A Message from Our CEO

A Message from Our CEO

Soon I’ll be in my backyard, building my rickety old sukkah, laying palm fronds on its roof, trying not to kill myself with a falling beam, cursing out my clumsiness and the thorns or splinters that come my way. My sukkah-building has been the butt of family jokes for decades. But no one complains as they dine among the decorations on a beautiful autumn evening. I love Sukkot’s earthiness, the glow of Hanukkah’s candles piercing winter’s darkness, and singing until our voices give out at our Passover Seder. Each festival brings unbridled joy, celebrated in the warm company of family, friends, and community. 

Jewish Values in Action: How Youth Professionals Help Teens Thrive

Jewish Values in Action: How Youth Professionals Help Teens Thrive

By Dana Sheanin This summer my daughter was bullied and harassed by her male counterpart on the regional board of a national Jewish youth organization. The organization's professional staff failed to take meaningful action, and I watched my daughter suffer for months before this young man was finally removed from his leadership position.

Opportunities for Teen Educators Abound through the Teen Initiative

Last Friday, 20 youth professionals met at the Jewish Federation of the East Bay for our Youth Mental Health First Aid training. This training filled up within hours of registration opening - proving that there is, indeed a demand for this critically important work.

Reading 'The Plot Against America' across the Bay - J.

Reading 'The Plot Against America' across the Bay - J.

The surprising success of Donald Trump's candidacy in 2016 brought a number of literary works out of the woodwork, but none so much as Philip Roth's "The Plot Against America." Roth's work of counterfactual historical fiction (sometimes known as the "What if?" genre) explores the imagined impact of aviator Charles Lindbergh's defeat of incumbent Franklin ...

High Holy Days Resources

Printable Activity Pages for Kids

Kids fidget. 
Adults fidget.
Everyone has a little trouble focusing sometimes.

Keep little hands/minds engaged with activity pages created for kids of all abilities and appropriate for all types of observance. Use at home, in the car, on an airplane or during services.  Share it. Print it. Pass it on!


Check out whats inside:

High Holy Days Opportunities for Families from Kesher

An Introduction from our CEO

An Introduction from our CEO

This time last year, we’d just concluded a strategic plan in response to an existential crisis: would we survive? And, should we?

As it turned out, our attention shifted to a different question: what matters most?  What work, outcomes, and impact, were calling us?

I reflected on how Jewish learning has affected my life.  It’s helped me to be a better husband, better father, better son, better brother, better friend, better neighbor, better citizen. It informed my life with joy and purpose.  It helped me understand my place in the world and with whom I belong.  It provided tools with which I could discern what success and happiness mean.  It opened my eyes to the many blessings life has provided me.  It deepened my connections with and obligations to my family, community, and the world. It helped me understand what and whose story I am a part of.

In short, Jewish learning helped me understand how to live. 

The report that follows showcases our impact and explores who we are, what we do, who we serve, and who supports our work. Every section, including this one, offers an overview and an opportunity to click to dive in where your interest or curiosity is piqued.

If you find information that intrigues you, or puzzles you, or concerns you – please reach out to me by responding to this email or by phone - 415.529.3204.  We are a learning organization.  Jewish learning involves conversation.

On the Jewish Community Library | Ernest Newbrun, D.M.D., Ph.D.

On the Jewish Community Library | Ernest Newbrun, D.M.D., Ph.D.

Times are changing and people are getting more and more information online, but if you're a novice in a field, you have a hard time knowing what's factual. At the Jewish Community Library, the librarians help guide you. As concerns programming, I'm always amazed by the caliber of speakers which is very impressive. I've never been disappointed and wish I had more time to spend there. Click image for the full story…

Major new teen initiative launches in Bay Area

Major new teen initiative launches in Bay Area - J.

In the early 1990s, Debra Sagan Massey was a young adult working as a youth director at Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills, and Mike Friedman was one of her teen charges. Today, 25 years later, Massey and Friedman are all grown up, and working together again - fittingly, with teens.

11 stellar Israeli novels that cry out to be read

11 stellar Israeli novels that cry out to be read - J.

As we mark Israel's 70th anniversary, I remain awed that a small country with a reconstructed language should produce a literature that is so rich. Below is a sampling of 11 varied titles that give a taste of Israeli literature at its best. 1. "Only Yesterday," S.Y.

‘Yiddish not spoken here’ — but my dad had a different idea

'Yiddish not spoken here' - but my dad had a different idea - J.

I grew up in Israel in a domestic war zone - a "language war" that raged between my parents. The fight was between Hebrew and Yiddish. Ours was not the only household where this war was fought. It was a struggle between the new Israel and the old diaspora, but it was very personal and quite emotional.

Meet JLW: Rachel Dorsey, Director of Marketing

Rachel Dorsey Headshot.jpg


What is your name, title and role at Jewish LearningWorks.  How long have you worked here?
I’m Rachel Dorsey, Director of Marketing.  I’ve worked with Jewish LearningWorks since 2013  - right when we changed from BJE to JLW.  I was originally hired as a consultant and have held several pieces of work in various configurations since then.

Where do you live and what do you like about your neighborhood/community
My family and I recently moved from Oakland to the North Bay. We’re still figuring out how our family fits in here… I’ll tell you what I miss about Oakland - every single day I would run into a friend on the street.  I stopped in my old neighborhood for 30 minutes last week on my way through and ran into a friend.  It doesn’t happen in our neighborhood yet, but I’m sure it will soon. 


Tell us a little bit about your journey - what did you do before you joined our team?
I started my career in wine marketing, focusing on “new media” content production back when Youtube, Facebook and Twitter were brand new. After a life-changing Birthright trip, I reconnected with my roots, moving into the Jewish non profit world as director of Birthright Israel NEXT in the Bay Area.  When the national organization shifted their operating model, I was offered a job directing marketing for a local bank.  I simultaneously received offers to consult.  As my consulting portfolio grew, I left the bank and hung a shingle as a business growth consultant.  Jewish LearningWorks was my first BIG client.  My relationship with JLW has grown and deepened since then.

What excites you about your work
My colleagues are brilliant.  They are creative, they are engaging and they care so deeply about our purpose: to empower educators and parents to flourish as learners and as Jews.  I love crafting a compelling message that helps our constituents imagine the impact they can have on the kids in their lives as a result of participating.  I’m especially excited for our newest initiative, Voices for Good. Created by women, for women, Voices offers two tracks.  One for emerging and one for established leaders.  I would have really benefited from the Fellowship earlier in my career and I've already benefited from the very first East Bay Salon.  I'm looking forward to the next one.

Describe a time that you really felt like you/your work made a difference
I feel incredibly lucky to sit at the intersection of everything that goes on in this busy place. I feel like I’m making a difference every day.

 Our CEO with Rachel's Son, Levi

Our CEO with Rachel's Son, Levi

Describe a time that felt really challenging for you.
Since joining the team, I’ve become a mom and then became a mom of two.  Being a working parent is no joke.  Figuring out how to juggle it all and be present for it all… it’s a challenge. But in this job and in this place I’ve never had to choose who I’m going to be.  I get to bring all of me to the table.  Each facet is considered an asset, and my colleagues love my kids. That’s incredibly empowering.

Describe a time when you felt triumphant.
When we emerged from our strategic plan, our work was significantly streamlined.  We were concerned that the community might not understand our direction and might not support the choices we made.  I had the opportunity to work closely with our senior leadership to craft our communications around the transitions and when the positive kuddos rolled in…. triumph.

Tell us something that might surprise us.
In addition to my work with Jewish LearningWorks, I operate a successful business.  While I still consult for businesses and coach entrepreneurial woman, my main business (outside of JLW) is a full service film production company.  I’ve had the great fortune to produce and direct projects for Facebook, Mixbook and Whole Foods, among others.

What are you reading (and what would you like to share about it?)
It's incredibly challenging to find time to read, so I've been listening to a lot of podcasts lately to maximize my drive time. BUT - my mom recommended Anita Diamant’s The Boston Girl and once I picked it up, I couldn’t put it down.  

 Officiating a wedding and being referred to as Rabbi Rachel for the rest of the night... 

Officiating a wedding and being referred to as Rabbi Rachel for the rest of the night... 

What do you want to be remembered for?
I want to be remembered for my can-do attitude and my head-down work ethic.
But more than that, I want to be remembered for chesed (loving kindness).

And the time people thought I was a Rabbi.  That was pretty great.

INCLUDE Day of Learning | A Window into the Work

Recently, 50 educators gathered from all over the Bay Area for our annual INCLUDE Day of Learning, a day focused on the inclusion of people with special needs in Early Childhood and K-8 Jewish educational programs.  

The experience affords an opportunity to reflect on our methodologies – not WHAT we teach, but HOW we aim to impact Jewish learning.

 Meredith Englander Polsky engages with attendees

Meredith Englander Polsky engages with attendees

In our work, we often face a dilemma.  

Teachers most often seek practical help – tools, techniques, resources – specific tools that they can use to improve their practice.  In the world of leadership development, one might call these “technical solutions.”

 Eve Margol addresses differentiated learning

Eve Margol addresses differentiated learning

However, we are not satisfied by technical solutions, because technical solutions are a band-aid. Instead, we seek to address these technical challenges by pursuing, promoting and training toward higher-level thinking to effect deeper changes – in day-to-day practice AND in the way we think.  

 Dr. David Neufeld takes questions

Dr. David Neufeld takes questions

Addressing these higher-level challenges might be called “adaptive thinking" and have a better chance of resulting in "adaptive solutions.”  One method by which we help influence these adaptive approaches is to provide “educational thought leadership” - helping educators think differently about important aspects of their practice.

But we don't stop there.  We pour tremendous energy into deepening our efforts to expand beyond thought leadership.  We work to equip educators with knowledge, skills and tools that they are prepared to use in their classrooms.

Yesterday, we brought Meredith Englander Polsky, Covenant Educator Award winner and founder of a sister inclusion organization, Matan, and her colleague, Eve Margol, founder of Linked Education Resources from New York to our community to partner with our own Dr. David Neufeld.  Together, the three thought leaders engaged with 50 educators representing a huge cross section of our community on this very subject. 

I'm thrilled to report that participant reactions indicate shifts in deeper thinking, one educator reported "really understanding that every child is made in the image of G-d and remembering and honoring that even in the hardest moments." And, every single educator was able to report concrete actions they plan to bring to their classrooms.  

Other evaluations similarly referred to both modes of learning – “Eve’s workshop…was a dream because it contained a lot of concrete tools and strategies…” and “I loved David’s workshop on integrating sensory  tools…eye-opening and really helpful,” and “I loved how you addressed the emotions and concerns that we educators have about ourselves…”  Though these comments were cherry-picked, the evaluations were uniformly and enthusiastically positive.

If you would like to know more about what was covered during the Day of Learning or if you are interested in supporting this important work in some way, please be in touch with David Neufeld - dneufeld@jewishlearningworks.org

Meet JLW: Vavi Toran, Israel Education and Arts Specialist

Vavi Toran headshot.jpg

What is your name, title and role at Jewish LearningWorks.  How long have you worked here?
My name is Vavi Toran, I am the Israel Education Specialist and I’ve worked here for fifteen years, not continuously.

Where do you live and what do you like about your neighborhood/community?
I live in San Francisco, in the now trendy NOPA neighborhood. I loved the neighborhood when I moved in with my family close to thirty years ago for its diversity and urban grunge, and I love it now because it’s cool, young and buzzing with activity, great cafes and restaurants.

Tell us a little bit about your journey - what did you do before you joined our team?
I was raised in Israel in a bohemian artistic family and I was always involved with arts & culture or with education or with both. My life and work journey was inspired by these two passions. I dabbled in graphic design, furniture design, ketubah calligraphy and paper cut, teaching, and finally found my niche combining my love for art and my love for Israel as an educator. At Jewish LearningWorks I found a home that allows me to pursue both as an integral part of our philosophy of what constitutes high quality, multi faceted, experiential Israel Education.

What excites you about your work?
I’m excited when I hear and see how educators and students are impacted by the work we do. I also get excited when, in the course of my planning for a new workshop or creating a new resource, I discover things that I didn’t know about or make connections that I didn’t make before.

Describe a time that you really felt like you/your work made a difference.
It happened last week. I was invited to dinner with three local educators and two who are visiting from Israel. It suddenly dawned on me that I had, in one way or another, an impact on them, their school and their students. The two Israelis are teachers from the Democratic School at Eynot Yarden in the upper Galilee. Twelve years ago the Israel Education Initiative, whose founding director I was, initiated a school-twinning program that matched schools from Israel and the Bay Area. This collaboration is still ongoing for this school and several other local schools. Another teacher sitting at the table was using Apartment for Rent in her classroom this week - a program we started as Classic Israeli Tales, with a Puppet Show set created by Peter Olson. And the last connection was a Head of Judaic Studies, whose Jewish Day School is one of the pilots for On the Map program, which I created two years ago. I had a wide smile on my face while eating delicious Chinese food.

All of this and much more was accomplished in partnership with my beloved former colleague and brilliant Israel educator,  Ilan Vitemberg.

Describe a time that felt really challenging for you.
Israel education is challenging by definition. I welcome this ongoing challenge as it keeps me on my toes and pushes me to find different ways to present it and teach it.

Can you share something you are particularly proud of?
I just found out that I am being honored for my contribution to Israel Education at the upcoming  Yom Ha’atzmaut Community Celebration at Congregation Emanu-El, as one of seven torch lighters. I am humbled and excited that my work is being appreciated by our community.

Tell us something that might surprise us.
My real first name, as it appear on my passport, is Avishag. It’s a biblical name. Avishag was a young woman from Shunem, distinguished for her beauty. She was chosen to help King David in his old age. One of her duties was to keep the King warm in his bed. Well, it was cold in Jerusalem in the palace with no central heating! I usually refer to my namesake as the biblical version of the electric blanket.

What are you reading (and what would you like to share about it?)
Nili Mirsky, brilliantly translated the book I am reading, Fierce and Beautiful World by Andrei Platonov, from Russian to Hebrew. Laureate of the Israel Prize for Literature, Mirsky recently passed away in Israel. I am reading the book to honor her memory.

What do you want to be remembered for?
Since I don’t take myself too seriously... for my joie-de-vivre and for my great taste in shoes.






Who is wise? Who is mighty?

by David Waksberg

My father’s father grew up in a small city in western Poland. Inspired by Theodor Herzl, he was frustrated by his yeshiva’s unwillingness to embrace Zionism and its inability to address his deepest concerns. Expelled for reading Spinoza (hidden under his Talmud tractate), he joined the Zionists and never looked back.

My mother’s father grew up on a remote farm near the Polish-Ukrainian frontier.  Which side of the border depended on the year. Far from Jewish population centers, his early Jewish education relied upon a “circuit rabbi,” who made the rounds, visiting his farm once or twice a week.

Later in life, he shared some of the wisdom he’d gleaned from that circuit rabbi, so many decades earlier. It was my grandfather who introduced me to teachings of Ben Zoma from Pirke Avot: “Who is wise? One who learns from everyone. Who is mighty? One who subdues one’s urges. Who is rich? One who rejoices in one’s portion.  Who is honored? One who honors one’s fellows.”

More than a century after he visited my grandfather’s farm, that circuit rabbi’s teaching endures - passed down, from his student to his student’s grandchildren.

How and why did the circuit rabbi make such an impact on my grandfather?

That rabbi forged what social scientists call a “trusting relationship.” He lovingly shared nuggets of Torah along with pieces of his soul. He inspired my grandfather to be a person whose life was informed and guided by Jewish wisdom.

Researchers have found that “trusting relationships” (between teacher and student and among teachers and other educational stakeholders) are a core factor in effective learning. As Parker Palmer has written: “...you can throw the best methods, the latest equipment, and a lot of money at people who do not trust each other and still get miserable results... [while] people who trust each other and work well together can do exceptional work…”

We live in an age of massive scalability. Our @Home holiday guides are published online and thousands of families with young children download them, here in Northern California and all over the world. Our reach is tremendous, and the benefits and blessings of technology are to be used and appreciated. And yet, if we forget the importance and value of building trusting relationships, our reach will be vast but shallow.

Thus, we pursue a “high tech/high touch” strategy. The Internet helps us connect, helps overcome distance, traffic, and much of the “friction” of post-industrial life.  But woe to us if we become distracted or dazzled by the lure of its scalability and neglect the critical importance of relationships. Otherwise, our frantic efforts to increase numbers could be reduced to a “turnstile” approach to education, privileging volume over substance. But when we reflect upon our most memorable and enduring learning experiences - they tend to involve relationships and deep engagement.

Our Kesher concierges could interact with more parents of young children – once.  But we (and the parents we serve) see more value in deeper, truly meaningful connections.

Similarly, in our work with educators, we are digging deeper, with coaching, mentorships, fellowships, and other relationship-based professional learning programs.  

These interactions provide concrete knowledge, skills, and tools for educators to up their game. AND – we believe that professional development is most effective when it travels on the tracks of deep and trusting relationships.

This approach takes time, energy, focus and resources. Research, history and our experience has shown that it is the ONLY approach to education that is worthwhile, because it’s the only approach that works.

Learning is relational – this is among the educational principles that guide us, emerging from last year’s strategic plan. In the months to come, I will share with you some concrete examples of how we put this and other principles into practice.

Around the time that circuit rabbi visited my grandfather, the Jewish Educational Society (now Jewish LearningWorks) was founded. With your support, we continue to build on that tradition, advancing Jewish learning that enriches lives.

Thank you for taking the time to dig deeper into our work. I would love to hear from you if you have thoughts or questions about our educational approach. As always, if you are interested in connecting (or connecting more deeply) with our family learning efforts, our professional learning programs or our Jewish Community Library - please be in touch.