Jewish Education in Times of Division


October 2017

Even as we have joyfully gathered these past few weeks to celebrate the Yamin Noraim – the Days of Awe – many of us have also encountered first-hand the challenges presented by the times we live in. There are those of us who have begun the school year reconsidering what we teach, and how we might teach it differently in the context of what is happening in America.  There are those supporting parents to reflect thoughtfully about the Jewish values we promote as essential to our children.  Many of our congregations and schools are also exploring which actions we might take individually or collectively this year to speak out against hate in its many forms.

Against this backdrop Jewish LearningWorks will continue to offer resources to support you and your students.  If you use them, please let us know that you did.  And if you have others you’d like to share with colleagues, we’d love to have them.

A recent piece from the New Yorker entitled: “James Baldwin’s Lessons for Teachers in a Time of Turmoil.”  In this resonant piece, a new teacher looks back on Baldwin’s original work from 1963 and draws lessons for what and how we teach today.

Know Your Rights Camp is a free campaign for youth fully funded by Colin Kaepernick to raise awareness on higher education, self-empowerment, and instruction to properly interact with law enforcement in various scenarios.  Many of our students have been engaged over the past several weeks with the “Take a Knee” campaign, providing numerous opportunities for education about the original intent of the protest, and how is has changed over the past several weeks.


Annie Fox, a well-respected Bay Area expert on adolescents, has written this piece for the Edvocate on how to teach students about standing up.



August 2017

As we all prepare for the new school year, the team at Jewish LearningWorks has emerged from our strategic planning process a more streamlined and focused organization, dedicated as ever to producing top notch professional learning for our community of educators.

Our website showcases the excellent professional learning opportunities lined up for you this fall. Registration is now open!

This year, our work will dive deeply into four areas of focus.  One of these areas is Jewish Education in Times of Division – a topic that emerged through our conversations with many of you regarding moral education, just action and ways to respond to challenging times through a lens of Jewish values.  I thank all of you for your feedback since November.

This month, I call your attention to both a collection of online resources, and a timely learning opportunity.

First, our colleagues at the Jewish Education Project in New York have recently curated an outstanding set of materials entitled “Confronting Sinat Chinam (baseless hatred) Resources for Teaching Digital Citizenship.”  As many of us continue to struggle with how to respond to hurtful words online - both for ourselves and with our students - I hope you will find these resources valuable.

Second, this fall Jewish LearningWorks will offer two opportunities for educational leaders to explore the topic of principles of sacred dialogue in divisive times.  Beginning the last week of October, we will launch regionalized, six-session learning networks on this topic - one in the East Bay facilitated by Dr. Kathy Simon and another on the Peninsula facilitated by Rabbi Amy Eilberg  Both are master teachers who have much to share.

We also intend to offer an opportunity for these networks to come together for a shared day of learning in the winter.  All meeting times and locations will be determined by the preference of registered participants.  If you are interested in joining either network, please be in touch with me directly so that we may include you in date/time selection. 

Finally, I know we have all been thinking about the events in Charlottesville over the last week, and wrestling with how to respond. There are a wide variety of resources circulating – and I call your attention to these two pieces, written by our colleagues at the Walter and Elise Haas Fund and the Union for Reform Judaism.

I am looking forward to seeing you at one of our fall programs.  Kol tuv, Dana 


June 2017

“It may seem like a cliché, but science is proving Gandhi right: ‘We must be the change we wish to see in the world.’ This deeper scientific understanding of who we are as human beings shows us that at our core, we have tremendous capacity for goodness. But it’s up to our schools, our families, our workplaces, our communities, and each individual to act upon that capacity—a beautiful possibility, indeed.” 

Vicki Zakrzewski Pd.D., Social Emotional Learning: Why Now? (Greater Good Science Center)

As you are planning for the next program year, we are aware that many of you are thinking about how to bring more kindness and compassion into your learning environments.  This month’s resources speak to this need.

Our monthly resource email will take a hiatus in July.  We will be back in touch with additional resources and our 2017-18 professional development and training calendar in August. 

Institute for Jewish Spirituality

The Institute for Jewish Spirituality believes that leaders who engage in Jewish spiritual practices that are grounded in mindfulness are better equipped to contribute to building Jewish communities that are vibrant, resilient and wise; they are able to meaningfully address the brokenness of our world.

To learn more about how your organization can become part of the IJS Mindfulness and Tikkun Middot project:

American Mussar

American Mussar is a Bay Area organization focused on bringing Jewish values to life through “small steps and mindful living.”  Their website contains a number of resources for organizations, as well as information on how to access a Mussar parenting curriculum:

Let It Ripple Film Studio: The Making of Mensch

Let It Ripple’s mission is to use film, technology, discussion materials, and events to engage a 21st century audience in conversation and action around complicated subjects that are shaping our lives. Visit the site to watch Tiffany Schlain’s latest video (appropriate for middle school through adult learners) and learn more about her annual Character Day initiative:

Greater Good Science Center

The GGSC, based at UC Berkeley, is a robust resource for all things character development related.  The article below entitled “How One School is Teaching Empathy After the Election” speaks specifically to a series of classroom activities designed for 6th grade students:

Random Acts of Kindness Foundation

This website includes free K-12 lesson plans for teaching kindness in the classroom, as well as an educator guide and a how-to series for setting up kindness projects at school:

May 2017

“But if it is true, as so many have said, that everything is different now, then let us use this moment to reflect on what constitutes a meaningful education, on what it means to be an educated person. The truth is that the most important intellectual and moralachievements require the development of habits of mind—traits such as empathizing with people whose experience differs from our own, seeking out multiple strategies to resolve conflict, being able to collaborate with others, knowing where to find more information, asking original questions, reflecting on and learning from experience—that are not fostered by the rush to cover the contents of our textbooks and syllabuses.” Katherine G. Simon, 2001

This month we are considering the ways in which the questions we ask shape our learner’s experience.  We encourage you to keep sending resources you find useful our way, and to join us for a series of learning opportunities on this theme this fall.

Visit our site to see the resources we have collected over the past several months:

If you want to be removed from this list at any time, let us know.  And if you have received this as a forward and would like to be added, contact Dana Sheanin –

Moral Questions in the Classroom: How to Get Kids to Think Deeply About Real Life and Their School Work

Jewish LearningWorks will be offering an opportunity to study with Kathy Simon this fall, on the topic of “Exploring Jewish Values in Jewish Classrooms: Developing the Skills of Dialogue in the Context of Controversy”  Her book, Moral Questions in the Classroom, would be a great addition to your summer reading list, and is described in the article below.

Ask Big Questions

Ask Big Questions provides accessible resources for “changing the world through better conversation.” Their focus is on peer-led, reflective conversations on important topics such as civil discourse and intercultural competence.  These resources are adaptable for middle school through college students.

USC Shoah Foundation: 100 Days to Inspire Respect Project

The Shoah Foundation has collected a series of audiovisual clips and textual resources focused on the power of using survivor testimony as a tool to connect people, teach about community, culture, family, tradition and resilience – and to show the power of testimony for countering hate.  The lesson link here focuses on promoting effective conversation skills.

 Kol tuv, Dana

April 2017

What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost, but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.”  Victor Frankl

Boker Tov and welcome again to our growing community of educators in dialogue about what we have termed moral education, though we are aware this phrase doesn’t quite capture the work of the delicate conversations many of us are having in our educational settings with learners of all ages this year.

This month we begin with an inspirational article by Michelle Shapiro Abraham on how as she suggests, we might heal the world and ourselves through teaching a joyful Judaism.  We’ve also included information on a fall conference sponsored by the Association for Moral Education, additional curricular materials on middot (by request), and helpful resources from the Marin-based organization, Beyond Differences.

Jewish LearningWorks has begun to think about launching a professional learning network on this topic for the coming school year.  We anticipate the network will meet monthly, possibly including in-person and virtual meetings, depending on geography.  We may also offer an intensive day of learning on this theme with a guest scholar.  I am eager for your feedback on whether such a network is of interest, and what elements would be most important to you as we begin to design it.  Please do be in touch with your thoughts.

Don’t forget to visit our site to explore the last several months of resources are collected

If you want to be removed from this list at any time, let us know.  And if you have received this as a forward and would like to be added, contact Dana Sheanin.

What Exactly Do We Mean By Happiness – an article by Michelle Shapiro Abraham

Association for Moral Education – a conference opportunity

The AME provides an international forum for the interdisciplinary study of the moral and ethical dimensions of human development and education.  In particular, their annual conference this November will focus on “Evolving Ethics, Moral Education and the Struggle for Democracy” - a topic many of us are thinking about.  Click here for more details on the conference.

Behrman House – on middot

For those of you working with students on middot, Behrman House offers a useful guidebook available for purchase.

Beyond Differences – ending social isolation

A Marin County based organization, working in schools to help middle and high school students end social isolation.  In particular note their “Know Your Classmates” initiative, cosponsored with Islamic Networks Group, and their “No One Eats Alone” initiatives.

March 2017

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Nelson Mandela

As Yom HaShoa approaches next month our focus is on helping learners understand Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust in the context of today’s world.

Please continue to send along the resources you are finding most helpful so that we can share them, and don’t hesitate to ask for particular types of materials that would be useful for us to identify.  We’ve also now added a page on our site to collect those we have previously shared here:

If you want to be removed from this list at any time, please let us know.  And if you have received this as a forward and would like to be added, please contact Dana Sheanin –

(For younger children)
(Curricular materials organized by age group)

(An article from this month’s EJPhilanthropy on how millennials experience Anti-Semitism)
(A lesson plan on contemporary Anti-Semitism and youth for high school)
(Educational modules for older students, based on a podcast series)

(A comprehensive guidebook from the ADL on this topic)
(Lesson plans organized by age group, again from the ADL)

(Lesson plans created by Not In Our Town, organized by age group)

February 2017

My investment of time, as an educator, in my judgment, is best served teaching people how to think about the world around them. Teach them how to pose a question. How to judge whether one thing is true versus another."  Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist


We are grateful to those of you who have begun to identify and share high quality resources for talking with students about Jewish values and the turbulent times we are living in.  With your support, each month we will be sending a few new tools your way.  If you use them, we’d love to know how you used them, and what you learned.  This will be an evolving communication, and your feedback is important.

If you want to be removed from this list at any time, please let me know.  And if you have received this as a forward and would like to be added for future emails, please email –

Wishing you and your students strength and peace. 


9Adar Project: A Jewish Week of Constructive Conflict
The Rodef Shalom Communities Program engages North American synagogues and other Jewish institutions in the study and practice of the mitzvah of redifat shalom (pursuit of peace) and the art of mahloket l’shem shamayim (sacred and constructive disagreement). Through Jewish text study, training in conflict resolution skill and development of middot (qualities of soul), the program focuses on conflict resolution in individual, family and community life.

For free, downloadable resources and toolkits designed for synagogues, teachers and schools and targeted to varying age groups:


Mussar for Children– For school children ages 3-8, nine individual middot curriculum packets can be purchased for $399.

Mussar for Children encourages an inquiry based approach in which cooperative, child-initiated learning promotes the children's spiritual and ethical development. The program provides a starting point for creating awareness and encouraging reflection and on-going discovery.  Materials include classroom activity packets, parent materials and more:


The Values and Voices Project
American Values Religious Voices: 100 Days. 100 Letters. is a national nonpartisan campaign bringing together a diverse group of scholars to write letters to the Trump administration articulating core American values that are rooted or reflected in various faith traditions.  The 100 scholars are Christian, Jewish, Buddist, Hindu, and Sikh representing the full spectrum of each faith tradition.  The letters they have written are available here: