Local teachers meet at conference for Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education

By Barbara Birenbaum

This summer, 10 local Jewish educators attended NewCAJE8, an educational conference put on by the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education, which was held at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, Calif. For 40 years, two generations of Jewish educators have been connecting to each other and to their higher purpose through this innovational conference with visionary, Cherie Koller-Fox, president and founder of NewCAJE.

“It’s home for excellence in Jewish education, deepening educators’ knowledge base, creating year-round support networks, higher standards for benefits and compensation, food for mind, body and soul of an educator,” says BeLinda Singer. “This conference is a major event that we look forward to all year! It brings great joy to be together.”

This year the group from San Diego included BeLinda Singer and me from Congregation Beth Am; Anita Ip, Sara Kaminski and Leora Lazarus from the San Diego Jewish Academy Preschool; Ellen Statman, Sue Brown and Steffi Retin from Ohr Shalom Synagogue; Becky Combest from Temple Emanu-El; and Naomi Gabai-Fisher from Congregation B’nai Tikvah. This conference is simply the best place to share, explore, review and re’jew’venate with the best theories and practices in Jewish education from across the country. Unfortunately, there were only ten of us. While the conference fees are reasonable, accommodations comfortable and the returns enormous, too few community foundation and professional growth dollars are going toward sending educators to the gift that is NewCAJE. The gifts that we bring back from our NewCAJE experiences are invaluable to an educator’s development, to their students, faculties and communities. It’s not hard to imagine the ripples through our whole San Diego Jewish community if more of us attended regularly.

NewCAJE is like Jewish Camp for teachers. Welcoming to all ages, all movements, all levels, all degrees, ordinations and positions, this pluralistic Jewish Educators conference has been, for these past five years, the most consistent source of inspiration and support as well as a significant factor toward my success as an educator. There’s serious scholarly study, pedagogic programming, and experiential models for music, dance, art and enrichment. Every day and night we find connections, make contacts, enjoy concerts and kick back at kumsitz (late night gathering with singing, dancing, laughing and fun). Everywhere you turn there’s encouragement, challenge, togetherness and growth. Workshops abound for creative approaches to prayer, powerful programing as well as basics for beginners conducted by participant presenters who add a healthy dose of perspective and collaboration. Each year renowned Jewish musicians as well as emerging artists make the most beautiful music together. One of my NewCAJE take-aways is how I choose a different artist’s music and lyrics in my Jewish studies classes to help my students engage with a passionate and profound impact.

The conference draws the best and the brightest Jewish educators, musicians, storytellers, teachers, artists and scholars. Many submit proposals in addition to registration fees for the chance to present a workshop or two over the course of the four-day conference. For the full experience, I choose to attend for Shabbat two days early. These extra sacred hours of rest and renewal, prayer and perspective, introspection and intensives are an incredible inspiration for the Jew in me.

Among the hundreds of workshop and presentation proposals that are submitted and organized by a dedicated team of volunteers into the conference program, I have been selected to present one of my specialties, Israeli Folk Dance Fun, for the past three years. Just like in every community with Jews, NewCAJE naturally attracts lots of people who love Israeli folk dance. One year I led a grand evening session and another year after two sessions and one rehearsal, I led a group performance on the main stage. Locally I teach adult Israeli Folk Dance Fun sessions as well as Israeli Chair Dance sessions at several retirement communities around town. I’m branching out to include Jewish preschools, I’m developing a dance-infused Kabbalat Shabbat service and am available for community events and simchas.

While I was once the only educator from San Diego, an amazing delegation of 45 of us, led by Marcia Tatz Wollner, attended NewCAJE5 in 2014 with the help of a Federation grant when the conference took place in Los Angeles. With so many teachers inspired each year, it’s pretty easy to see how the benefits would blossom in our Jewish classrooms. If attending NewCAJE was a priority and seen as a critical opportunity wherever it’s held year after year, schools, congregations, and foundations could budget funds for San Diego’s Jewish educators to experience this conference annually. Can you imagine the rippling impact on young children and early childhood educators; to the families who attend Jewish supplemental and day schools; and on madrichim through youth programming to life-long learners?

My wish for this new year is that we can increase awareness and appreciation for the unparalleled effects of investing in Jewish educators at NewCAJE9 and beyond.

 

For more information, visit newcaje.org.

 

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