By Elana Rivel, Associate Director

The story of my Jewish venture begins when I was about 8 years old and I accompanied my mother to her religious school class. As a day school kid, I was able to help the 4th and 5th graders she taught with their Hebrew and prayer studies.  I loved being helpful and, more importantly, loved teaching Hebrew and prayer.  I knew then that my life path would take me somewhere in Jewish education. Throughout high school and college, I progressed along this path.

As a graduate student at the University of Judaism (now the American Jewish University) the most impactful experience I had was in an internship course, when my colleagues and I would share successes and challenges and together we would problem solve to support each other.  It was this networking that allowed us to build our own professional tool boxes so we would be prepared for the inevitable moment when we would confront a similar challenge.

My first full time job in the Jewish community was in the camping movement, and my eyes were opened in a new way.  As a former camper myself, getting “behind the scenes” at camp and understanding, in a deeper way, the impact that informal education could have on not only the camper but on the family stirred a passion in me for informal Jewish education. I found daily inspiration and rejuvenation at senior staff meetings.  Once again, I benefitted from the power of networking as we used our individual strengths to better the collective whole.

I began to imagine some hybrid of my experiences – how camping could inform congregational education (and vice-versa!); how the work of training teachers could be applied to training camp staff, how networking could be used to strengthen not only the individuals but the whole.

I spent a few years working as a program director at Penn State Hillel. There I gained valuable experience providing relevant, meaningful experiences for the college set.  Working in Hillel emphasized how important it was to have the students’ input and interest in a program in order for it to be successful; I could not “make them” learn:  buy-in and peer-to-peer motivation was key.

The next stage of my venture led me back into congregational life, this time as a Director of Congregational Learning. Change was underfoot in the American Jewish community, and I was called upon to facilitate a shift from a three-day a week school to a two-day a week with increased professional development for teachers and hands-on, experiential opportunities for parents and families.

Over the last ten years, in my time at Jewish Learning Venture, I have been given the opportunity to merge all of these experiences in Jewish education in order to shape and impact many of our new initiatives.  Jewish education, and the conversations around it, continue to evolve. In my role at Jewish Learning Venture, I have had the opportunity to network with local and national educators and agency professionals to leverage our collective experiences towards enhancing and strengthening what we are doing here in Philadelphia.

This has all led me to my newest venture – as Project Director for a new national initiative called Shinui: Igniting Change in Jewish Education. Shinui (change, in Hebrew) is a new model of a national consortium of organizations.  A network of six communities (Cleveland, Houston, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and San Francisco) has on-the-ground educators who are collecting information and data on innovation in non-day school education and who will collaborate to create a new story line of Jewish education in North America.

I am appreciative for the journey that has brought me to this place and look forward to continuing to venture forward. She-hechiyanu, v’kiyamanu v’higyanu, lazman hazeh.

As you venture into the new year, what are you looking forward to along your journey? Share in the comments below!