2016 JEA LA Conference



    The Jewish Educators Assembly, the professional organization of educators in the Conservative movement, just completed its 65th  Annual Conference at the Warner Center Marriott in Woodland Hills, CA. The 4-day gathering brought together congregational school principals and Directors of Congregational Learning, early childhood directors, bureau and agency personnel and family and informal educators from all across North America and Israel.
    The theme of this year’s Conference was “Tolerance – The Stone that the Builders Rejected Later Became the Cornerstone.” The Conference addressed a wide range of issues relating to tolerance including gender identity, bullying, substance abuse and compulsive behaviors, use of language, special needs and inclusion, and political and cultural tolerance, as well as issues relating to Israel. Rabbi Eddie Feinstein set the tone at the opening session as he spoke about our mission as educators to “grow Jewish souls.” Rabbi Becky Silverstein and Rabbi Susan Goldberg shared their personal experiences and journeys with transgender and gender identity issues. Susan North Gilboa highlighted the OurSpace program at Valley Beth Shalom, Matt Friedman of ADL addressed bias and bullying, and Rabbi Paul Steinberg and Marla Kaufman shared personal experiences with issues of addiction that lie hidden in every community. We also engaged in Torah L’Shma with Rabbi Cheryl Peretz of AJU. 
    The conference body experienced “Freedom Song”, a powerful performance by residents and former residents of Beit T’Shuvah, a Jewish rehabilitation Center. The performers tell the parallel stories of a family Passover Seder and an AA meeting, weaving themes together as everyone confronts their own personal and family issues. A moving and deeply personal question and answer period followed the performance. Noted musician Craig Taubman sang a bit and spoke of his work with the Pico Union Project, a dramatic undertaking that has restored the original Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and turned it into a multi-cultural worship, faith, study and performance center. Performer Julie Silver provided us with a rousing concert that had everyone up on their feet, singing and dancing.
    On Tuesday, it was time to get out and about in LA starting with a visit to the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Museum of Tolerance. Our docents guided us through the Museum’s varied exhibits which, in addition to the Holocaust addressed modern day issues of terrorism and even our recent US election. We then moved on to AJU (American Jewish University), home of the Ziegler School of Education and the Fingerhut School of Education. We engaged in text study on a pluralistic society with Rabbi Elliott Dorff, Rector of the University. We took part in break-out sessions with university faculty and wrapped up our visit with an address by Rabbi Brad Artson, Dean of the Rabbinical School. Rabbi Artson noted our theme of “Tolerance” and stressed that if we only speak of tolerance, we are setting the bar far too low. From tolerance we need to rise up to understanding, outreach, embrace and cooperation.
    Our Conference concluded on Wednesday morning with a deeply spiritual “PrayerSong” program led by Amy Katz Robinson. Reb Mimi Feigelson of AJU then challenged us through text study to continue to bring light to our communities.  
Our vendors presented and showcased new ideas and materials from organizations including Chai Mitzvah, the Kallah Project, Jerusalem U, Etgar, JLearnHub, Naor for Hebrew, Torah Aura and Behrman House. Participants also had the opportunity to view new texts, materials and resources as they browsed our exhibitions. 
    Our Early Childhood Track allowed EC Directors to delve more deeply into issues of gender identity and childhood play during the most formative years. They also took a look at Thanksgiving Through a Jewish Lens with site visits to the early childhood centers at Shomrei Torah and Adat Ari El.  A Yom Iyun for all of the area EC Directors was an integral part of the program. 
    For the second year, JEA partnered with the Center for Israel Education (CIE) to provide intensive training for their Israel Educator Certificate program. A number of the group’s sessions focused on issues relating to political, social and religious tolerance in Israel. 
    A great deal of networking took place with participants sharing ideas and information over meals and get-togethers, and in the Hospitality Suite. 
    The conference provides a rich opportunity for professional growth, exploration of new trends and ideas and acquisition of concrete programs and materials to bring home to each school and synagogue. 
    Save the date for our next Conference in Israel…February 12-15, 2018!
    For more information about the Jewish Educators Assembly contact Edward Edelstein, Executive Director at 516-569-2537 or visit us on the web at www.jewisheducators.org. 

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