“I just returned from an amazing three day retreat that inspired me to new levels of love and appreciation of everything Jewish.”

— Shifra Bemis

Educating for a Jewish Spiritual Life

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Educating for a Jewish Spiritual Life: Fostering Mindfulness, Social and Emotional Skills, and Intentional Community

 

We do not only intend to teach the art of pedagogy, namely how to utilize the student’s intellect and develop methods for expanding the student’s understanding of the simple meaning of the Torah. We are not exclusively seeking out the student’s intellect right now, but rather the entire student. We seek the nefesh (embodied awareness), ruach (emotional awareness), and neshamah (cognitive awareness) of the Jewish child, to bind them to the God of Israel so that he will become a Jew…

(Rabbi Kalonymous Kalmish Shapira, A Student’s Obligation, Introduction.

Translation by Sam Feinsmith)

Educating for a Jewish Spiritual Life (EJSL): Fostering Mindfulness, Social and Emotional Skills, and Intentional Community is a three-year pilot intended for educators, staff, administrators, and youth at select Jewish day schools and summer camps. The goal of the EJSL pilot is to study the impact and feasibility of applying Jewish mindfulness practice to the project of Jewish teaching and learning by cultivating mindful Jewish educators and camp staff, revitalizing Jewish life for youth and adults at the selected pilot sites, and improving institutional culture.  Participating pilot sites include:

  • URJ Camp Eisner, Massachusetts
  • Camp Ramah, Northern California
  • Ramah Outdoor Adventure, Colorado
  • Jewish Community Day School, Massachusetts
  • Community Day School, Pennsylvania
  • Temple Israel of Hollywood Day School, California

The first year of the pilot focuses on supporting educators, staff, and administrators to deepen their personal Jewish mindfulness practice and model mindful presence through mindfulness meditation, tikkun middot work, mindful prayer and Torah study, and embodied practices such as yoga and chanting. Year two supports these participants to skillfully teach the Institute’s core practices to youth and colleagues, and develop a new-paradigm pedagogy that teaches for sheleimut (wholeness).  Year three focuses on integrating the practices holistically into organizational life to improve school and camp culture and better align vision and practice.  

The training components include annual retreats, monthly webinars and coaching sessions, an integrated study and practice curriculum, site visits, a weekly online discussion forum, and support from Institute staff in shaping a community of practice at each school or camp.  Each month of the training features a Jewish mindfulness theme for investigation through an integrated path of study and practice with monthly readings; practice instructions and guidance for integration of Jewish thought, text, language and mindfulness; and pedagogic instruction and practice. It is expected that each participant will maintain a daily meditation practice as the foundation for authentic mindful teaching and learning.

Once we understand that the answer to our innumerable ills is no longer within the reach of politics–that our hope lies in elevating, deepening, or expanding people’s consciousness on a mass scale–then we need to understand that what…we call “education” today, is nothing more than instruction: an activity whose primary concern is the transmission of information that fails to be essentially concerned with understanding, to say nothing of wisdom.

(Claudio Naranjo, Healing Civilization, pp. 124-126)

Other features of the program include: a focus on the application of teaching Jewish mindfulness in a variety of school and camp settings; modelling Jewish mindfulness with youth and colleagues; supporting youth to develop mindfulness, social and emotional skills, and Jewish spiritual engagement; the applications of mindfulness and embodied practices to tikkun middot work, prayer, and Torah study; and applying a Jewish mindfulness sensibility to shaping a more intentional institutional culture.  This program features four primary teachers–Julie Emden, Larry Schwartz, and Rabbis Jordan Bendat-Appell and Sam Feinsmith–all seasoned practitioners and teachers of Jewish mindfulness with educators and youth.

Participants also have opportunities to network with each other and share and review original curricular materials and best practices in teaching Jewish mindfulness to youth and colleagues and improving school and camp culture.  

We need to open a new frontier in our exploration of good teaching: the inner landscape of a teacher’s life. To chart that landscape fully, three important paths must be taken—intellectual, emotional, and spiritual—and none can be ignored. Reduce teaching to intellect and it becomes a cold abstraction; reduce it to emotions and it becomes narcissistic; reduce it to the spiritual and it loses its anchor to the world. Intellect, emotion, and spirit depend on each other for wholeness. They are interwoven in the human self and in education at its best, and we need to interweave them in our pedagogical discourse as well.

(Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach)

For more information on EJSL, email Sam Feinsmith, pilot Director: sam@jewishspirituality.org