Early in my career, a rabbi speaking at a convention said: “There can be no Reconstructionism unless the people know what they are reconstructing.” I have found that the synagogue educator often serves as an important conduit for giving people the tools to learn about Judaism as it is and how it can be reconstructed.
But how can synagogue educators hone their tools, develop new skills and generate the spiritual inspiration needed for such vital work? One way is to gather together.
In Philadelphia in 2003, a group of educators met for the first time as RENA, the Reconstructionist Educators of North America. They formed to provide a network of support and cooperation among educators in the Reconstructionist Movement and to foster learning opportunities for those working in our schools in the United States and Canada.
Over the last 15 years, RENA has provided educators with resources for professional development, in addition to adding to their ability to grow and innovate the supplementary schools that are the lifeblood of many of our synagogues. It also provides mentorship to new educators, which is critically important for all, but especially in places that are isolated from other Reconstructionist communities. RENA meets at an annual conference to share their work, discuss topics in education and connect with other synagogue educators.
RENA’s mission statement is to:
- Provide an organizational framework and support group for Reconstructionist education directors.
- Clarify and develop the roles of Reconstructionist education directors within their individual institutions and within the Reconstructionist movement.
- Advocate within individual institutions and within the Reconstructionist movement for the needs of education programs and educators.
- Promote development of long-term goals and vision for Reconstructionist Jewish education.
- Share current practices and goals in Reconstructionist education in the areas of curriculum, personnel issues, and the administration of youth and adult-education programs.
Over the years, RENA has helped professionalize the role of educator in movement schools and has worked to build cooperation with other organizations, both inside and outside of Reconstructing Judaism.
Recently, RENA has partnered with the Mordecai M. Kaplan Center for Jewish Peoplehood for a year-long exploration of the question “What Would a Reconstructed Reconstructionist Jewish Education Look Like?” This was an attempt to take the educational vision of Kaplan into a 21st-century model.
Through an online seminar and think-tank discussion — both online and in person at the recent Reconstructing Judaism convention, and at a workshop designed to highlight innovation in Reconstructionist synagogue schools — RENA worked to explore cutting-edge ideas in Jewish education and provide opportunities for others to learn from our work. RENA and the Kaplan Center continue to explore ways to make Jewish education relevant to its students and encourage inventive ideas that help made educators more effective and impactful.
These education programs give the next generation of Reconstructionists the tools to continue the evolution of what it means to be Jewish.
If you are a Reconstructionist educator who would like join RENA, visit www.reconstructingjudaism.org/rena. Even if you’re not a Reconstructionist educator, I invite you to see what Reconstructionist educators are up to in future RENA content on this site.
George Kelley has been the education director of Congregation Beth-El Zedeck in Indianapolis since 2002. He also serves as the elected chair of the Reconstructionist Educators of North America.
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