The Jewish Journey Project (JJP) is an initiative designed to dramatically re-invent the Hebrew School experience leading to Bar/Bat Mitzvah. JJP is the vision of Rabbi Joy Levitt, the executive director of The JCC in Manhattan. The planning phase and project launch was directed by Rabbi Sid Schwarz. The process began in the winter of 2011 with funding from seven different national and New York area Jewish foundations. JJP planning process involved is working with six prominent synagogues and two JCC’s in the greater New York area. JJP launched in the fall of 2012 under the direction of Rabbi Lori Forman Jacobi.
The premise of JJP is that children in after-school Jewish educational programs cannot achieve the level of excellence that parents should expect and that our community needs to maintain a thriving Jewish community. For decades, synagogues have been tackling the challenges of Hebrew School as stand-alone institutions with very limited success. The failure of the educational process to create connections to Jewish life makes every subsequent effort an uphill battle. JJP revolutionizes the way that Jewish education might be experienced.
JJP intends to capitalize on the vibrant culture of networked collaboration to allow a cluster of congregations to work with each other, with the JCC, and with other communal institutions so that: a) institutions do what they do best for a wider audience; b) families get to customize the learning journey of their children and play an integral part in that experience; and, c) Jewish children use the entire Jewish community as an experiential laboratory and begin to identify with the Jewish communal endeavor.
JJP will be developing an exciting menu of learning modules built around agreed upon learning objectives covering the spectrum of Jewish heritage, Jewish practice and Jewish values. Some of these learning modules may look like conventional classes but most will be experiential, taking full advantage of the resources and opportunities provided in the wider community. JJP will be forging partnerships with Jewish museums, camps and organizations. Some learning modules will benefit from partnership with organizations outside of the Jewish community as well.
While children in the program will participate in periodic gatherings at their home institution, most of the JJP learning modules will be available across institutional and denominational lines. Each family will meet with an advisor who will help to customize the learning experience for the student and his/her family. In a system similar to scouting, a certain number of badges will have to be earned to progress through the levels of the program.
The JJP planning process is fully collaborative with full engagement by the respective professional and lay leadership of the participating institutions. It will take advantage of best practices and materials in the field but will not shrink from commissioning new resources when deemed necessary. In addition to the launch of a JJP pilot program in greater New York in the fall of 2012, JJP also plans to select three new cities to initiate a JJP planning process so as to replicate the model around the country.
We in the Jewish community can say out loud what we know to be true—we must do better for our children. The Jewish Journey Project represents a bold, new idea. Synagogues and JCCs will have to re-imagine much of the way they have functioned in the past to meet the needs of a generation with different assumptions and different needs than previous generations. JJP is not our parent’s Hebrew School but it may open the door to a new way of being Jewish. JJP aspires to help young people celebrate their Jewish heritage and take advantage of the array of Jewish communal institutions that can provide them with a sense of meaning and purpose.
For more information about the Jewish Journey Project visit www.jewishjourneyproject.org