The American philosopher and psychologist William James (1842-1910) observed that “the great use of life is to spend it for something that outlasts it.” There is no greater exemplar of this ideal than the Biblical Moses. Moses devotes forty years to guiding the Israelites through an extraordinary journey; though he doesn’t enter the promised land, the legacy of Moshe Rabbeinu, Moses our teacher, is the enduring “heritage of the congregation of Jacob” (Deuteronomy 33:4, describing the Torah).
While Jewish tradition actually knows of multiple New Years, the first of Tishrei is commemorated as Rosh Hashanah, literally “head of the year.” Rosh Hashanah is associated with the creation of the world; “today is the birthday of the world” is a refrain within the traditional Rosh Hashanah liturgy.
A number of years ago (2008), a book titled, "The Last Lecture" was published. This best-seller was an expanded version of a lecture by Professor (of computer science) Randy Pausch, who – knowing that he had but a few months to live – delivered a last lecture at Carnegie Mellon University. The father of three young children, Randy Pausch’s talk, replete with advice on how to lead life, was not only targeted to his immediate listeners, but to his children as well.
As parents of school-aged children are very well aware, the Governor and the L.A. County Department of Public Health have determined that waivers for in-person school operations will not, currently, be considered, in the face of the COVID-19 case rate in Los Angeles. In addition to early childhood education centers, camps and day care programs can, under certain conditions, operate. School boards and educators – and, of course, parents and students -- are faced with difficult decisions.
The year 2020 marks the centennial of a remarkable Jewish educational initiative. In October 1920, Franz Rosenzweig (1886-1929) opened the Freies Judisches Lehrhaus (The Jewish House of Free Study), in Frankfurt. This adult education institute was designed to share Jewish learning with a generation not well versed in Jewish texts, serving as a modern “beit midrash” (house of study).
Many Jewish Day Schools and part-time Religious Schools have, in recent years, embraced Project Based Learning, a creative and engaging educational approach. Project Based Learning calls on students to investigate and respond to a complex question, challenge or real-world problem. Through collaborative investigation, students gain knowledge and skills; often, they are asked to share what they have learned with a larger audience.
Recently, I attended (via Zoom) a BJE professional development program for directors of education of part-time Religious Schools. As school year 2019-2020 drew to a close, educators were focused on “big picture” thinking, looking ahead to next year. In a keynote address, Dr. Miriam Heller Stern, Director of the Schools of Education of Hebrew Union College, spoke of nurturing creative Jewish sensibilities through education.