I am currently reading Jews and Words by Amos Oz and his daughter in which the authors discuss the intergenerational dialogue between Jews and texts, teacher and students. I’ve been thinking a lot about Jews and words recently, but from a different perspective. Specifically, I am struck by the choice of words and the changing vocabularies that today’s Jewish leadership, both lay and professional, are using to identify the work of building Jewish community.
Engage, Engagement, Engaging – this is the word that is ubiquitous today in Jewish education and communal parlance. It has supplanted “outreach” which was employed for several decades. Outreach implied going out to “them” and bringing them to “us” and was always seen side by side with “inreach” targeting those who were already “with us.” Jewish engagement speaks of a different approach. Engagement does not denote a hierarchy; rather it is a relationship of equals based on the discovery of common interests, challenges, values, and meaning. I am not going “out” to “reach” you; rather, I am looking for a place and an experience where we can engage – interact, enjoy, and find meaning together in Jewish life.
The work of Jewish Learning Venture, and the challenge for all volunteers and professionals to care deeply about the Jewish future is to create opportunities that will spark and nurture engagement. The only way that that can be accomplished is for us to move outside of our own comfort zones, away from the ways we have always done things, to better hear, understand and enter into relationships with those we hope to engage.
This is not only true for individuals. We need to approach Jewish families, children, their parents and grandparents, with two lenses: first, the lens of engagement, of understanding that Jewish education, life, and community is built upon developing relationships; and second, the lens of the dynamic beauty and meaning that can be found in Judaism. It is only in those moments when we can clearly focus those two lenses simultaneously that we can build a Jewish community in the 21st century. This work takes time and courage, but there is nothing more fulfilling.
Together, as teachers, educational directors, rabbis and volunteer leaders we can better understand and focus our lenses on the critical, dynamic, exciting work of engaging Jewish families.
How do you engage Jewish families? What kinds of experiences would you and your family find engaging? Share in the comments below!