A Vision for Jewish Education

As we look ahead to our Celebration of Shabbat through Stories weekend – January 27-29 – we continue with our series of insights and observations from our clergy and educators on the importance and value of Jewish learning in our synagogue, in our schools and in our community.

We share these reflections from Rabbi Sharon Litwin, our Director of Congregational Learning:

I recently attended “Happiness Hacks: Feel God, Do Good and Stop Obsessing about Jewish Identity” a symposium of the Jewish Education Project of New York.

The overarching hypothesis of the day of learning was presented by David Bryfman, The Chief Innovation Officer at the Jewish Education Project. He stated at the conference and also in an article on eJewish Philanthropy that: “The purpose of Jewish education today is to ensure that Jewish tradition empowers people to thrive in today’s world. For Jewish education to be successful, it must hold at its core, the mission to make people happy. If we don’t strive for this, Jewish education – and by extension living a Jewish life – will remain irrelevant for the vast majority of Jews today.”

Bryfman and Dan Ariely, a Duke Psychology professor and the keynote speaker at the conference, are on a mission to help bring more happiness into the world and into the lives of all people. Ariely asked us to think about what brings happiness into our own lives. He gave us examples of his own research to prove his hypothesis – Happiness comes from a sense of purpose, meaning, and accomplishment, it comes from helping others and from being in community. Happiness does not come from having more things or being entertained, it comes from making good choices, resisting temptation, and having rules to follow so that we have a sense of meaning and purpose. Happiness comes from having rules that help us to moderate our lives, to have norms of behavior so that we have to make fewer hard choices, and Judaism is all about helping good people to behave better.

Judaism is full of rules and rituals. For some people these rules feel like restrictions, but I believe that our system of Halacha (Jewish Law) and Mitzvot (Commandments) is intended to help us to find more meaning and purpose, more connection and ultimately more happiness. I feel passionate about Jewish education because I get to combine my love of Jewish tradition and my prayers for more happiness in the world.

Ultimately, I believe that Jewish education is about helping us to feel more connected to the rules and rituals, and in doing so, to help us be happy and flourish as human beings. The more we tap into Jewish wisdom and perspective, the more we feel connected to the practice and study of Judaism, the more happy we can be. If we are to thrive as human beings, and live feeling more happy than not, then I think it is the role of Jewish education to help the next generation to help foster that happiness, through meaningful, purposeful ritual making and study.


To learn more about our Celebration of Learning through Stories weekend with Rabbi Amichaie Lau-Lavie, please click HERE.

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