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Ira J. Wise, R.J.E.
Director of Education

iwise@congregationbnaiisrael.org

ira
From The
Education Center
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B'nai Israel
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Ira Wise has been Director of Education since 1995. Ira has served on the faculty of Eisner Camp, part of the Reform Movement's Northeast Camp Institute in Great Barrington, MA for sixteen seasons. In addition, Ira teaches at Merkaz, the Community High School for Jewish Studies, and leads workshops and seminars for teachers and educator around country. He serves as a member of the Task Force for Access to Lifelong Jewish Learning, part of the URJ Joint Commission for Lifelong Learning. He is also the Immediate Past President of the School Volunteer Association in the Bridgeport Public Schools.

Ira serves as a mentor for educators enrolled in the Leadership Institute for Congregational School Principals, The Leadership Institute is guided by the vision of the New York School of Education at Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) and the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) and is fully funded by the UJA-Federation of New York. This historic opportunity enables HUC-JIR and JTS to join together to further the leadership capacity, pedagogic skills and Judaic knowledge of congregational school principals.

Ira was a Jim Joseph Foundation Fellow of the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora from 2009-11. The Lookstein Center is part of Bar Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. His fellowship led him to develop and lead an online collaborative community with other Reform educators. The purpose of the Fellowship is to provide leading edge professional development to outstanding Jewish educators from formal (e.g. supplementary, congregational, and day schools) and informal Jewish education settings (e.g. camps, youth groups, community centers). They are working together to advance new ways of learning and working together to bring about qualitative changes in the way Jewish educators work with others as they learn.

Ira has authored several Jewish Educational texts and articles. Most recently, he contributed a chapter in Text Messages: A Torah Commentary for Teens, edited by Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin. His titles include: Betman's Book of Hebrew Letters - a Hebrew pre-primer; I Can Learn Torah - a multi-volume translation and read-aloud bed-time Bible for younger children; and Building Jewish Life Shabbat Activity Book - a workbook for first graders. He has contributed to The Madrikhim Handbook - a text for high school students working in Religious School classrooms written by Rabbi Sam Joseph; The Jewish Educational Leader's Handbook - a guide for Directors of Education edited by Robert Tornberg; and Choose Life That You May Live - a Jewish Response to AIDS under the auspices of the Michigan Jewish AIDS Coalition.

He received his B.A. in Public Administration from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He earned his Master of Arts in Jewish Education from the Rhea Hirsch School of Education of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles in 1991. In 1994, the title R.J.E. (Reform Jewish Educator) was conferred upon Ira by the Reform Movement. This professional designation reserved for those who have distinguished themselves through study and service to Reform Jewish Education.

He lives in Fairfield, CT with his wife and two children.


Nisan/Iyar 5774
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From The
Education Center

April 2014

Teach for the Jewish People


In 1961, President John F. Kennedy said, “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” That led to many initiatives, including the Peace Corps. Teach for America could be seen as the grandchild of that thought from 53 years ago.

Teach for America (www.teachforamerica.org) is a pretty interesting organization. They “recruit a diverse group of leaders with a record of achievement who work to expand educational opportunity, starting by teaching for two years in a low-income community… [and] provide intensive training, support, and career development that helps these leaders increase their impact and deepen their understanding of what it takes to eliminate educational inequity.” The idea is that they are calling upon all of us to take responsibility for making sure all children have a chance to learn. The goals are noble.

I want to invite you—again—to consider something similar. I want you think about teaching for the Jewish people. And you don’t have to travel far to do it, like in the Peace Corps.

A lot has been written about the fate of synagogues and religious schools. Since the Pew report came out earlier this year, the blogosphere has been on fire about the tenuous future of the Jewish people. Here’s what I think I know:

• Synagogues and schools will change to meet the needs of their communities. They always have, they always will. • There is not, and has never been, one best way to transmit Jewish knowledge, commitment, and connection to the next generation. Every one of our kids is different from one another, and we cannot manufacture Jewish adults as if they are widgets on an assembly line. We need to reach each one where he or she is. • Jewish early childhood education is superb. Jewish day schools offer a lot. Jewish summer camps are awesome. Group trips to Israel are unbelievable. Adult Jewish learning is critical. And religious school is still the place where 90% of all American Jewish children get most of their formal learning. And when we do it right, it is fabulous. • At the end of the day, real learning involves motivated learners, an engaging teacher, and words of Torah. Technology is a wonderful tool for making that happen, but it is not a replacement.

Our school is changing. Over the past two decades we have made serious commitments to inclusion, experiential learning, and an integrated (Hebrew and Jewish Studies) curriculum, and we are beginning to take on technology as an important point of contact with learners. Our school is a community. And it is part of the community of our congregation. Currently 95% of our Religious School teachers are members of B’nai Israel. I am proud of this because it adds a lot of value when our students see their teachers at services or temple functions. And I cannot measure the value of hearing one student say to another (as I have more than twice!), “Evan it is so cool that your dad is my teacher!”

We welcome professionally trained teachers. But I am also looking for adults in our congregation who are passionate about being Jewish and passing that passion on. I am looking for members who like kids and are able to listen to as well as to speak with them. We can help you develop teaching skills. We can help you learn the content. We are looking for folks who have Hebrew skills as well as those who don’t. And we are looking for occasional substitutes as well as teachers willing to commit for a whole year.

Ask not what your synagogue and the Jewish people can do for you—hopefully you know that already—ask what you can do for the Jewish people and your synagogue. Teach for the Jewish people.

L’shalom,

Ira J. Wise, R.J.E.
Director of Education

Why Hebrew? Why Not?

  • yankeesHebrew is the language of the Jewish people.
  • Hebrew is the language of the Torah and prayer.
  • Hebrew is a “learned Jew” thing to know.
  • Hebrew connects us to Jews all over the world.
  • Who needs Hebrew? Nearly every Israeli speaks English and the prayer book is transliterated.
  • Reform Judaism introduced using the local language in our service. That is good enough for me.

Do one or more of those answers resonate with you? Obviously I hope the first four do more than the last two. When I first came to B’nai Israel in 1995, one of the first tasks was to review the curriculum. It was suggested that my credentials and experience made me uniquely suited to the task. But I said that while I could absolutely craft what I thought the ideal curriculum would be, it wasn’t the right thing to do. What we taught needed to reflect who we were as a congregation.

Our school and I are not proxies for the parents in our congregation. We are tools that help parents and the whole congregation with the task of raising young men and women who are functionally literate adult Jews, ready to take their place in leading the Jewish people forward and to rear the generation that will follow them. It needed more than one newcomer’s input.

So instead the Religious School Committee, the faculty, and I engaged in a 2½-year process of curriculum review. In 1999 we published the learning goals for our school. (You can download it at http://bit.ly/ rscurr.) There are no longer any children in our school from that time. And B’nai Israel has changed: a new building, new learning resources, new members, and new developments in the Jewish and general world. It is time to take another look at what we teach to make sure it reflects who we are and who we want our children to be. We are beginning with Hebrew and worship. We want to invite you to be a part of the process. So I am asking you to send me an e-mail (iwise@congregationbnaiisrael.org) and tell us one or two things.

First, I would like to know what you think about Hebrew. What should we be teaching? (Prayer? Conversation? Grammar? Idiom? Torah chanting? Cursive?) What do you think every Jewish child should know, feel, or experience when it comes to Hebrew and prayer? Does Israel play a role in this area of learning, and what do you think that role is? Second, I would like you to tell us if you are willing to join our ad hoc curriculum task force.

You may join us for the entire process, or just for the areas that concern you most. We will meet every 4–6 weeks based on participants’ availability.

The Religious School Committee and I cannot do this alone—please share your input with us!

L’shalom,

Ira J. Wise, R.J.E.
Director of Education

 

 

Iyar/Tammuz/Elul 5769
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From The Education Center
Summer 2009

Breathing the Air of Israel at B'nai Israel

In June I wrote about upping our IQ (Israel Quotient) at B’nai Israel. A task force is in formation to take on this project, and it is being led by Jill and Steve Elbaum. A task force is different from a committee because it has a specific job and a limited time to do it. Members of the task force will be from as many different areas of temple life as possible so that they can offer different ways for us to engage in this exploration form our own unique perspectives. Its purpose is to quickly establish goals, identify constituencies and develop opportunities to enable each of us to deepen our relationship with Israel, each other and the congregation. Over the next three years the task force will help us all explore our connections to Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel), Medinat Yisrael (the state of Israel) and Am Yisrael (the people of Israel).

Our goal is to reach parents of Nursery School AND Religious School Students, teenagers (both in BIFTY and not), Adult learners, regular Shabbat worshippers, adult learners, Jewish Journeyers, Rosh Chodesh celebrators, the Men and Women of Reform Judaism (Brotherhood and Sisterhood), religious school students and members who come only occasionally. We are hoping to reach YOU and invite you to actively explore and hopefully deepen your connections to Israel. If you have thoughts or ideas, please call me or send an e-mail to iwise@congregationbnaiisrael.org.

I am delighted to inform you that we have received a $16,000 grant from the Legacy Heritage Foundation (see page 10 for more on this) which will help us to do this work. The grant will enable us to send some of our teachers to learn how to bring Israel to America from master teachers and members of the Reform movement in Israel. It will also fund some of those master teachers to come to B’nai Israel to teach our teachers, meet with our task force and teach in our Adult Jewish Learning program.

Ahad Ha’am was one of the seminal Zionist thinkers of the late 19th century. He said that we needed to create a Jewish state to serve as a focal point for the Jewish people all over the world, as a center of Jewish culture. I believe that Israel is just waiting for us to connect and make that dream come alive. I believe we can live more Jewishly fulfilling lives in Connecticut by making that connection. I hope you are as excited about this work as I am, and if you are not, I am certain we can help you find the motivation. Please join us!

L’shalom,

Ira J. Wise, R.J.E.
Director of Education

 

 

 

A Funny Thing Happened While Checking Out Facebook...

Much to my oldest son’s horror, I signed up for Facebook a little over a year ago. It started out because as an educator and parent, I felt it was important that I understand how this new medium my son was exploring worked. I had done the same with MySpace a few years ago. I found several of my colleagues and contemporaries and “friended” them. (That means I sent them a message and they added me to their list of friends. No one can see your information unless you permit them to be your Facebook friend.)

The something wonderful happened. Ever since that first day, I find or am found by friends I have not seen or heard from in years—sometimes decades. People from college, high school, even elementary school! Then I heard form Uri Lessing. Uri had been a camper in my cabin when I was a counselor at Olin Sang Ruby, the Reform Jewish camp in Wisconsin. He posted a picture of our entire unit from 1981.

That’s me, at the back, in the middle, with Robin Barbara (now Salzberg) on my shoulders. Robin was our Unit Head and now lives on Long Island. Since then, I have been in touch with over twenty people in that photo—former counselors, campers and faculty members. Some of them I never lost touch with, for others it was an online reunion. For all, it was like we just left Oconomowoc, Wisconsin a few weeks ago.

I have no financial interest in Facebook. I have a very large professional and communal interest in our children going to our Reform Jewish camps in the Northeast: Eisner and Crane Lake. My son Ethan won’t let me see how many camp friends he has on Facebook. (I am not permitted to “friend” him—that is “Facebook creepy.”) I know there a lot of them, and they are mostly linked to one another.

And that is the point. Our camps create and cement links between our kids and Jewish children from all over. Many of those links will last a lifetime. I urge you to send your kids to Eisner or Crane Lake this summer. There will be several opportunities to discuss it this winter with me and with the staff and campers. Please visit our camp page on the temple web site (http://www.congregationbnaiisrael.org/camping.html) to learn more and to find links to Eisner and Crane Lake.  Please call me at 336-1858 or e-mail me at iwise@congregationbnaiisrael.org.

Camp will build your children’s Jewish identity even higher. It will be lots of fun, with all of the sports, swimming, drama, arts and music you expect from a top quality summer camp. It will help them develop independence and a sense of community. And it will help them find lots of friends. Not just Facebook friends, but the real kind that endures and enriches their lives.

L’shalom,

Ira J. Wise, R.J.E.
Director of Education

 

 

 

Be a Jewish Hero—Teach in our Religious School! 

Let’s talk about stepping up and being a teacher or substitute in our religious school. By now you know ours is not the kind of school some of us grew up hating. We need you to be part of the team making Jewish learning meaningful and enjoyable for our children.

You do not need to have training as a teacher or be a Jewish scholar. You do have to care deeply about transmitting Judaism to the next generation and enjoy spending time with children.

Gan – Kitah Gimel (K – 3) meets on 27 Sundays from 9:30 am to noon. Kitot Daled – Vav (4 – 6) meet 57 Tuesday and Thursday afternoons from 4:30 to 6:00 p.m. Kitot Zayin and Chet (7 & 8) meet on Monday evenings from 7:00 to 8:30 pm. Fluency in Hebrew is only needed in some classes.

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YOUNG ADULT ALERT: Is your college graduate coming home for a while? I would love to talk them about joining our faculty! Over the past few years we have been blessed with alumni of our school and our Madrikhim program returning as teachers. Please let me know if they are Fairfield County bound.

Let’s go one step further…if you know someone who you suspect might become a good teacher, please let me know. You don’t have to tell them, and if you want, I will keep my source completely anonymous!

Call me at 336-1858 or e-mail iwise@congregationbnaiisrael.org.

L’shalom,

Ira J. Wise, R.J.E.,
Director of Education

 

The Life Cycle of a Camp Family

It often begins with a discussion and a decision. “Do you think we are ready for our son/daughter to go to sleepaway camp? Can we handle it emotionally? (We probably say it as: “Is he/she ready?” but we are pretty sure we are the one’s who are worried, not them.) Once we get to the acceptance stage we need to choose a camp.

Here in the Education Center, we promote Eisner and Crane Lake, two wonderful camps sponsored by the Union for Reform Judaism, of which our temple is a member. They have all of the usual stuff—sports, drama, arts and crafts, swimming, boating, hiking, nature, adventure ropes courses, 50’ foot climbing tower and 65’ climbing wall, etc. Both are close to our community – a 90 minute drive for Eisner and another 20 minutes for Crane Lake in the heart of the Berkshires. Go to http://necamps.urjcamps.org/ to get the details on each camp.

Unlike other camps, however, our Northeast camps provide an experience of living Judaism. We don’t beat the kids over the head with it. Instead, Jewish values and ideas suffuse every part of the day. I spend two weeks at Eisner along with many other educators, rabbis and cantors. Our role is to serve as teachers and role models.

This summer our younger son will be an overnight camper for the first time. Currently in Kitah Bet (2nd grade), he has been waiting for this for five years, since his brother started.

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He (and we) can’t wait. A sibling going to camp is the next stage of the camp family life cycle, which for us will include two weeks at home with no children.

As for the next stage, it is the driving stage. Since the end of last summer, we have been driving our older son to Long Island, New Jersey and Albany to help his camp friends celebrate becoming Bar or Bat Mitzvah. I think Boston is on the schedule as well. Last month, a dozen of his camp friends came to us for Ethan’s Bar Mitzvah celebration. We had 18 kids sleeping all over the house that Saturday night!

I invite you to make our camps a part of your family’s life cycle. We have forms and videos in the office and will be happy to speak with you about camp. We can connect you with the parents of one of the thirty kids from our congregation who attended camp last summer to hear their thoughts about camp.

Oh, and down the road is an exciting phase of the camp family life cycle. My sister met her husband at camp, as did hundreds of other couples I could mention. You never know…

L’shalom,

Ira J. Wise, R.J.E.
Director of Education


The phone bills are getting bigger. Audrey and I could not be happier.

Some of our Crane Lake Campers front, l. to r.: Alison Kirsch, Sarah Harris, Matthew Kalmans, Sam Glass, rear: Scott Harris, Michael Chetrit, Alex Rich, Sharon Harris

For the past four summers, our oldest son Ethan has been an overnight camper at Eisner, one of our movement's two Northeast Camps. This fall, he and his friends from camp have been talking on the phone-a lot! And it is fantastic. The relationships he has been forming over the summer are becoming a part of his year-round life. They are all planning to spend their summer together. So why are we so thrilled?

As I write this I am getting ready to go to the biennial convention for the Union of American Hebrew Congregations-our Reform Movement. It will be an exciting few days of learning and networking with other synagogue Jewish professionals and lay leaders. It is always a great opportunity to expand horizons and see what others have tried.

It is also a chance for me to catch up with the kids with whom I spent hours on the phone during the dark months between UAHC summer camp sessions. I will see people I shared a tent or cabin with in the 70's. I will have coffee with a friend who now lives in Israel. We were counselors together in the early 80's. And I will learn with rabbis and professors who were my friends, counselors and fellow faculty over the years.

These are relationships that never end. Eisner and Crane Lake Camps are the best way I know to reinforce all of the things we try to teach our children at home and at B'nai Israel: Jewish values and identity; getting along in a group; making everyone feel a part of the community, just to name a few. I believe that after feeding them and lighting Shabbat candles at home, sending your child to a Jewish summer camp is the best thing a parent can do for them.

I invite you to stop in, call (336-1858) or e-mail me and let's talk about Eisner and Crane Lake. I have a video you can take home. We can connect you and your child with other B'nai Israel families who have sent their kids to our camps as well. Space is filling up quickly, so I urge you not to wait. Both the temple and the camps have scholarship funds available to help make it more affordable. That too will not last long. I look forward to seeing your child in a photo like these!

L'shalom,

Ira J. Wise, R.J.E.
Director of Education

Click here for the Northeast Camp Institute Website!


IT USUALLY HAPPENS ON A THURSDAY @ 5:35 p.m.

That's when a parent comes running into the office - sometimes frantic, sometimes annoyed - looking for their child. They HAD sent a note to the teacher explaining why their son or daughter had to leave early, so why wasn't little Joey or Joanne waiting on the curb? Is everything all right? That's when I explain that we do not send kids out to the curb at the appointed early time. Ever. There are a few reasons for this - and all of them are for the benefit of the children.

  1. We have very little time in the classroom. We do understand that early dismissal is sometimes a fact of life for some of them. And while we know that parents try to stick to their schedule, traffic and other delays happen. So we do not send kids out of class until their parent comes to the office to get them so they don't waste time standing around.

  2. We are also very concerned about safety. For much of the school year, dusk and darkness fall during class time. Although our parking lot guard Leroy is fantastic, he cannot be everywhere at once, and he is not responsible for supervising children. So we keep them in class until Mom or Dad arrives to keep them safe.

  3. Finally, we need to know that when you intend to pick up your child early, they actually get into a car with YOU. When the students are waiting on the curb for you, we have no way of knowing that they left with you.

While this policy is in the Family Handbook you received in August, one of the parents who came in early suggested that we amplify our reasons. We ask for your understanding and cooperation.

 

Ira J. Wise, R.J.E.

The Book Fair is Back!!!
October 11 – 26, 2009

During Nursery and Religious School Hours
(or just stop in the Education Center for help!)

We have books for children of all ages and for adults!
Fiction, Non-Fiction, many subjects and themes!

(Including the American Girl books with Rebecca Rubin!)

On a per-minute basis, books provide a better entertainment value than television, movies or sacsporting events, and there are no commercials. If you need to get a drink, put the book down and come back when you want, you miss nothing. It’s like Tivo or DVR, and there is no remote to lose! And everyone in the family can read a different book – no arguing over what to watch.

Your purchase will support the Religious School Enrichment Fund, which provides professional development for our teachers, equipment for our school and some scholarship assistance for our neediest students.

 


 
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