‘Nefesh Kol Chai’ Targets Learners’ Souls

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Barbara Glickman has been involved with Jewish education since 2007. In that time, she’s seen quite a bit.

As a mother of three, she’s seen the way that changing practices and self-conception have affected the way her kids have been taught. As a preschool teacher, she began to cultivate a far greater appreciation for the scope and difficulty of the problems — and the joys — of Jewish education. And as the education director at Ohev Shalom in Richboro for seven years now, she’s begun to see it all with a bird’s-eye view.

And what she’s seen, according to Glickman, is a focus on “surviving” rather than “thriving.”

“Really, that’s what a lot of schools and synagogues have been doing: surviving,” she said. “Just doing the same old, same old, just to stay afloat, so to speak.”

That’s why she was excited to be asked by Jewish Learning Venture to be a part of the first Nefesh Kol Chai: Caring for Every Learner’s Soul educational cohort.

JLV developed the new program in conjunction with Shinui: The Network for Innovation in Part-Time Jewish Education. Beginning this fall, educators across the country who are part of Shinui, a learning resource for part-time Jewish educators, will have a chance to take part in four Nefesh Kol Chai webinars. But Glickman, along with educational directors from four other local synagogues — Beth Am Israel in Penn Valley, Beth Tikvah B’nai Jeshurun in Erdenheim, Congregation Beth El in Yardley and Temple Sholom in Broomall — will take part in a much deeper learning process.

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Over the course of the school year, Glickman and the other directors will take part in the webinars, but they’ll also go to several debriefing meetings throughout the year, facilitated and led by JLV. They’ll break down the content of the webinars — Jewish education, infused with concepts from positive psychology — and work to figure out how to implement those concepts into their personal and professional lives.

There will also be a leadership retreat, regular check-ins from JLV Director of Educational Consultation and Support Virginia Glatzer, and a project — a so-called “happiness project” — to be completed with a teacher from the educational director’s school, based on principles learned from the book The How of Happiness, which each cohort member will read.

The project will involve listening and learning from the kids and parents that make up each school’s community, and will culminate in actionable steps for each individual school. As Glickman sees it, it’s a chance in the midst of constantly worrying about expansion to focus on the people who are already there.

“You’re the role model. You set the tone for the school,” Glickman said of her role at Ohev Shalom. With this project, she believes, she’ll acquire new tools for helping her students and their families get the most out of their time. And if they see her positively invested in the present, rather than being too occupied with the future, the possibilities for deeper engagement expand.

Anna Marx is the chief strategy officer for JLV, as well as the former director of Shinui. To her, the concept of “thriving” is a crucial one for best serving community members.

“We’re really trying to think about, ‘How can we help that whole child, that whole family,” Marx said, “not just for those minutes that they’re there with us in synagogue, in the classroom, learning the story or the holiday or whatever the particular content is in that moment?’”

Marx is excited by the possibilities of what she can learn from the cohort’s experiences this year, and what they’ll be able to learn from the process. What is perhaps most exciting, she believes, is the chance for sustained, intentional thinking, something that the fast-paced world doesn’t always allow time for.

“This is a real treat, for a Jewish community initiative to be this much deep learning before trying,” she said. “People need something more.”

Lori Rubin, chief program officer of JLV, is similarly excited. The members of the Nefesh Kol Chai cohort were hand-selected, she said, because they showed a particular “readiness factor” for something of this nature. They were prepared, said Rubin, for more than a “one-shot deal.”

“We know they’re ready for it,” she said.

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