Tithadesh: Renewing Jewish Education by Going “Retro” with Mordecai Kaplan

Education requires a guiding vision. Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, founder of the Jewish Reconstructionist movement, had a vision for Jewish education unlike any other; and yet we now find ourselves in a very different world than the one for which Kaplan described and took action on his vision.

We invite you to come and explore how the Kaplan Center for Jewish Peoplehood (for which I am the Senior Education Consultant), has evolved Kaplan’s vision for Jewish Education for the 21st Century. This project should excite Rabbis, scholars, educators, theorists – AND the Center needs your help to bring it to life.

 

A Virtual Lag B’Omer and Shavuot, or (with apologies to Prince) “Let’s Go Crazy” with Numbers, Words, Nature Experiences  and Other Forms of Multiple Intelligences

Hakdama

So Lag B’Omer without a picnic is like:

a) Lox without cream cheese

b) Pesach without matzah

c) A golden opportunity

My answer is C.  I never cared much for Lag B’Omer picnics (always thought the Romans were going to get me) but of course I can be nostalgic for the free play and company that was part of them and missing from our lives at this moment.

I am sharing some resources and ideas about alternative ways to do Lag B’Omer and some Shavuot resources, particularly a poem I dearly love and have used as part of our Shavuot family sedarim for years.  This builds out of the presentation on Saving Shavuot, Multiple Intelligences and Counting the Omer that Deb and I did last Sunday for the Kaplan Center.  I will share the link here when it becomes available.

I am glad to have an offline conversation if a colleague is interested in extending or customizing to his setting as part of a virtual Lag B’Omer or Shavuot learning.  Perusing the possibilities below will likely be a basis for deciding if such a collegial (i.e., free) consultation would be meaningful.

First, take a look at the chart of multiple intelligences below, a good graphic image that includes the 8th naturalistic intelligence not in Gardner’s original seven.  Some have speculated that if Gardner were more deeply rooted in Judaism, or not the child of Holocaust survivors, he might have developed a 9th form of spiritual/religious intelligence.

We take the Kaplanian/”Judaism as a Civilization” project as a whole as being closely linked to this understanding of multiple intelligences. Al regel achat, we want Judaism to be rich, diverse and creative enough so that future Jewish poets, scientists, artists, societal transformationalists and more all find a Jewish derekh for themselves.

Below are three possibilities for Jewish learning and engagement, each built from the multiple intelligence model.

Celebrating our Number Smarts

In my experience, kids and adults with strong mathematical intelligences rarely have a chance to shine in Jewish life. The counting of the Omer with its overtones of larger Gematria meanings is a great opportunity to re-equilibriate the intelligences in a Jewish context.

Share a chart with the numerical value of Hebrew letters (Gematria). The exploration might move in a number of different directions:

  • Invite people to construct the Gematria of various days of the Omer counting.

  • Get personal.  Did you know every person has a secret Gematria based on the numerical value of their Hebrew name?

  • Create the Gematria value together.  Tell people that if they ever run into a person with the same Gematria, they have found their bashert.  Do a family Gematria based on your shem ha-mishpacha.

Other possibilities:

  • What is the Gematria of your congregation?

  • Transliterate your city and state into Hebrew. What is their Gematria?

  • Discover together the Gematria for the following Jewish values:

  • תורה   ברית   מצות   ישראל   אהבה   חסד   צדקה   רחמים   חכמה   תרבות

Celebrating our Nature Smarts

Go outside in your back yard or a safe park area.  Have a tena/basket in hand.  Collect a beautiful supply of colors and shapes in the tena.  Give them a prominent place in your home (or on your porch!) Invite families together on or around Erev Shavuot to share their baskets via Zoom (or by posting pictures on the synagogue webpage).  Recite together the ohseh ma-aseh beresheet blessing.  Read together the bikkurim passage (Ki Tavo, Deuteronomy 26:2).

Please be sure to consult with President Trump for an update on the health issues that might be involved in this activity.  Ha-Ha! Joke!

Celebrating our Word Smarts

Invite your learners to respond and interpret this extraordinary poem by Leah Naor.  Perhaps they even want to compile a mikraot gedolot of their own interpretations.  Note that the poet draws from some of the same Midrashic sources as Judith Kaplan Eisenstein’s operetta about the Israelites receiving the Torah.  Some of the questions you might explore revolve around the poet’s intent and the repeating chorus of “that is exactly how it was when they received the Torah.”   Is it?  How does the poet want us to orient ourselves to the giving of the Torah?  Are we being cajoled? Cradled? Challenged?

Here is the poem in English:

When They Received the Torah

A Poem for Shavuot by Le’ah Naor from her book Chag  Li

When they received the Torah … When they received the Torah*

The desert was still and no bird chirped and the wind did not blow and the ox did not low and the people stood around and everyone saw.

That’s exactly how it was when they received the Torah**.

It was on the third day of the third month. Just yesterday they all finished washing their garments, and suddenly there was a heavy cloud, all of the mountain of Sinai trembled and I heard that everyone really saw the voices.

That’s exactly how it was when they received the Torah.

From the mountain smoke arose, it was like from a kiln.

There was thunder and lightning  and awe and the sound of a horn and the people stood aside because they were all scared, all the people stepped back and only Moses climbed the mountain.

That’s exactly how it was when they received the Torah.

Then suddenly there was silence even the wind did not hum, the silence was so full and no bird chirped and even the angels did not break into song only God spoke and all the people received the Torah.

That’s exactly how it was when they received the Torah.

* In Hebrew, ‘keshekiblu

**Blue underscoring of refrain is from Jeffrey Schein, not Leah Naor

Three links below might enrich the study:

1) The Hebrew original of the poem: https://shironet.mako.co.il/artist?type=lyrics&lang=1&prfid=574&wrkid=5624

2) The Hebrew original put to a musical setting by the Israeli musician Ilanit:

3) A link to the notion of second naivety in the work of the French philosopher and theologian Paul Ricoeur: https://desertspiritpress.net/2018/03/07/second-naivete/  

I have a point of view here that is aligned with Ricoeur’s understanding of second naivety: To stand again at Sinai is to open ourselves to the power of myth and finding new meaning in the power of what happened at Sinai. It is not to suspend our critical sensibilities, but to move beyond them.  Ironically, the poem prepares us for that possibility by “teasing” us about the literalism of the event. Perhaps fittingly, the linked excerpt is from “desert spirit press.”  L’fi dati, one person’s perspective.

 

Waiting Our Way to the Core Kernels of a Jewish idea


The best forms of amphibious Jewish education begin with a deeper dive into Judaism in order to see traditions we may have come to take for granted in new ways. Here I take us on a journey back to the radical, ethical core of the tradition of counting the Omer in terms of food justice. It was prepared for Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger.

February 13-16, 2020, Atlanta , GA

Book Talks and Signings:

Thursday February 13

  • Forsyth Chabad Center, 7:30pm

Friday, February 14

  • Beit Haverim Reconstructionist Congregation, 7:30pm

Sunday February 16

  • Chabad of Sandy Springs, , 1:00pm

January 24 – 26, 2020, Pittsburgh, PA

  • Congregation Beth Shalom
    • Scholar in Residence weekend: A dialogue between Drs Deborah and Jeffrey Schein on the Spiritual Life of Jewish Children in the 21st Century

December 27, 2019, St. Louis Park, MN

  • Beth El Synagogue
    • Book talks with Drs Deborah and Jeffrey Schein, focused on the Spiritual Gifts We Give our Children, Noon – 1:00pm (after Shabbat service)

December 2, 2019, St. Paul, MN

  • Luther Seminary
    • Digital Life Cubed: An Interfaith Panel on our Religious and Digital Lives based on the Text Me volume, Noon-1:30pm