Informal Jewish Education: The Training of the Educators

Jonathan Goldstein

It is undoubtedly the case that the state of affairs over the past one hundred years has led the vast majority of Jewish thinkers worldwide to appreciate that the greatest concern of the World Jewish Community Survival over the coming decades is in the field of Jewish education.

The establishment of the State of Israel, a new world order, and the global village approach developing over the past 50 years, has significantly swayed the consensus of the Jewish world to appreciate a reprioritization of risks to Jewish survival in the next millenium. Far less is a Jew of the nineties concerned with being hurt by the Gentile from the neighboring village, and far more is his concern that his pain may emanate from the news that his son has chosen this Gentile’s family as future parents-in-law.

The role of Jewish Education within the community’s agenda is certainly rising. While the debate regarding whether it is too little too late or not is oftentimes futile, and is not the purpose of this document, it is certainly noted that the importance of Jewish education in the continued success of the broader Jewish people is an undisputed fact; Jewish organizations are rightfully assigning significant additional resources, both human and financial, to researching and executing large scale projects to institutionalize a greater awareness of Jewishness where there would be a risk of this knowledge being overlooked.

To this goal, many models of Jewish philanthropy are encountered in today’s world. While traditional formal Jewish Education is flourishing in many parts of the world, many other less rigid educational styles and vehicles have developed in recent decades, groups loosely described as examples Informal Jewish Education. Besides formal schooling, educational experiences and knowledge are today acquired by a growing percentage of Jewish youngsters by means of youth groups, movements, summer camps, community centers and suchlike groups.

As these organizations grow in importance over the coming years, and as the numbers of such schemes continues to grow, it becomes increasingly important to ensure their effectiveness in them achieving their goals. In formal education, it is unquestionable that the ability to achieve the goals of an institution may be the responsibility of the Board of Governors or other Executive body, but will be most colored by the aspirations of the educators themselves, be they schoolteachers or lecturers.

It should therefore be the concern of today’s lay leaders and Jewish communal and philanthropic organizations to ensure that Informal Jewish Education groups of the future have a sufficient supply of high standard educators, who can play the roles needed in the growing educational channels of the future.

This paper discussed the issues associated with education of the informal Jewish educators. The structure of the paper is as follows:

  • Listing of different forms of Informal Jewish Education, and a description of the core characteristics of such organizations; introduction of a new term: Semiformal Jewish Education
  • Description of the current state of training informal Jewish educators, and how they are currently educated.
  • Analysis of some difficulties associated with the existing situation of informal Jewish educators training
  • Discussion regarding whether these problems are intrinsic to the nature of Informal Jewish Education, or whether they are solvable
  • Suggestion of possible methods of improving the quality of training of informal Jewish educators
  • Comments as to which increased areas of philanthropy may be helpful to improve the training of informal Jewish educators

The paper is being written from the background of one who has been involved in Informal Jewish Education over a period of fifteen years in various capacities primarily in the UK, but additionally in the US, Israel and other parts of Europe. The purpose of the paper is mainly to open up a subject of great importance, which seems to have little recognition in today’s literature. It intends less to draw conclusions and develop procedures based on the work described here. The paper is an ideal stepping stone for a more complete research piece, which could expand upon some of the suggestions briefly described in the discussion sections.

The research done for this paper has included two main elements:

  • An analytical element, summarizing the activities of the world of Informal Jewish Education, from a more literary/academic perceptive, taking concepts described by others and proscribing them to Informal Jewish Education. This work has included textual research and analysis of existing research in the field of Informal Education, both Jewish and secular.
  • A more creative and discursive section, aiming to centralize all the activities of Informal Jewish Education, in order to ascertain possible solutions to the question at hand: can the training of today's Informal Jewish educator be improved? The main effort for this work has been developed as a synthesis of many interviews and discussions with prominent experts in the world of education.
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