Why I love to hate (Jewish) lists?

Last Updated on Wednesday, 13 January 2010 01:33 Written by bryfy Wednesday, 13 January 2010 01:33

It’s easy to love lists. They are compact and often logical. Often more importantly they are conversation starters. Mike Sheahan’s 50 top Aussie Rules footballers, for example,  is always a great source of controversy and debate. But (unfortunately) that is hardly a topic of conversation for this blog.

JESNA’s list of top ten achievements in Jewish education over the last decade provides such a level of debate and controversy, especially for those of us more immersed in Jewish education than the Collingwood Magpies.

And JESNA’s list is a great list. Who could argue with Birthright Israel or PJ Library as being major game changers in the Jewish communal landscape? But the point of such a list should not be only to congratulate the big names in Jewish education. The real point, in my opinion, should be to try and identify the trends that these listed organizations exemplify – so that this does not become merely a back-slapping exercise, but one where the community is able to identify what works, what needs further investigation, and what needs further communal attention and resources.

So, inspired by JESNA’s top 10 list I have created a top 5 list of: Bryfy’s Pick for the Top 5 Trends in Jewish Education in the Last Decade. (this list however, offers more questions than answers, and in doing so it is admittedly a list that creates more opportunities for lists)

drum roll please:

1. Choice: When does too much individual choice signify the end of community? Can we simultaneously offer both a concierge model and a sense of Clal Yisrael?

2. Community-wide/Pluralism/Cross-Trans Denominationalism: Are we seeing the beginning of the end of denominational life in North America? Or, at the very least are we seeing the end of denominational institutions as a primary location for Jewish education?

3. Globalization: Now that there seem to be no geographic boundaries – what does this really mean for the Jewish People? How are relationships between people and communities changing as communication and networking begin to equalize us all?

4. Educational Providers: How does a new generation of Jewish educational providers, often divorced from institutions, settings and traditional leadership models continue to challenge authority and authenticity in the Jewish educational world?

5. Innovation: When will the established Jewish community and the world of Jewish innovation be seen as one entity instead of two artificially divided contructs? Only once this synergy occurs will true systematic change that benefits us all be able to happen.

So there it is – a list of the top 5 trends in the world of Jewish education today as seen from my myopic vantage point. These are things that I have noted as being important today (mostly exemplified within JESNA’s list) – but more importantly I am daring to prophetically proclaim that they will all become hallmarks of JESNA’s next decade of top ten achievements in Jewish education.


  1. Jonathan Woocher   |  Thursday, 14 January 2010 at 6:50 pm

    David, I think you’ve kicked the ball right through the posts (actually, I have no idea what they say when you score in Footie). Fun as it was to try to identify some of the groundbreaking ideas and trends of the past decade, it’s even more important to think about what’s coming. Your list is a great starting point. We’re in the transition period between educational paradigms, which I think is an exciting place to be. Many of the answers we’re seeking, I believe, will require us to learn how to unite apparent opposites – choice and community, innovation and tradition, post-denominationalism and compelling visions, global communication and face-to-face intimacy. It’s going to be an interesting decade ahead.

  2. Lisa Colton   |  Friday, 15 January 2010 at 2:27 pm

    David, excellent questions. My guess is that the tensions here are more about how we’ve developed our institutions, and the assumptions they are based upon, than questions about human nature, quality, or impact. A group of people who are all members of a congregation, or who all send their kids to the same denominational school do not necessarily make a “community”. People may desire “authority and authenticity” but question whether those things can only be found within denomination-focused institutions. What we do know is that people have more choice than ever, and are making choices based on different characteristics than in the past (see our intern’s blog post http://bit.ly/4nfOGD for one man’s story). This completely changes the market for Jewish education. If we agree that, as Jonathan said above “we’re in the transition period between educational paradigms”, what is needed to embrace the shift, rather than resist it?

  3. Howard Wohl   |  Monday, 18 January 2010 at 9:36 pm

    You have described not only the challenges that Western Jewry faces but the opportunities as well. The very notion of community has changed and along with it the need for a continuing physical instituitonal presence. When the last Temple was destroyed nearly 2,000 years ago, we created a sense of Peoplehood that was able to be transported beyond the geographic limits of Israel. Now, when Jews have returned to Israel in large numbers and the Internet has created new modes of relationships, we need to be responsive to change. We must be able to articulate what it means to be Jewish under these circumstances. Unless and until we do we will find Judaism subsumed by being Israeli or simply a citizen of the world.

  4. bryfy   |  Tuesday, 19 January 2010 at 12:02 pm

    Thank you to an anonymous person who recommended taking a look at: (Rabbi) Jon Stewart’s The Year in Preview.


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