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Shaping the Future
A Jerusalem-based program hopes to assist the next generation of Modern Orthodox educators.

Gail Lichtman
Friday, April 16, 1999

Many consider education, especially Jewish education, a holy task. Those entrusted with it must be able to make informed decisions that will have an impact on future generations.

Ironically, teaching is one of the few professions in which there is virtually no on-line peer support, and few in-service opportunities. After teaching training, it's basically sink or swim for the vast majority of young educators.

In order to enable talented young educators and professionals concerned about Modern Orthodox Jewish education to develop the skills and vision needed for the future, the Academy for Torah Initiatives and Directions (ATID) recently established itself in Jerusalem.

An independent, privately funded institution, ATID (which means future in Hebrew) aims to foster new and significant thought on crucial issues facing Jewish education by working with future leaders in the field - students, young educators and other professionals who will serve as lay leadership.

The president of the ATID Foundation is Rabbi Chaim Brovender, Yeshiva Head of Yeshivat HaMivtar and Dean of Ohr Torah Stone Institutions in Efrat. Brovender, who created a revolution in Modern Orthodox Jewish education some 30 years ago with the founding of Yeshivat HaMivtar and later Midreshet Lindenbaum, is aiming to continue taking groundbreaking steps with ATID.

From November 1998 through March 1999, ATID ran a one semester, in-service pilot project for 16 candidates, all young professionals in their mid to late 20s. Chosen from more than 60 applicants, the 16 included men and women from Israel, the US, Canada and the UK. The participants ran the gamut from Israeli elementary and high-school teachers to school administrators, yeshiva educators and even two Supreme Court law clerks, an investment banker and a physical therapist.

Every Friday for five months, the 16 took part in seminars focusing on the challenges and issues in teaching Bible studies. They also participated in a group project on the major challenges facing Modern Orthodox education. In addition, each participant was hooked up with a senior educator who served as personal mentor. Later this spring, the participants will get together again to present, both orally and in writing, the results of their personal research projects.

The idea for ATID grew out of a research project undertaken by Rabbi Jeffrey Saks in the framework of his two-year stint as a participant in the Jerusalem Fellows Program of the Mandel School for Educational Leadership.

'I was researching the goals and aims for Jewish education in the Modern Orthodox community,' Saks recalls. 'What I found fit in with what I had already seen as a high-school teacher in the US before my aliyah in 1993 and as a member of the faculty of Yeshivat HaMivtar. Teachers need a place where they can come together, share experiences and interact. Young educators are often so overwhelmed with preparing lessons and learning by trial-and-error that they are unable to engage in deep examination of the theory behind their craft. Our goal is to support and guide them - both individually and as a group. ATID focuses on the overall issues - the big picture.'

Brovender had been thinking along the lines of something like ATID and suggested to Saks that they team up to create such a project. 'There are a lot of young teachers who have told me that they have no time to deal with the larger problems, no possibility to reinvestigate theoretical issues. I believe that ATID provides an opportunity for them to concentrate on things of significance, to listen to experts and to write up ideas,' Brovender states.

The idea to include participants from other professions stems from the approach that not only educators will be making the important decisions affecting Jewish education. 'An educational leader is not just someone who is school-based,' Saks explains.

'If education is the lifeblood of the community, it has to be very broadly defined. There are players in different positions who determine what happens. They fill critical roles in educational leadership and are involved in deciding what happens in our schools and communities.'

'The truth is that it is the lay people who will be choosing the principals and teachers,' Brovender adds. 'We have to expose them to the issues. We have to educate lay leaders, too.'

This year's theme - teaching Bible - has generated a number of interesting research projects. One participant, an elementary school teacher, is researching multiple intelligence - the fact that children develop different activity centers for different kinds of learning, such as spatial intelligence or book intelligence. Another participant is focusing on adult education for seniors. Yet another is looking at whether men and women should be taught Bible studies differently.

Dr. Beverly Gribetz, principal of the Evelina de Rothschild Junior High School in Jerusalem, serves as one of the senior educators/faculty mentors. 'I was attracted by the others involved. I have come across a lot of young people, and I liked the opportunity to be able to train the next generation of Jewish educators. This program is raising the level of professional discourse and exposing Orthodox educators to realms of thinking they usually do not come into contact with. One of the nicest results was that the group has had an impact on itself.'

Aliza Segal, a co-founder of Iyun (a Torah study program for women in Beit Shemesh) and a student at Nishmat's program for advanced study, was one of the 16 participants. 'For me there were two attractions to ATID,' she says. 'Firstly, as a teacher, I have very little contact with other teachers to discuss things. And secondly, the topic of the Bible is my field. I felt a direct relevance to the subject. The seminars and lectures were always followed by group discussions or other group interactions. Both have been important for me. They got me thinking. I have formulated my own approach. I hadn't really expected that.' Segal adds, 'The issues that we articulated are the very ones we have to struggle with. I also found that my mentor's ideas resonate with me. It is interesting to see how others from different backgrounds react to teaching Bible. What might have been self-evident to me was the reverse to others and vice versa.'

Jonathan Goldstein, an investment banker specializing in the biomedical field at Jerusalem Global Investments, was one of the non-educators. 'I really got more than I bargained for from ATID,' he notes. 'Not only did I learn about educational issues but I also got engaged to one of the other participants.'

Goldstein has been widely involved in informal Jewish education not only in his native England but also after making aliyah four years ago. 'I am interested in this field, but it is not my career. I realize that lay leaders are also involved in making educational decisions and need to be informed. Today, I am more aware of my desire and wish to give to educators and their needs. I can speak their language more coherently. ATID aims to improve the quality of stakeholders in Jewish education. It targets those people likely to have an effect on Jewish education - be they lay or educational leadership. The potential was quite high. There were so many top quality lecturers. Also, the level of participants very high. I really enjoyed hearing their comments. We had a wonderful group and the cross-fertilization enabled us to give to one another. The fact that we came from such different backgrounds only added to the different views. ATID certainly did define my future.'

The success of this year's pilot project has ATID's organizers planning a program longer than one semester for next year. In addition, they would like to go international, setting up centers in London and in either New York or Los Angeles.

'We would like to develop a full-time fellowship instead of the current in-service program,' Brovender confides, 'but this really depends on our financial resources.'

'You have to constantly build the next generation of leaders. You have to constantly worry about the future. In ATID, this is what we want to do,' Saks concludes.

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