Judaism Your Way



Good Jewish Education is Experiential

Good Jewish Education is Experiential
Amy Kopkin Atkins

Reb Zalman Schacter-Shalomi z’l once said, “Our ancient faiths have become oververbalized and underexperienced. We talk too much and feel too little.”

The Passover seder that many Jews just observed is a way to get back to the essence of our Judaism. We taste, touch, and sing to understand what it felt like to be slaves in Egypt; thereby, inspiring us to fight oppression in our current lives. It’s experiential learning at its best.

Experiential education shows not tells. Participants draw their own conclusions through their experience. They wonder, think critically, dispel myths and put themselves in someone else’s shoes. Experiential education engages all the senses. Participants are physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually connected to themselves, each other and, in our Open Tent Be Mitzvah Classes, our little learning communities.

We use principles of experiential education as we develop curriculum and teach our Open Tent Be Mitzvah classes. We are not merely teaching about Jewish holidays, values and ideas from the front of a room. Students are participants in their own learning as they are asked to examine, digest, and integrate in ways that make sense to them as they are figuring out who they are and how they want to be in the world.

To prepare for Passover, our Be Mitzvah students experience what it would have been like to have been Moses and Miriam guiding the Israelites through a wilderness they had never seen or known before. How were they able to feel what it’s like to lead from a place of not knowing? By guiding their blindfolded peers through an obstacle course. Students have to be thoughtful and change their communication style to fit a new set of circumstances much like Moses and Miriam had to do when guiding their peers through a foreign land. In our Passover unit, students also make matzah and act out the Passover story.

Throughout the year, our students share their brilliance and their discoveries as they draw the middot (Jewish values) that they feel are essential to being a mensch (good person), celebrate 24 hours of Shabbat in 24 minutes, and look at objects through magnification to try to experience rather than name an object as a way of understanding G-d.

How does it feel to be a recently freed slave navigating a strange new world? Maybe you could get some ideas by climbing blindfolded through an obstacle course!

By Amy Kopkin Atkins

Open Tent Be Mitzvah Enrollment & Curriculum Manager & Educator