In Praise of Summer Conferences

Joel Lurie Grishaver

The Summer of 2011

This summer I taught at four different summer conference. I went to the Institute for Southern Jewish Life training event in Jackson, Mississippi, NewCAJE in Charlotte, North Carolina, the Shevet: The Jewish Family Education Exchange event with the Alliance for Jewish Education of Met. Detroit and J.E.F.F. (You Can join the Shevet Community of Practice). Finally I went to New Zealand for their Winter Limmud Conferrence. While none of these matched the impact of the CAJE Conference of old, they all did lead to the conclusion: Jewish Education Conferences are good.

Here is what I know. No matter what technology is used, no matter what the educational methodology, the impact of Jewish education still demands that teachers be the primary delivery system. Yet, the world seems much more concerned about getting I-Pads in students hands than they worry about what software they use and who will guide their students in that use. It is really important to honor and support teachers—and by in large, that’s what summer conferences do.

Summer Conferences

So here is a very simple conclusion. Summer conferences for teachers, even if they have to be small and regional, are important to Jewish education. The more you want to actualize change, the more you need a chance to work with teachers and educators. Simply put, if you are in a position to make teacher events happen—just do it. The big impact of conferences is not the workshops offered (though that is why I go) but in the conversations that take place informally. It is in the friendships and the distilling of loneliness.

We are in a moment where Jewish teachers and Jewish classroom receive no credit. It has become lower than a thankless job. The celebration of the act of teaching will benefit classrooms more than the presence of a Smart Board. Even if you move to Skype tutoring, you still need an empowered and skilled teacher at the other end of the connection.


Limmud is different. It is a conference for adults to expand their Jewish learning. It is a conference about Jewish learning, not a conference about how to transmit Jewish learning. While the idea of a massive conference of Jews does have some origins in CAJE, the international movement known as Limmud does little to advance the teacher agenda. It is good for the Jewish people, amazing, but it will not solve our needs as Jewish teachers to improve and recharge.