Moving Traditions - Deborah Meyer, Founding Executive Director
Moving Traditions helps women and men, boys and girls engage more deeply with Judaism. Gender serves as the framework for our activities because it shapes the way our culture defines who we are and can become. Gender has been – and continues to be – critical to Jewish text, spiritual practice, education and participation. For Moving Traditions, gender provides a vehicle for expanding Judaism’s ability to help each individual experience his or her full humanity.
The Moving Traditions logo incorporates the Hebrew word masorot, or “traditions.” Every generation reshapes Jewish tradition – and in that way, it remains relevant. Our contemporary awareness of gender and diversity calls us to move tradition forward, while remaining true to Judaism’s profoundly moving traditions.
Rosh Hodesh: It’s a girl thing!for girls 6th through 12th grade.
Shevet Achim:The Brotherhood for 8th and 9th grade teenage boys.
Moving Traditions' Rosh Hodesh: It's a Girl Thing! from Moving Traditions on Vimeo.
How would you describe your general philosophy of Jewish education?
I believe that people learn best when they experience their learning as a whole person. This is when the educator, him or herself, is aware that he or she is bringing their whole self to the experience. Additionally, the environment and approach are important elements that also affect the learner as a whole person. All these things need to be taken into consideration.
As part of that, for me and for Moving Traditions, we see gender - who we are as men and women and how culture tends to define that - as inextricably linked with who we are as human beings. An understanding of human development and gender really enhances the ability to create environments and materials that inspire people to connect, engage, and really integrate whatever it is we’re trying to share with them. While many of our programs focus on adolescence, gender is intertwined with the question of, “Who am I?” that adolescents continually grapple with today. “Who am I as a young woman or man? What is culture and the greater community telling me? What are my choices? What am I allowed to express? What am I not allowed to express?” These questions are very much front and center for adolescents. They provide the Jewish community with an opportunity to engage young people in thinking about who they are through the Jewish canon, Jewish history, Jewish role-models, or Jewish stories.
What do you see as the primary goals of Jewish Education?
For me and for Moving Traditions, the primary goal of Jewish education is to create healthy Jewish human beings.
In general terms, how do you achieve that goal?
It’s really important to understand human development. That includes understanding who young men and women are, developmentally and culturally, and the world they live in, both Jewish and secular. By being able to draw on their current life-questions and connecting them toJudaism, we can explore in Jewish life which methods and paths best support each individual’s healthy human development. For us, that often means opening up restrictive ideas about what is not allowed in our culture. We also open and inspire teens with ideas of who they can be.
More specifically, creating an environment, especially for teens, in which they help co-create the experience is very important. We want to facilitate teens in collaborating with us in learning environments. I think that will engage them and make them feel much more committed to truly being there. Again, this goes back to an understanding that teens and pre-teens want to gain competence, be presented with challenging material, and share in the creation of their experiences. There is so much in our tradition that supports that. As educators come to really understand who these kids are, we can bring that to bare on the environments we create and experiences we offer teens. In this way, we are much more likely to achieve success. Teens will be more like to return to and remain involved in Jewish life.
Is there any advice you could offer to someone who is in the process of putting their new or innovative idea into action?
I’m a very strong believer in market research and research in general. Check if someone else has your idea and is already doing it in the secular or Jewish world. Read the literature, understand the fullness of the topic, and then talk with the intended audience. Make sure the approach you’re taking will be welcomed. Think through replication and adaptation of your first experience. Many ideas are created in a specific community for that community. That’s fine, but if you want to bring your ideas to scale and go beyond your particular backyard, then you need to think about replicating experiences first. You must ask, “What’s going to help us reach people? What’s going to get this out in a way that will succeed?” We try to understand and think through the needs of our potential partners, educators, parents, and girls. I’m not saying we’ve always been successful and there’s a lot more we could do better, but I think you need to look at those different audiences and think through their needs so you can speak to them as well as to yourself. Testing and revising is really important. Evaluation of yourself, not just your funders, is critical.
Any final words?
Sometimes people think there is a war between fun and transmitting knowledge. I don’t think it has to be. Sometimes we patronize teens. We give them experiences that we think are fun, but they aren’t very challenging. There is a way of transmitting knowledge that’s really enjoyable. It can have real moments of fun and humor but can also be very serious. It’s that chemical formula combined with a real respect for the teen or learner that is essential in engaging people in Jewish Education.
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