Speeches at the National Jewish Book Awards

On March 6, the editors of What We Now Know About Jewish Education (Paul Flexner, Roberta Louis Goodman, and Linda Dale Bloomberg) received the National Jewish Book Award in Jewish Education and Identity. The awards ceremony was held at the Center for Jewish History in New York. We’re very pleased to present some of the words that Paul, Roberta, and Linda shared with the audience that night.

Paul’s remarks:
This is very exciting. To be recognized by our colleagues and our peers is very special to each of us. It gives us each time to pause and reflect on the endless hours of conversation, of editing and of the final product that resulted.

The comments that we have received over the last few months provide us with much food for thought. They suggest that we are entering (or have entered) a new age when a book is not just a book. Rather, a book serves as an inspiration for the reader to reflect and respond, to enter into a dialogue with others, to add to their knowledge and understanding, and to begin the preparation of the next sequel which may appear as an ongoing collection of digital bytes easily accessed from anywhere and at anytime by the truly curious.

Our exploration of Jewish education over the last 20 years raised significant and critical questions for all of us engaged in the educational process. With each new development, with each new technology, teachers are challenged to incorporate the ‘new’ into their practice; they have to make adjustments; and, they need to constantly reflect on how to connect the ‘new’ with the traditions and history of a 3000+ year old community that is now faced with rapid change. As teachers, and all educators are teachers, we are the ones who build the connections between the tools and the text, between the lives of the students and the traditions of a people.

To accomplish this transition, we chose to dig deeply into every aspect of Jewish education. We could not ignore a critical component simply to save space or to be more concise. And, this is the result of our efforts. For this, we simply say, THANK YOU!

Roberta’s remarks:
My husband always jokes that What We Know about Jewish Education is 350 blank pages, and NOW, the sequel, is 450 of even larger blank pages.

So what is the book about? It should be obvious, it is a love story. It is about the encounter between faith as represented by passion, commitment, and vision and science with its tools of rationality, statistics, predictability, and outcomes. All of this happens among the main characters–researchers, evaluators, practitioners, lay leaders, funders, and learners too-all who put their hope and trust in Torah and God to assure that the Jewish people thrive in a just and caring world.

So why the first volume? Those engaging in Jewish educational research were already organizing as a network, presenting papers prior to the annual CAJE Conference, in 1982 or thereabouts. With the 1990 Jewish population study and the interest in Jewish education as a response to the continuity agenda, Torah Aura Productions, Inc. published the first volume in 1992, to get the voices of academics and practitioners and their knowledge and perspectives from the then “thin” amount of research into the conversation about the future of Jewish education with policy makers and funders.

Why NOW? This sequel reflects the ways in which decisions about Jewish education, in terms of policy making, funding, and programming have come to both initiate and rely upon research and evaluation. The expanded number of chapters in this volume reflects that Jewish education is a topic of import to a broad range of Jewish and non-Jewish academics and others too. Finally, it represents, the ways in which those preparing to or already tarrying in the field, the college/graduate students and practitioners, can turn to research and writings in their own field, rather than always having to apply what the secular world has to say to Jewish education. We accomplish this by exposing the reader to the perspectives of the well established and the upcoming researchers, the latter, who will sooner than later be editing book #3.

Linda’s remarks:
The past decade has seen the emergence of a growing interest in evaluation and research by Jewish educators, policymakers, and philanthropists seeking to ascertain the extent to which various kinds of Jewish educational experiences can serve to impact learning and engender more meaningful engagement in Jewish life. The field of Jewish education has certainly worked hard to address the new realities of contemporary society. While we have much reason to celebrate our achievements, however, multiple challenges continue to confront Jewish education. Not least among these, as pointed out by Steven M. Cohen, is the significant decline in Jewish ethnicity and collective Jewish identity.

As such, Jewish education as a field of practice as well as an object of academic study must remain a matter of critical significance. Research must continue to address issues regarding the learners, the educators, the pedagogy, the educational contexts, as well as the more philosophical questions regarding the very purposes of Jewish education. Moreover, we need to create channels and opportunities to share what we know across contexts and practice areas, and in so doing make what we have learned educative, relevant, and meaningful to others.

This volume offers a forum for expanding the rich emerging conversation regarding an ideal Jewish education for our times and beyond. And the sequel will hopefully contribute to the ongoing discourse by capturing and further expanding upon the fruits of the research and evaluation efforts of the years that lie ahead. It is an honor that What we Now Know about Jewish Education: Perspectives on Research for Practice has received a National Jewish Book Award, particularly in the category “Education and Jewish Identity”. Indeed, a thread that runs through all of the chapters of this extensive volume is the significant impact that Jewish learning has on Jewish identity, and consequently on Jewish engagement, commitment, and continuity. Kol Hakavod to all those who continue to research the possibilities and opportunities that Jewish learning, in all its varied facets, has, in shaping and impacting our future, our Jewish heritage.