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.

Strategic Direction | Details, Background and Frequently Asked Questions

Jewish LearningWorks | Strategic Direction
Details, Background and Frequently Asked Questions

Recognizing that Jewish life and community are profoundly changing, Jewish LearningWorks underwent an inclusive strategic planning process in 2017– to reassess our purpose, strategies, as well as our operating and revenue model in light of those changes. We met with a cross section of stakeholders across our community, engaged in deep discussions with our staff and convened a task force to speak on behalf of groups they represent.

Strategic Direction

What communal educational needs did this process identify?

Educational leaders seek enhanced support for teachers and help in teaching Jewish values during confusing and challenging times. Parents are asking for continued and expanded parent/family learning opportunities. Book-lovers want continuing library programs and services.

What were articulated as Jewish LearningWorks’ strengths?

Educators from community schools and synagogues told us they highly value the professional development that Jewish LearningWorks has provided. They  also appreciate our ability to respond rapidly and effectively to help educators deal with crises.

Parents and family educators value our Holiday@Home handbooks and the Kesher concierge program. Library patrons appreciate literature-based educational and family outreach programs along with the library’s circulation and reference services.

Overall, our stakeholders urged us to continue investing in the next generation by empowering educators and parents and supporting Northern California’s only Jewish Community Library.  

How will the work change?

While we will continue to support educators and families, the way we support them has changed  in a few important ways.

Our Professional Learning Team offers a robust menu of fellowships, seminars, workshops, mentorships, curricula, and educational resources to empower teachers and educational leaders to more effectively serve their students.  In response to our learnings from the first annual Bay Area Teacher/Educator Survey, we are reaching educators through high-touch concierge style outreach methods, creating specialized tracks and learning plans to fit needs and availability. In everything we do, our aim is to empower educators with knowledge, skills, and tools to help their students flourish as human beings and as Jews.

Our Family Learning Team continues to build out our suite of printable @Home Guides for parents and operates our Kesher Concierge programs in the South Peninsula and in Marin County. In addition to making connections among families and offering a monthly e-roundup of everything Jewish for families, Kesher will be convening holiday and Shabbat programs to empower parents to learn by doing. Our Family Education work will focus on empowering parents to create and sustain Jewish life and learning that enriches their families.

Our Jewish Community Library continues to serve Jewish book-lovers and Jewish-Book lovers through the largest Jewish lending library in Northern California and our two curated satellite pushcarts.  Thousands of books, CD’s, movies and periodicals are plucked from the shelves by learners of all ages and we produce hundreds of well-attended public programs each year.  We continue to receive rave reviews for our events which include lectures, book groups, film classes, family story time and much more.

We advance Jewish learning that enables students to deepen their impact on their families, their communities, and the world. We measure our work by the degree to which we succeed in helping teachers and parents create learning experiences that enrich the lives of students and their families.  


Other Big Changes

How will you keep this work accessible?
With gratitude to our community of foundations, philanthropies and donors, we are able to keep our programs affordable for educators working in an increasingly expensive community. Most of our programs are highly subsidised and some of our programs are offered completely free of charge.

We have also moved our main headquarters from the Richmond District, to 44 Page Street - a smaller location more accessible to public transportation.

We have leased the buildings we own to Stratford School – a highly regarded private Preschool-12 institute.Stratford has committed to investing several million dollars into our property which will increase its value well into the future, enabling Jewish LearningWorks to further sustain and grow valuable educational services for our community.

Is Jewish LearningWorks financially independent and no longer in need of  donor support?

We continue to rely on donor support, for which we remain extremely grateful.  The revenue from the lease will replace the operating support we had received from the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation, but the majority of our funding continues to come from individual donors who care about Jewish education, from foundations who support specific educational programs, and from earned income – fees that schools and educators pay for our services. And, we continue to receive grants from the Jewish Community Federation for specific programs. The lease will help us cover basic administrative costs, enabling philanthropic donations to more directly support educational initiatives.

How can I learn more?

Contact us at changes@jewishlearningworks.org with questions about our strategic plan, our new programs to serve the community, our real estate deal or our anticipated move.


Meet JLW: Jenni Mangel, MA | Managing Director, Professional Learning

Our staff team is comprised of incredible leaders, thinkers and doers.  People whose work brings us ever closer to achieving our mission to advance Jewish learning that enriches lives, and that enables the learner to flourish as a human being and as a Jew.

In this installment of Meet JLW we feature Jenni Mangel, MA | Managing Director, Professional Learning.  We're thrilled to have her back on our team after a 10 year consulting break. 

Q: Where do you live and what do you like about your neighborhood?

Jenni Mangel Headshot.jpg

A: I live in El Cerrito, just north of Berkeley. I love that we can walk or bike just about everywhere. When we moved here we knew two people in the neighborhood. Over the last ten years we've made so many connections in the neighborhood I can rarely walk the dog without running into someone I know!! 

Q: Tell us a little bit about your journey - what did you do before you joined our team?

A: I came up in the field of Jewish education by way of Habonim Dror, synagogue schools and Israel experience. My family is a mashup of religious practice and affiliation and I have lived pieces of my life across the spectrum of Jewish practice. As a young student I developed very keen ideas about what makes for good teaching and learning environments and before I left high school I decided I wanted to "teach teachers," though I didn't know what that would look like.  

I earned a BA in History with a Minor in Education from UC Santa Cruz - my work there centered around immigrant rights in France and multicultural education. I later earned my MA in Educational Leadership from Mills College in Oakland where I focused on service learning as a tool for identity formation of college students. Over the years, I developed a love for program design and evaluation. My professional jaunts include a variety of roles across the community including at Berkeley Hillel, Jewish Vocational Service, the Contemporary Jewish Museum, and the Albany Y. 

All these experiences contribute to the work I do to align learning, community involvement, and leadership with personal and spiritual development. I feel honored to teach teachers - and also the administrators and lay leaders to support them!

This was my first (and only) trip to Las Vegas - to celebrate my 40th birthday with many of the gals I grew up with in Habonim Dror. The friendships we created over the years at camp and while living in Israel together run deep. Now many of us are sending our own kids to Habonim Dror camps and love to see this new generation of relationships flourish in that environment.

This was my first (and only) trip to Las Vegas - to celebrate my 40th birthday with many of the gals I grew up with in Habonim Dror. The friendships we created over the years at camp and while living in Israel together run deep. Now many of us are sending our own kids to Habonim Dror camps and love to see this new generation of relationships flourish in that environment.

Q: What excites you about your work?

A: Over the years I've had many mentors and angels who gave me support, advice and encouragement at just the right time. I can't necessarily go back and do the same for those folks, but I am able to "pay it forward" and help other people develop their work as educators.

Q: Describe a time that you really felt like your work made a difference.

When I worked at Berkeley Hillel I had an office with a big window that faced the hallway. When students would leave for break, I always invited them to send me post cards from their travels. I put each one up around the window and they became points of conversation and connection. I still have all those postcards (in a binder now), but, more importantly, I still have relationships with many of those students, some of whom are now colleagues of mine in the field of Jewish education. Every once in a while one of them will tell me a story about something I said or did that helped them along their own Jewish journey or their professional path. It's gratifying, and humbling to know that I helped influence people. 

Q: Describe a time that felt really challenging for you.

A: In grad school we were given an "ethical dilemma" writing assignment. I chose to write about the tension between program design that is client-need based and program design that is funder-driven. In nearly every job I've had this tension has played out and it is always a challenge. There are so many dynamic and creative ways we can respond to so many varied needs in the jewish community and it is often so very difficult to find adequate financial support. More than once I've had to sunset stellar programs because they did not have an angel funder and did not have a viable fiscal model.

Q: Describe a time when you felt triumphant.

A: I always feel really good when I finish writing a lesson plan. I like the process of thinking through what I want to teach and how I can structure it.  It's fun to see what happens when I go into the classroom, respond to the live environment, and deviate from the plan!

Q: Tell us something that might surprise us.

A: Hmmmm... I went to bowling camp one summer as a kid... 

I got snuggly with a baby goat at the Harley Farms Goat Dairy in Half Moon Bay as part of a friend's 50th birthday celebration last year!

I got snuggly with a baby goat at the Harley Farms Goat Dairy in Half Moon Bay as part of a friend's 50th birthday celebration last year!

Q: What are you reading?

I just re-read Madeline L'Engle's "A Wrinkle in Time" with my kids in anticipation of the movie's release in March 2018. This was one of my all time favorite books when I was young and I've read it many times as an adult. I love that it has multiple female characters and that the young people are the ones that solve the problem that the adults created (also, I love sci-fi). When I was young I found that message to be inspiring all on its own. Now, as a parent, I find it to be an important reminder to me about how I, and the adults with whom I work and live, need to make sure we make space for, listen to, and respect the young people in our lives. 

Q: What do you want to be remembered for?

Honesty, integrity and kindness. 

Connect with Jenni for support in educational leadership or program design, congregational coaching or custom professional learning opportunities.

Launching Now in Marin | SHABBAT LAB with Kesher


SHABBAT LAB: A Hands-On Family Experience

Make Shabbat your own with our brand new, one-of-a-kind family experience.  Learn and practice old traditions and make up new ones with a small group of other families.  Sign up to be a host or sign up to be a guest and our Marin Kesher Concierge will take care of the rest! 

In a home, in a park or somewhere in between - let's connect with the magic of Shabbat over dinner,  lunch, or Havdallah (the ceremony that ends Shabbat).

Interested in hosting or attending?  Click here to get looped in!

Questions? Reach out to our Kesher Marin Concierge, Deborah - Keshermarin@jewishlearningworks.org



Kids find ‘heart of Shabbat’ in their artwork, now on display at CJM

Kids find 'heart of Shabbat' in their artwork, now on display at CJM - J.

"He will proclaim freedom for all his children. And will keep you as the apple of his eye. Pleasant is your name and will not be destroyed. Repose and rest on the Sabbath day." This piyut (sacred poem) can be found in the pages of any Jewish prayerbook.

Excess of Jewish sexual sinners? Men ponder it at ‘Feast’

Excess of Jewish sexual sinners? Men ponder it at 'Feast' - J.

Harvey Weinstein. Al Franken. Anthony Weiner. Jewish men behaving badly. Is there something in the history or liturgy of Judaism that can explain such conduct, or help Jewish men avoid such misbehavior and act more like mensches? Those were among the questions at the core of "Who Is a Man?"

Professional Development: A Call to Action

Professional Development: A Call to Action

By Dana Sheanin and Jenni Mangel The 2016 Leading Edge study " Are Jewish Organizations Great Places to Work? " identifies five factors of great workplaces. One of these is talent development: "Leading places to work recognize that professionals crave opportunities to advance their knowledge, skill sets and abilities.

Hanukkah @Shul

Kids fidget. Adults fidget. Everyone has a little trouble focusing sometimes. Several years ago, when Hanukkah fell on Shabbat, we created these printable activity pages to help keep little hands engaged with Hanukkah @Shul. 

Don't let the title fool you - It can be used in your home, in the car and everywhere in between.

Off the Shelf: Two Important New Books on the Hebrew Bible

Two new books anatomize heavy-duty Torah concepts - J.

I try to use this time of reaching the end of the annual Torah reading cycle, and beginning again, as a reminder to keep my relationship to our core book from stagnating. Lacking formidable interpretive skills myself, I'm highly dependent on the insights of others to keep myself engaged and growing.

Off the Shelf: New tales of Jewish families in Ireland, England, Middle East

New tales of Jewish families in Ireland, England, Middle East - J.

With much attention awarded to immigration-related issues in recent months, many of us have considered increasingly the Jewish immigrant experience in the United States, particularly since it reflects many of our families' histories. It was in that light that I enjoyed reading three recent novels that focus on the experience of Jewish immigrants in three ...