Creativity in Jewish Education


Dean, Shoolman Graduate School of Jewish Education
May 28, 2014

portrait 2012What would it be like if the desired result of Jewish Education was not textual literacy nor Jewish continuity nor Identity development but the cultivation of a creative disposition; to act b’zelem elohim – as the Creator acts?

Over this past year, we convened at Hebrew College a group of Boston Jewish Educators who lead a variety of educational institutions. Following Dr. Jack Wertheimer’s exhortation that we should ‘link the silos’ of Jewish Education, we invited Heads of Day Schools and Congregational Schools, experiential educators and professionals working as educational leaders at such places of learning as Mayyim Hayyim, Facing History and Genesis/Bimah.

We put the question to them as Rav Soloveitchik and Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan does; If the highest religious attribute to which humanity can aspire is emulating the Divine in the act of creativity, how and where should we, as Jewish educators, meet this challenge in the work of Jewish Education?

The moral implication of the traditional teaching that God created the world is that creativity, or the continuous emergence of aspects of life not prepared for or determined by the past, constitutes the most divine phase of reality. (Mordechai Kaplan)

We met a number of times over the year in 3 hour long sessions; studying biblical and rabbinic texts, unpacking 20th century theology reviewing the literature on creativity in business, management, the arts and education. We even studied the achievement of the Beatles in producing a unique creative portfolio of music, branding and management and the innovative work of Frank Lloyd Wright in designing Falling Water in Pennsylvania.

Over the year, I kept bumping up against this topic; our Early Childhood Department dedicated its annual conference to ‘taglit’ – discovery and its cultivation in the very youngest of our children. I led a training session on Torah Godly Play in Rochester (itself a form of stimulated creativity in Torah) and visited the Strong Museum of Play. Play is such a related topic to creativity and invites us to use our imagination and self discovery in order to grow. Attending the RAVSAK conference in Los Angeles, I came across Walter Drew who led a workshop of Open Ended Materials for the purpose of exploration and encounter with the imaginative side of our selves.

Not of all of us agreed with the theologians, however. There is so much to achieve in Jewish Education. How can we boil it down to just this attribute? One educator thought parents would be very under-impressed if we told them, their children’s Jewish education consisted of stimulating their creativity. Yet time after time, we heard from the educators of the remarkable singular achievements in designing or creating innovations in their institutions. Innovations that they lead in curriculum or strategy or leadership or teaching. As leaders, they have created the right environments for creative design to flourish and a taste for flair as risks are taken. They have imbued their colleagues and students with an appetite for developing the creative impulse and created educational opportunities for staff and students to cultivate their creative dispositions.

As we concluded our discussions with a commitment to continue to seriously think about the purposes and products of Jewish Education that link our silos, we learned of a Jewish Day school in Rhode Island that has created a ‘Design Lab’ in its classrooms to engender the creativity of its students. Not missing a beat, the Shoolman School Faculty will visit the school on June 12th to experience a school that does intentionally cultivate the creative dispositions of all its students.

Perhaps in the end, we all did agree on one overarching principle. Despite coming from numerous educational vantage points and differing Jewish conceptions, we all felt, as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has alluded to, that Education should be like a natural creative Flow in the streams of our life – deep and continuous with an integrity and coherence to shape and guide us

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