"Retreating" to Advance Our Work

Posted on 10/01/2021 @ 08:00 AM

Tags: Jewish Schools & Educational Services

The word “retreat” has several meanings. One, of course, refers to withdrawing from a difficult, dangerous or disagreeable situation. However, in professional and private life, we often refer to “retreat” in two other ways: “a place of privacy or safety” and “a period of group withdrawal for prayer, meditation, study, or instruction under a director.” 
And in our educational work, even though it seems counterintuitive, we step back—i.e., retreat-- in order to advance.
After the activities of summer that drew us in all different directions, we came together, in our own space, and devoted time and energy to re-focusing on our specific goals and work. This is what the Jewish Resource Specialists (JRS) from 4 of our early childhood programs-- Alper JCCBeth Torah Benny Rok CampusTemple Beth Sholom and Temple Judea—did this past Sunday. 
Generously funded by the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, the JRS Initiative is designed to connect ECE parents to their host institution, parents to one another, and teachers to bring more Judaic knowledge into their programs.

Each year of the Jewish Resource Specialist (JRS) 3-year pilot program, we start with a retreat. 
At our retreat, a place of privacy and a place of safety that was only for us, the JRSs reconnected as a cohort of colleagues and started anew the process of working and sharing together
This year’s retreat was unique in that it was the first time we came together in person since the pandemic began. Even with mask wearing and social distancing, we all felt the power and the intimacy of being together in the same space. 
Our retreat work was a journey that started by nurturing ourselves with the sweetness of Rosh haShanah- the New Year-- and words of Torah
Via Zoom, Rabbi Efrat Zarren Zohar, gave a d’var Torah connecting the week’s Torah portion with the fundamentals of “relational Judaism,” as developed by Dr. Ron Wolfson 
The lesson was clear for our retreat participants. JRS work is about weaving relationships amongst ECE parents, and amongst parents and the ECE host organization. It is about crafting, with the parents, a community that speaks to the needs of this new generation. And it is the work of creating experiences for children and families that become the seeds of memory that are so beloved that they are passed down to the next generation.
The JRS work is not simple and it is not easy. Creating experiences is so much more that developing a program. Most of the time when we gather in a school or a synagogue, what transpires is a “program” and not an experience.
What’s the difference?
Programs are when parents passively watch their children perform or passively listen to a speaker on what Judaism says about bringing up children. 
By contrast, an experience provokes conversations, wrestling with concepts, coming to decisions, enjoying something new, and so much more. It is learning in its most active sense.
This is the work of the JRSs and our supreme challenge this year is planting these seeds of Jewish celebration and engagement in the virtual world of Zoom, rather than face-to-face. As we continue to navigate the vagaries of the Covid-19 pandemic, we know that retreating is sometimes just as important as advancing
For more information, please contact its director, Joy Schandler at joyschandler@caje-miami.org or visit CAJE-Miami.org