Thursday, March 22, 2018

Spring 2018 Newsletter

Greetings from the Director

By Rachel Raz
Director, Early Childhood Institute of the Shoolman Graduate School of Jewish Education and Founder of JEEF, Hebrew College

Dear Friends of the National Jewish Early Engagement Forum (JEEF),

I am delighted to share some updates from around the country with you. The Jewish world in the United States has changed demographically, culturally and socially and continues to evolve.  The world is changing even faster with technological innovations such as driverless cars, travel to Mars, artificial intelligence, individualized medicine and much more.  The impact of these technological innovations on family structure, mental and physical health, religious practice, society and community is unclear. Now more than ever we need to work together as one community to raise children and families who are rooted with a foundation of time-tested wisdom of the Jewish tradition, and from these values are able to adapt to societal change and build meaningful and successful lives.

In this newsletter you will find inspiring work from many communities and organizations. Some are focusing now on training master educators and professionals who will be able to work with the complex, diverse and sophisticated Jewish community.  Others are developing resources to help with the work. Many programs are focusing on caregivers, those who are first and closest to the child who are instrumental to the development and well-being of the child.  The work being done is tremendous and inspiring.  At the same time, I want to remind us that the work is not enough and there are still many communities around the country who do not have access to master educators, resources and funds.   Let us work together to leverage our resources, spread the word of the importance of our mission and invite others to join this sacred work.

As we are getting ready to celebrate the holiday of Passover and fulfill the commandment, "You shall tell your child on that very day..." let us make sure that caregivers and educators around the country are able to take ownership of and share the stories and wisdom of the Jewish tradition with the next generation.

May we all continue to grow as we celebrate the holiday of spring and renewal.

Hag Aviv Sameach ! חג אביב שמח 
Rachel Raz

Below please see links for updates from around the country:

National and International Programs:
Community Programs:

Save the dates:
  • Hebrew College Annual Early Childhood Jewish Education Conference, October 29-30, 2018
  • IAC National Conference, November 29-December 2, 2018 (South Florida)
  • Hebrew College Israel Educational Seminar, Spring 2019

Israeli American Council (IAC) 2018

by Michal Weiss , National Director of Keshet and Shishi Israeli

The mission of the Israeli-American Council (IAC) is to build an engaged and united Israeli-American community that strengthens the Israeli and Jewish identity of our next generation, the American Jewish community, and the bond between the peoples of the United States and the State of Israel.

IAC Keshet is a comprehensive approach to building an engaged community through a connection to Israel, Hebrew language, Israeli culture and Jewish values. IAC Keshet is a national Israeli enrichment program that builds a warm, welcoming community of Israeli and Jewish Americans that share pride in their Jewish heritage and love for Israel. IAC Keshet community members build long lasting friendships through cultural activities and educational programming including music, dance, books, play and arts and crafts. IAC Keshet is privileged to have the support of a national steering committee of professional lay leaders in the areas of early childhood education and the Hebrew language, who work collaboratively with the professional staff and provide strategic guidance in the program’s educational components.

Keshet encounters have engaged more than 21,000 young families across the nation.  The program is facilitated by local educators with the support of local community leaders who are active members of the community and operate the program in their regions.

Keshet Ba’Bayit brings Hebrew language learning and Israeli culture together by giving hand-picked children’s books written by Israel’s most talented and well-known authors to children ages 2-8. IAC Keshet books are focused on strengthening the Israeli and Jewish identity of our next generation.  Join thousands of families who get Hebrew books mailed to their homes throughout the year by following this link:   Keshet Ba’bayit also offers free activity kits for young families: The kits are sent to more than 3000 families and are also available to download online:

Online Keshet community provides a venue for Keshet professional staff and community leaders to engage in a dynamic dialogue about Keshet programs and the use of the Hebrew language in the Keshet encounters.

 Keshet in Philadelphia
 KeshetTOT in New York
KeshetTOT in Seattle

PJ Library 2018

PJ Goes to Supplementary School

by Lisa Litman

PJ Goes to School (PJGtS), a companion program to PJ Library®, works with schools and educators across North America to bring Jewish values to life in your school community. PJGtS offers a holistic approach to family engagement and Jewish education, triggering conversations about Jewish values in schools in the same way PJ Library inspires dialogue in the home. The program began in early childhood settings and in 2014 expanded to include supplementary schools and day schools with children in kindergarten through second grade, aka PJGtS K-2.

PJGtS K-2 was created not to reinvent the wheel, but to add supporting spokes to any curriculum. Many supplementary schools share space, meet infrequently, and can benefit from PJGtS K-2’s easily accessible resource materials to help scaffold learning with staff, students, and families. Teachers in supplementary schools receive a yearly kit of books and materials for the classroom based on an overarching theme that organizes and anchors learning. Educators are given scholarships to participle in a PJGtS track at national conferences such as NewCAJE and in webinars during the school year. The resource materials rely heavily on experiential learning; students and teachers are very enthusiastic about the program.

We know that children learn better when families are involved in the learning, too. Lisa Litman, director of PJ Goes to School and Cyd Weissman, assistant vice president of innovation and impact for Reconstructing Judaism began to imagine how they could use PJ Library books with teachers and encourage learning and the living of Jewish values in the home. The PJ Goes to School Home Library pilot was born. Teachers in the pilot receive books and support materials for each child and family in addition to the classroom materials. 

“The project intends to bridge the gap between the richness of what’s taught in the classroom and the power the family has to support that learning and make Jewish values their own,” says Weissman. 

How important are Jewish values for families?

The 2016 PJ Library Triennial Family Study*, which collected responses from more than 25,000 PJ Library families, indicates that PJ Library parents are proud to be Jewish and want their children to develop a Jewish identity. More than half of families read PJ library books at least once a week. In a survey of the 90 families participating in the PJGtS Home Library pilot, 47% of families said that PJGtS moved them to discuss Jewish values at home and/or engage in new Jewish experiences.  

PJ Goes to School Wins Humanitarian Award

Lisa Litman, director of PJ Goes to School, and Cyd Weissman, assistant vice president of innovation and impact for Reconstructing Judaism, will share the 2018 B’nai B’rith Educators’ Humanitarian Award for significant contributions to improve the lives and educational experiences of Jewish youth. Litman and Weissman partnered to create the PJ Goes to School Home Library Pilot which is the basis for this year’s award.

“Receiving an award for partnering with Cyd Weissman is a gift,” reports Lisa. “This is a rare opportunity to work with an outstanding educator who is equally committed to Jewish values-based learning. We are proud to be working on a project that allows students to investigate PJ Library books and Jewish concepts in school, and then bring those books home to further explore Jewish ideas with their family.”

*“From Jewish Books to Jewish Life: Results from PJ Library’s 2016 Triennial Family Study.”  Prepared by Informing Change.

PJ Goes to School Educators learning together at NewCAJE Conference 2017, Moraga CA

Hebrew College 2018

Hebrew College

by Linna Ettinger
Assistant Director, Early Childhood Institute, Shoolman Graduate School of Jewish Education, Hebrew College

Early Childhood Institute
There are many programs taking place at Hebrew College that are geared towards educators and professionals working with young children and their families. Hebrew College is a pluralistic college,  offering formal and informal educational opportunities to adults both in person and through our on-line learning platform. The Early Childhood Institute is a department of the Shoolman Graduate School of Jewish Education.

Annual Early Childhood Jewish Education Conference
For the past 8 years, the conference has provided intense professional development for professionals and educators working with young children and their families. This year we collaborated with Boston's Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP), PJ Goes to School, Gateways Access to Education, Israeli American Council - Boston (IAC-Boston), Hebrew at the Center and ShalomLearning. The theme for the conference this year was People of the Book or Am Hasefer.  Over 200 educators from 40 different organizations came from around the country and Israel. Our guest speaker was Dr. Jeff Hoffman, the first Jewish astronaut to bring a Torah into space to, in his words,  "make space special."  To read more about the conference, visit the conference webpage.

Boston-Haifa Early Childhood Educators Connection (BHECEC)
In December we designed and ran a seminar for a delegation from the Haifa Municipality and local educators. To read more about it, please visit the BHECEC Mifgash 2017 Newsletter. Since 2010, Hebrew College has been leading the BHECEC, designing seminars both in Boston and in Haifa, in collaboration with the Early Childhood Department of the Haifa Municipality.

Israel @ 70
Israel education is one of the core components of our academic MJEd and Jewish ECE Certificate programs and professional development programs. This year we are offering an Israel @ 70 seminar for educators in collaboration with the Boston-Haifa Early Childhood Educators' Connection and partially sponsored by the Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP) of Boston. 

MJEd-ECE Program
We continue our academic work training master Jewish teachers which is so needed in the field. Our online MJEd -ECE program makes it possible for our work to make an impact around the world.  Our students are receiving generous support from Legacy Heritage Fund and iCenter. Our graduates are working in leadership positions in the field. For more information about the MJEd-ECE program, visit

Torah Godly Play
Torah Godly Play led by Rabbi Dr. Michael Shire is an innovative approach to religious education that seeks not so much to tell stories of faith in order that we will "know" them, but as spiritual action of finding meaning, identity and God through storytelling and listening. The pedagogical ideal of this approach is that, from the earliest age, children are invited to experience and become increasingly aware of the spiritual call within sacred stories and of their own deep response as something naturally afforded by religious narrative. Hebrew College offers training seminars for Torah Godly Play in Boston and New York.  It also offers resources and consultation to synagogues and schools looking to establish Torah Godly Play classrooms and programs and is developing and adapting a Jewish curriculum for Torah Godly Play. Torah Godly Play is partially funded by an Innovation Grant from the Covenant Foundation. For more information, please visit the Torah Godly Play website.

Jewish Early Childhood Education Round Table 
Rachel Raz is working on a new initiative to bring together all stake holders in the greater Boston Jewish early childhood community to meet on a regular basis to share ideas from the local community and from across the country to work together to move the Jewish early childhood education field forward.

More from Hebrew College:

Adult Learning department: Parenting through a Jewish Lens

Parenting Through a Jewish Lens (PTJL), a program that brings Jewish sources of wisdom to parents of all backgrounds, began as Ikkarim (core values) in 2006. The program has evolved considerably since its early years, when parents met for nineteen class sessions and parsed sometimes arcane texts. Our current curriculum is offered in two parts, each comprising six sessions. It retains the most relevant and important original class sessions (e.g., parenting at a time of loss) as well as new material developed in response to parents’ expressed interests (e.g., parenting for resilience). The program has grown significantly in its reach—this past year approximately 250 parents from 15 cities and towns throughout greater Boston area enrolled in 22 classes. The program also has an expanded target audience; we now offer not only classes for parents of children from newborns to age ten, but also for parents of “tweens” and teenagers. Parenting Through a Jewish Lens is run through Hebrew College and funded by Combined Jewish Philanthropies.  To read an article about lessons learned please see "13 Lessons Learned from Parenting Through a Jewish Lens in its Bnai Mitzvah Year." 

Pedagogy of Music: Teaching Music to Children
School of Jewish Music is offering a Prayer Leader Summer Institute from June 25 to 29, 2018.  One of the courses is Pedagogy of Music: Teaching Music to Children will be taught by Ellen Allard. For full course descriptions and registration information please visit

Reggio Emilia Wonder of Learning Exhibit in Boston
Rachel Raz participated in the "Exploring Reggio Through a Jewish Perspective" seminar that took place in Italy in October of 2017.  She is now serving on the advisory committee to the upcoming Reggio Emilia  “Wonder of Learning” exhibit that will take place at Wheelock/BU College from June to November 2018.  For more information please see the Wonder of Learning webpage.

Hebrew College is located in Newton, MA. For more information, visit or contact Rachel Raz at

Annual Early Childhood Jewish Education Conference

Early Childhood Educators of Reform Judaism (URJ) 2018

ECE-RJ Israel Experience is the Conference of a Lifetime

By Jennie Rubin, President of ECE-RJ

On February 18th, 2018 I embarked on the first Early Childhood Educators of Reform Judaism (ECE-RJ) conference in Israel. To say that this was a dream come true, is really an understatement. From the inception of the organization, it has been the goal of every ECE-RJ board, to be able to have a conference in Israel. In honor of our 18th year, it was my privilege, as President of ECE-RJ, to be part of the team that made this happen.

I was joined by 40 educators (31 directors, 9 teachers), from across the United States. Like me, they signed up with hopes of gaining professional and personal knowledge, inspiration, and connection. The itinerary was carefully crafted to ensure that specific enduring understandings were achieved, and essential questions would be answered. Learning in Israel, whether it was the first time or the 14th time, impacted each participant in ways that will not only affect their teaching, but the Reform movement as a whole. For most of us, we are the first connection that people make within a community. We are the ambassadors to Jewish life for families with young children. Bringing Israel into the knowledge base of our educators allows them to make connections between these families and Israel too. Guiding families as they make choices on their Jewish journey is one of the best parts of the sacred work we do. Creating opportunities to help these families see Israel as part of their journey is poignant, and gratifying.

Every step along our journey highlighted the role that children have played in Israel’s past, present, and future. The value placed on education, resilience, and creativity is evident whether you are in a school or in a cultural institution. The next generation has always brought hope in Israel, regardless of the time period. I found that as I travelled from place to place, my personal connection to the land, the people, and the history grew exponentially, and the resources that I obtained, to share with my community grew accordingly. The ideas of how to co-construct strong educational pieces that could be shared amongst my local and national colleagues crystallized into solid plans.

We are responsible for engaging the next generation of Jewish people, and being able to engage in a much richer dialogue is a benefit all the participants received.  This occurred from the unique opportunities that were presented to us. Through meeting with our IMPJ colleagues, seeing the peace work that is being done from birth through adults, engaging in meaningful discussions about the challenges and successes of Israel early childhood, observing the impact art and music have on expanding educational experiences, the group was inspired and uplifted. We visited early childhood centers that lived within synagogues, schools that were part of the public system, the gans with junkyard playgrounds on kibbutzim, and innovative, experimental programs that are looking to bring children of different backgrounds together. These schools provoked our ideas of what can be, and were the springboard for meaningful, big picture conversations about educational philosophy, and Jewish life. It challenged me to look at the ways the best principles and practices of our Israeli colleagues can be integrated into my own program. It empowered me to share this with my colleagues who did not have this experience.

Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “What we need is not more textbooks. We need more text people.” If the text is Israel education, than this trip helped to create more text people. There is no better way to learn about a country than to have your feet on the ground in the place. I watched the transformation of my colleagues as we unpacked the learning each day. I heard the word “connections” repeatedly, as it related to the participants, and the material we were studying. I witnessed a group of strangers come together and create a strong, vibrant learning community, that feels like family we can rely on across the country. The professional bonds created are the beginning of the ripples that will change the tides throughout our country. It is these teachers and directors who now have great power through experience to share Israel through the early childhood lens. I am grateful for the incredible opportunity to learn with my peers, and to be part of this incredible, life changing experience.

Read more at the ECERJ blog.

Washington DC 2018

by Sharon Sherry, Early Childhood Education and Family Engagement Specialist

One of the strengths of the Jewish Early Childhood community of Greater Washington is the collaborative way in which we work and the intentional way we strive for quality. Our accomplishment is that we are truly committed to the growth and development of all schools in our community and that we exemplify an interactive learning community. These values are illustrated by the planning of and learning offered at our annual Early Childhood Educators Conference.  We come together to plan learning experiences around a core concept that helps us to move forward in our professional development.

At this year’s Early Childhood Education Conference, sponsored by The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, we wanted to provide our early childhood educators with the opportunity to explore the value of Achrayut, our sacred responsibility as individuals and as a profession to offer our children valuable and values-based learning experiences.  

Our workshops focused on our responsibility to pedagogy and moral development as well as to our responsibility to our relationships with parents, with colleagues and with our environments.   How do we define this awesome responsibility?  How do we pass along the Jewish sensitivity towards accepting responsibility—to care, to act, to step up?  How will we transmit this work ethic, this feeling of noble mission, to our young citizens so that it becomes a significant part of their innate sense of self and their vision of the other?  To begin, we delved into the depth of the meaning of Achrayut/Responsibility:

Achrayut –  The Value of Responsibility
The sacred covenant, brit, between humans and the Creator, requires us to always strive to do the “right thing.”  It drives our ethics.  As members of a larger community we are required to live a life mindful of the needs of others.  Acher, the other, is the root of the term Achrayut and gives voice to the value that obliges us to create learning environments which encourage mutual responsibility.

Achrayut—The Concept of Responsibility
The Hebrew word hints at the comprehensive scope of human responsibility.  Beginning with Aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and ending with Tov, the final letter, Achrayut not only holds us accountable for our own actions but also calls upon us to be accountable for our families and the wider community.  The Talmud teaches us that "The world was created for me." Rather than a statement of entitlement, this instills in us a sense of responsibility for the world and informs us of our moral responsibility as caretakers for one another, our community, our world and ourselves.

Achrayut—The Behavior of Responsibility
We are obligated to lead by example.  As educators in Jewish early childhood programs, we must find ways to transmit the importance of responsible behavior to our children, provoking independence, creativity and resilience.  Judaism requires that we anticipate needs and proactively seek ways to contribute.  The discipline of practicing the mitzvot of tzedakah (righteous giving) and gemilut hasadim (deeds of loving kindness), leads us to a sense of responsibility as a way of life.  Constructing learning environments in which responsible behavior is the model, helps children learn to be responsible citizens.

It is what we do for others that transforms us into a righteous community.  Rabbi Tarfun teaches us in Pirke Avot 2:21:  "It is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, neither are you free to desist from it.”

Our community regularly attends seminars in Reggio Emilia entitled, “Exploring Reggio Through a Jewish Perspective.”  Our seminar this year began with remarks from Carla Giudici, President of Reggio Children. She stressed to us that education is a universal right of all children and that it is the responsibility, Achrayut, of the entire community. She also spoke to us about how investment in early childhood education is an investment in the present and in the future. This Achrayut/Responsibility is a precise choice and a dedication to quality that is our shared value.

We planned our conference to inspire our Jewish early childhood educators to become change-makers; to become mindful of our higher sense of responsibility to ourselves and others as educators and nurturers of young children.  The energizing atmosphere of this conference, a gathering with more than 700 Jewish early childhood educators, shows the remarkable dedication of our community and our community’s professionals to our youngest learners.  It has been gratifying to see how many of our schools have implemented ideas brought forth at our ECE Conference and continue to work toward accepting and elevating our Achrayut/Responsibility to our children and in our schools.  It reminds me that we are always striving for quality—in our classrooms, in our schools and in our community. 
This is a photo of the "Exploring Reggio Through a Jewish Perspective" seminar that took place in Italy in October of 2017. Participants came from Washington DC, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Israel and Boston. To read more about the seminar, read Rachel Raz's article, "Another Kind of Birthright"