Some 95 Conservative Jewish educators gathered in Metuchen to pick up fresh ideas and hear from leading experts in the field.
The second annual Conference on Synagogue Education was held June 9 at Congregation Neve Shalom in Metuchen.
“We want to give classroom teachers and Jewish educators from the Conservative movement the opportunity to speak and network with other teachers as well as be able to attend instructional workshops,” said Michelle Rich, associate director of the Mid-Atlantic District of United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which sponsored the conference.
A merger of the New Jersey and Philadelphia regional offices of USCJ in September broadened the conference’s outreach beyond the state with some participants driving more than two hours each way to attend.
“Delaware is really small, and we need to go to bigger places like Philadelphia or here to get training and meet other educators,” said Dina Lipschultz, education director at Congregation Beth Shalom in Wilmington. She came with the synagogue’s rabbi and two other teachers.
Cartoonist, storyteller, and author Joel Lurie Grishaver, founder of Los Angeles-based Torah Aura Productions, was keynote speaker and conducted a session on how to deal with students’ parents. Among his 120 books are the most recent, The Circle of Jewish Life, Teaching Jewishly, and Artzeinu: An Israel Encounter.
Workshops offered ideas on teaching Israel, Jewish prayer, working with teens, reaching small children, and techniques for working with special education youngsters.
Dr. Shoshana Silberman of Princeton led a session on making learning “unforgettable.”
An educational consultant for the Auerbach Central Agency for Jewish Education in Philadelphia and author of Active Jewish Learning, she said educators should always make their classrooms “a gallery of learning.”
When she asked, “What do your own children say when you ask them what they learned at school that day?” she received a fairly unanimous response: “nothing.”
She urged the educators not to allow their students to leave class without coming up with at least five things to tell their parents when asked that question.
A session on inclusion of special-needs children was led by Sharon Frant Brooks, coordinator of resource center services at Adath Israel Congregation in Lawrenceville, and Hedda Morton, the synagogue’s director of congregational learning. Their synagogue has been widely recognized for its handicapped accessibility and efforts to include both adults and children with special needs in shul life.
In addition to Neve Shalom, among the synagogues represented at the conference were East Brunswick Jewish Center; Highland Park Conservative-Temple Congregation Anshe Emeth; and Congregation B’nai Tikvah in North Brunswick.
Cantor David Amar of Ahavat Olam, a teacher at Solomon Schechter Day School of Raritan Valley in East Brunswick and at SSDS of Greater Monmouth County in Marlboro, had just been asked by his congregation — the result of the merger of Congregations Ahavat Achim of Howell and Ahavat Shalom of Lakewood — to take over as director of its religious school in September.
Now, Amar said, he is “looking forward to putting together an amazing program for our children and their families. Hebrew school is different from day school because you have a short time to put out as much information as possible.”
At the conference, he said, “I really got some good tips from presenters and educators on how to have a balance between education and fun, like how to make a short game, so that students remember the information. I really learned a lot.”
“I find this to be a wonderful exchange of ideas,” said Martha Mack, director of the nursery school at Neve Shalom. “I call it cross-pollination of ideas. I’ve met Jewish educators here and found out what they are doing that works, and they have met me and other educators and found out what others are doing that works.”
Mimi Zuckoff, a sixth-grade teacher at Morristown Jewish Center Beit Yisrael, said, “It was very nice to network with my colleagues and to share our experiences in helping to teach Judaism. This is something that really helps you keep up your skills.”