What’s Up at JedLab

Peter Eckstein

Peter EcksteinSometimes the conversations on JEDLAB are “ripped from the headlines”. Recently, the New York Times published an article called Lab/Shul Is an Experimental Jewish Gathering Still in Its Beta Phase featuring Amichai Lau-Lavie’s experiment in creating a new mode of synagogue engagement. This piece prompted two different threads that focused on different implications and perspectives.

The first thread, posted by Ken Gordon, framed the article within the context of worship and education in the context of performance and theater. What are the implications of Amichai’s description of prayer as theater and performance, Gordon asked. What can educators learn from this “lab/shul” experience?

Some responders framed this idea within the context of fun and joy. Rather then education being “bad theater”, why not inject a sense of “theater and even a sense of improv and fun into Jewish education” – while not rejecting the guidelines that define traditional practice? Others pondered the implications of “freestyle” spiritual experience, and how it would impact the ongoing connection to Jewish life. One commentator said “…I like shul to be shul and theater to be theater”. Some of the postings were very practical: wondering how the “storahtelling” idea can become a tool in creating a climate of joyful learning in supplementary/congregational schools. The most recent posts focus on the ideas of teaching as a skill set that involves performance, borrowing from the world of entertainment.

The second thread, originated by Jonathan Woocher, zeroed in on Amicha’s quote that Judaism for many is a “toolbox for human well being” and that the “endgoal” of Judaism might not be just a religious expression, but living a life of meaning. Woocher asked “What are the implications for Jewish education?” Some folks remarked on the idea of change and innovation in Judaism, and how the “Lab/Shul” idea reflects that. Others concentrated on the humanist nature of Judaism as a toolbox for better living. Judaism is more then just a religion and that “it’s all the more vital to preserve an emphasis on both sides of the equation: both Judaism AND Jews.” The tension between Judaism as universalist and particularistic expressed itself throughout this thread. Other folks commented on the toolbox metaphor, and how education isn’t just learning how to use the tool for a specific purpose but to admire the value inherent in that tool and it’s “beauty and craftsmanship.”

The above summaries do not capture the conversations entirely in their richness and wisdom. They are meant to provide a sense of the type of dialogues that are part of what defines JEDLAB. To read both threads in their entirety, go here for the one started by Ken Gordon and here for Jonathan Woocher’s thread.