A Summit On Excellence: ARJE 2020 By Jay Rapoport, RJE

When I recently attended the Association of Reform Jewish Educators (ARJE) Summit on Excellence in Denver, CO, I was excited for the inspirational learning from colleagues that I have come to expect from my ARJE annual gatherings, and to include our Youth Engagement & Curriculum Coordinator, Caleb Bromberg, in the experience for the first time. I didn’t expect to win an award!

Much to my surprise, on the second day of the conference, I was honored with the ARJE 2020 Yad B’Yad Award for innovative programming and curricula! It was based on my reflections on our work since last year’s conference, and how it was impacted by my learning in Washington DC last January on the topic of “The Nachshon Effect: Facing the Sea of Change.” I shared about how the workshops I attended had inspired me in making changes to our Religious School goals, our midweek Hebrew program, our teen leadership opportunities, our camp recruitment efforts, and our educational lay leadership structure – along with piloting a new family education program.

I have long believed in striving for excellence in Jewish education. This week, I was grateful to spend time focused on social-emotional learning, inclusion and mental health. We live in a time of increasing anxiety amongst young people, and we have the opportunity at Temple Sholom to be a safe space where our students feel known and appreciated as part of our learning community. We heard from an amazing presenter, Pamela Schuller, who used a phrase I loved to describe her life with disabilities – “Thank God I’m different!”

I also participated in conversations about the importance of relationships and family education. In

a conversation on how “Relationships Are Everything,” we agreed that if our students know Alef Bet but not each other, then we have failed. We also discussed how family education is not only essential for parents to show that Judaism matters to them and model lifelong learning for our children, but also to support our own growth as parents in a space where our Jewish heritage can provide wisdom for our communal but sometimes isolated task of raising mensches – good people – who can develop the resilience to navigate an ever-changing world.

And of course, I played in the t’filah band – an opportunity to contribute to my community of educators, and spend time reflecting on the spiritual importance and meaning of our work. All week, our Religious School teacher Kate Kinser was on my mind after we learned that she passed away last weekend, remembering how she recently told me that teaching at Temple Sholom this year had brought new meaning and purpose to her life after decades an an educator.

I am returning refreshed and excited to continue the work of striving for excellence in our Beit Sefer Shalom Religious School, our youth and family experiences, and our adult education offerings. We will continue to embrace our learners as they are, to inspire them with Jewish wisdom, culture and tradition to be the best version of themselves, and to help them understand that they matter.