstein, Rabbi Larry Hoffman, Linda Klonsky, and Rabbi Danny Zemel all at one table. And thanks to CAJE, you get to be there, too.

Register Now!

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in CAJE 33 Information, Chair, Joel M. Hoffman, Roundtable Fishbowl | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »