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From Continuity, to Renewal and Renaissance, to… Jewish Thriving

Published in Ayeka by Dr. David Bryfman, Chief Innovation Officer, The Jewish Education Project
Posted on January 26, 2017

First there was “Jewish Continuity,” until we realized that we weren’t quite sure what it was that we wanted to continue and that merely “continuing’ was not a sufficient goal. Next came “Jewish Renaissance and Renewal” which spawned an ecosystem of innovation in the Jewish education and engagement worlds. But that catch cry also waned, perhaps because the term itself lacked clarity of vision.

So what is the rallying slogan now that will propel the Jewish community forward in a post Pew era?

As Tu B’Shvat approaches, allow me to sow the seed that the next galvanizing call for Jewish education and engagement ought to be “Jewish Thriving.”

Thriving is a term derived from the world of positive psychology. It is a term that connotes far more than just survival, with an emphasis on growth and positive development.

Jewish wisdom, and by extension Jewish education and engagement, has the capacity to empower Jews to thrive in this world. It can do so by:

  1. Giving Jews the capacity to be the best possible versions of themselves.
  2. Connecting Jews to things that matter in their lives including transcendent powers, significant relationships in their lives, and to the communities in which they exist.
  3. Providing Jews with the tools to bring about a more equitable and just world.

If Judaism is not capable of doing each of these things in the 21st century, it will fail to captivate a generation of Jews as Judaism itself will have little to no relevance for them.

What does Jewish education look like when its purpose is to empower Jews to thrive in the world today and tomorrow?

Families with newborns will be connected to one another so that they can provide support, advice and comfort to one another because that is what they need most at this stage of life. Schools will impart wisdom to children that empowers them to construct their own rituals of meaning and relevance. Teenagers will go to their youth group advisors and be counseled on issues about self-esteem, resilience and sexuality because these are of critical importance to the adolescent. Young adults will be emboldened with the skills and capacity to mobilize for positive social change. And all of this, and much, much more will be imparted by Jewish educators backed by thousands of years of Jewish wisdom and experience that will provide a connection between a Jewish past, present, and future.

Before Jewish Thriving takes root, many things will need to occur. Clearly these ideas need to be further fleshed out with many more articles to be written and many more educators equipped with the knowledge and skills to frame and impart a Jewish education with thriving at its core. But first and foremost, we need to agree that the Jewish education that got us here may not be the Jewish education that will take the vast majority of Jews today towards where they are destined to be. This will require humility, compassion and the acceptance of loss. Although many Jewish educators have already embraced this new approach, many more will need to recognize that delivering Jewish content will not lead to more Jews remaining Jewish, and more still will need to further question whether this is in fact the primary goal that they want to pursue. Today we sow the seeds for this new paradigm in Jewish education and hope that we as a Jewish people, and indeed humanity as a whole, will reap the benefits for generations to come.