Jessie Downey, Director of Jewish Education, University Synagogue and Coordinator of BJE’s Religious School Directors’ Network
Director of Jewish Education, University Synagogue and Coordinator of BJE’s Religious School Directors’ Network
To me, a Builder of Jewish education is someone who builds and cultivates relationships between our young Jews and their Judaism and Jewish community. I feel like it’s my job to show them that those relationships matter and give them to tools to thrive in those relationships.
I love Jewish education, and I love seeing kids experience the world Judaically and use what we talk about in religious school to offer explanations or rationalizations for challenging questions. Last week as our littlest learners got ready for Passover, some of our students opened the door for Elijah. They were initially concerned because when they opened the door, nothing happened; no one walked in. The teacher explained that they couldn’t see him, but they could feel him. The children immediately started waving and singing a welcome song. I walked in a few minutes later and one of the children told me that she had seen Elijah, so I asked what he looked like. She gave me an exasperated look and said “he’s invisible!” and continued to dance and feel the air.
The work I’ve been doing with BJE’s Religious School Directors’ Network has really opened up so much opportunity to network, and give and receive support. We forget, when we’re working in our separate institutions, that there’s a whole group of professionals experiencing similar things. We made a big change to our program, adding an option of religious school at home. It’s something that another school was already doing successfully, and without our network, I would never have known about it.
Within our network, I’m seeing more of a desire to collaborate and share ideas surrounding our innovative projects. Those who actively participate in the network come from schools big and small, and arrive with a desire to support each other and in turn, are looking to be supported.