Blogs

  • 02 Mar 2019 by Lori Kowit

    Twelve Exciting Months, Many Things Accomplished

    Dear Friends, 

    What an exciting journey we have been on this year since our adventure to Israel in February 2018.

    North American Board Meetings
    In early June 2018, Tricia Ginis (Executive Director) and I attend the URJ North American Board meeting in Austin, TX. We were witness to the URJ becoming the first religious organization to formally adopt the Jerusalem Program, the official policy platform of the World Zionist Congress Adopting the platform serves to identify the Reform Movement formally and explicitly as a Zionist movement. 

    URJ – ECE-RJ Collaboration
     In December, Tricia and I attended the meeting in Arizona. We were proud to collaborate with the Families with Young Children  North American Board r epresentatives (and friends), Judi Goozh and Connell Saltzman, to present on the amazing work that the FWYC team is doing and to share the sacred partnership between their team and ECE-RJ. Tricia and I spoke about the benefits of ECE-RJ membership, including the Sparks of Judaism class that Nancy Bossov is leading for our members. Tricia also shared information about the consulting work she does with congregations (including job placement and visioning work) and our members (including contract negotiations). 

    Board Installation and Focus Groups
    Later in June, the ECE-RJ Board gathered in Cleveland. In front of my congregation, clergy, family, co-workers and friends I was installed as president of the ECE-RJ. During the board meeting, we conducted our first member focus group with four directors and six teachers from the Cleveland area.  We hosted the second focus group with three directors from the Phoenix area. These focus groups have been a wonderful opportunity to get to know our members more intimately. 

    Rabbi Aaron Panken Memorial Scholarship
    We created The Early Childhood Educators of Reform Judaism Rabbi Aaron Panken Memorial Scholarship. Mary Passel and Susie Wexler are the first two recipients of the scholarship.  Both are pursuing Executive Master’s Degree from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

    URJ Pay Equity Committee
    Jennie Rubin, Immediate Past President, represented ECE-RJ on the URJ’s Pay Equity Committee, to look into gender pay gap issues. Since 99.9 percent of early childhood education (ECE) professionals are women, there were no data to review. However, they did find a great disparity in how ECE professionals are compensated. In response, ECE-RJ will now post salary ranges, when communicating about salary. 

    New ECE-RJ Board Members
    Jennie Rubin served as the chairperson for this year’s ECE-RJ Nominating Committee. The other committee members were Jill Cimafonte, Amy Damast and Carol Paster. Together, they diligently interviewed candidates and created a slate  of  Susie Weiner, Michigan (VP Administration) and Pam Ranta, California (VP Finance).

     

    The Woman of Valor and The March Newman Shomrei Awards
     This year, we awarded the following awards to deserving members of ECE-RJ.

    The Woman of Valor award to Carol Paster
    “As a Founding Member, your continuous dedication and assistance has guided our organization in many ways by serving on several Nominating Committees, documenting through photography  our journeys and time together, and providing creative professional development and support to our members”. 

    The Marc Newman Shomrei Or award to Louise Van Schaack
     “For all of the hard work and dedication that you give to the organization, chairing the committee that did extensive and important work on the by-laws and volunteering for many committees and willing to help wherever needed."

    As you can see, we have been working hard, and we are looking forward to 2019 and all of the exciting agenda in front of us.

     

    L’Shalom,

    Lori

  • 02 Mar 2019 by Tricia Ginis

    Planning For Your Future is Extremely Important

    If you are a Director or Assistant Director member of ECE-RJ you have access to the Reform Pension Board (RPB). At the recent 2019 San Antonio conference, Alyce Gunn, Chief Financial Officer at RPB, shared some information with our attendees that I thought was important to share.

    Did you know?

    1. If someone is eligible to participate in the RPB (i.e., ECE-RJ member, Director of Education, working for URJ congregation), the person can participate regardless of whether their employer makes an employer contribution.  Employees can contribute their own money via elective salary deferrals up to the IRS maximum annual amount, which for the 2019 calendar year is $25,000.  The only requirement is that the employer would have to send the money to the RPB on the employee’s behalf since contributions must be made as part of payroll (i.e., employees cannot send  money directly, like they would to an IRA).
    2. The RPB offers employees the ability to contribute elective deferrals on either a pre-tax basis (traditional) or a post-tax (Roth) basis.  The advantage to making Roth contributions is that contributions and earnings will be tax-free in retirement.  Roth 403(b) plans are not subject to compensation maximums like Roth IRAs are, and they have higher contribution maximums than IRAs.
    3. The RPB recently undertook a fee benchmarking study which showed that its fees are very competitive.  90% of other 403(b) retirement plans are more expensive to participate in than the RPB, whether looking at administrative fees or investment fees (which are often embedded in a fund’s daily price).  Fees can be a detractor to long term performance/growth; they matter when comparing plans.  This is important when choosing between the RPB plan and an alternate plan offered by the congregation for their general staff.
    4. The Reform Jewish Values Fund – the only socially responsible fund in the market using the resolutions of the CCAR, URJ and CSA-RJ as the basis for investments – is only available through the RPB’s plan.
    5. The RPB’s investment line-up ranges from professionally managed, diversified funds to self-directed Vanguard index funds.  All funds track well to their performance benchmarks.
    6. Employees who contribute at a rate of 10% or more of their compensation (combined employer and employee contributions), automatically receive up to $50,000 of group term life insurance and $30,000 of accidental death & dismemberment insurance at no extra cost.  Employees whopurchase LTD insurance also qualify for free contribution insurance which ensures that the employer contribution continues to be made to their retirement account while out on disability (after the requisite waiting period is met).
    7. The RPB plan is portable from one Reform congregation to another.  There is no requirement that participants roll their money out of the RPB if they stop working in the Reform Movement  retire, however they are unable to make additional contributions.  RPB can hold and service a participant’s money through their entire life, if they wish.
    8. RPB offers very personalized service, especially in retirement.  Their customer service team knows participants by name and will take the time to discuss whatever issues might be on one’s mind.  The only thing the RPB cannot do is provide investment or tax advice to a participant.

  • 11 Feb 2019 by Tricia Ginis

    Soon after arriving home from San Antonio, I found myself sitting in my office with the lights off staring into space. I had an overwhelming sense of fulfillment, both personally and professionally. My mind began to wander. I first thought about all the great experiences we had in Texas. For some reason, I started to remember specific details like the inspirational notes written on bananas, creating Peace Flags, the music of Shira Kline, and the bus trip from Dallas to San Antonio

    Then it hit me. Those great experiences and everything else that occurred did not happen by accident. It took a year’s worth of strategizing, planning, executing and coordinating. Imagine how many (wo)man-hours it took to come up with a theme, locate and book a hotel, find keynote speakers, set up 27 different breakout sessions, develop webpages and emails, plan and coordinate meals (including  addressing special dietary needs), plan Shabbat and Havdalah services, set up and run registration, provide nightly gifts like lavender oil, and the list goes on and on.

    It was a total group effort, with many, many people helping out. Numerous sub-committees comprised of dedicated volunteers ironed out and pieced together all of the many details. The countless volunteer hours of intentional planning and hard work made the conference a meaningful experience.  

    While there are so many people to thank, let me just say that it was a pleasure working collaboratively with April Schafer, VP of Conferences and Biennials, and Fern Katz, First Vice President, for their vision and leadership throughout the entire process.

    For those who attended, I hope you left the conference feeling renewed and refreshed, and with the tools and mindset to bring Peace in our Time to your family, community, congregation, school, and students.

  • 11 Feb 2019 by Lori Kowit

    Dear Friends,

     I want to share with you a portion of my President’s report from the 2019 Annual Plenary Meeting at the San Antonio Conference.

    “Many of us know the impact that this amazing organization has on our personal and professional lives. Fifteen years ago, I was working as the part time assistant director of an independent Jewish ECE.  The school was struggling, enrollment was declining, and we were renting space - we knew we needed to make a change.  My sister-in-law was president of the parent council and sat on the board of The Temple-Tifereth Israel. She began to work closely with Rabbi Richard Block, the Executive Director, the board and the Director of Educator, Debbie Neiderman on an acquisition of Ganon Gil.

    The Temple called upon the help and support of the URJ (which was brilliant), and Nancy Bossov, Director, Early Childhood Education came to Cleveland to work with the school and the Temple on this new venture. Nancy suggested, or shall I say insisted, that I become a member of ECE-RJ. A few years later, I attended my first conference in San Diego, CA.

    OMG, what??? Travel to CA by myself and attend a conference not knowing anyone besides Nancy. I was terrified!  Fast forward many years, I stand here today as the President of this amazing organization, and I look out at all of you, and Nancy and Debbie are here, wow what an amazing feeling this is!”

    I am honored to serve as the President of ECE-RJ. I have personally grown as a leader, and I have been able to meet so many amazing colleagues and visit many cities nationally and internationally, including Israel. Thank you to those who have guided me and those who I have met along my journey.

     

    With pride and love… L’Shalom,

    Lori

  • 11 Dec 2018 by Lori Kowit

    Dear Friends

    As many of us will be gathering in January for our annual conference, I want to take a moment to reflect on the powerful theme, “Peace in our Time”.  This theme brings me back to another gathering of ECE-RJ members less than one year ago.

    In February of this year, a mighty group of more than 40 ECE-RJ members traveled to Israel.

    One of the most memorable moments of the trip was when we went to the Path to Peace.

    There is a massive, powerful, cold concrete wall that divides the Gaza Strip and Israel, adjacent to the homes of Moshav Netiv HaAsara. A resident/artist, Tsameret Zamir, has, in my opinion, beautified the powerful structure by turning it into a collaborative piece of working art.  

    The creation is seen from both sides of the wall and spreads across the gray security wall. It completely changes the atmosphere. This unique project allows visitors to take an active part in the creation of the peace wall by writing a personal wish on the back of a colorful piece of mosaic and then gluing it onto the security wall. I can recall my turn (which I videotaped). I wrote a message of peace and signed my family’s name on the back of the purple flower tile.  With tears streaming down my face I secured it in place next to thousands of other tiles. After the tile was affixed, I looked around as to where I was, standing at the border of the Gaza Strip and Israel wishing for peace.  

    I am so looking forward to being together at this year’s conference. Many of you will be joining us for the pre-conference in Dallas and then traveling to San Antonio. We will learn with keynote speakers 

    • Rabbi Joel Thal Simonds, the founding executive director of the Jewish Center for Justice, where he envisioned the need for a Jewish justice organization to reach the unaffiliated and expand the breadth and scope of the wider Jewish community
    • Cantor Mark Horowitz, Vice President, Director, Sheva Center for Innovation in Early Childhood Jewish Education & Engagement, and
    • Shira Kline, Performing Artist and Spiritual Leader

    We all have that place we see when we close our eyes and think of a place of peace—mine is the Path to Peace. 

    I look forward to seeing many of you in Texas as we learn, grow, pray and celebrate together- Peace in our Time

    L’Shalom (In Peace),

    Lori

     

  • 11 Dec 2018 by Tricia Ginis

    In November, I attended the National Association of Temple Administrators (NATA) Annual Conference in Austin, Texas.

    While I knew it would be beneficial for me to go, I could not have imagined just how much it would benefit our members.

    I met with Executive Directors and Temple Administrators from URJ Congregations from across the country. I used the opportunity to make sure these important decision makers understood all you do and the immense contributions you make to their congregations.  

    I also answered their questions about placement, salary/benefits, contract negotiations, mentoring, and how best to supervise their early childhood professional staff.  

    Stemming from my attendance at the conference, I am now collaborating with NATA Executive Director Michael Liepman and NATA President Abigail Goldberg Spiegel so I can continue to educate and advocate on your behalf.  

  • 15 Nov 2018 by Lori Kowit

    Oh my, the December Dilemma can be confusing for children and families. I can remember when my children were younger, and they questioned why we do not have lights up and a Christmas tree in our home. This can be a difficult time for young children if the world outside their homes are inundated with Christmas songs, trees and other holiday related materials and Hanukkah is not as prevalent or marketed at all. It can be equally confusing for children who celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas at home, or for those who celebrate one holiday at their own home and another at their aunt’s or grandparent’s house.

    Dr. Ron Wolfson states in his article, The Family Guide to Spiritual Celebration, “The proximity of Hanukkah and Christmas is cause for consternation among many Jewish educators and families, provoking many different responses. Some elevate Hanukkah's importance to provide a counterbalance to Christmas, while others de-emphasize the Jewish festival to prevent it from becoming "the Jewish Christmas." Wolfson takes a moderate Jewish approach to the issue, acknowledging the beauty of Christmas while insisting it remain fully outside the Jewish experience.

    As the Director of Early Childhood Education for The Temple – Tifereth Israel, I have conversations with parents annually about this dilemma. Here are a few of the discussion questions that I use when talking to parents:

    • Describe how you feel during the month of December.
    • What aspects of Hanukkah and Christmas attract you the most, and what aspects make you feel uncomfortable?
    • What message are you hoping to send to your children about their Jewish identity when Judaism is practiced in your home?  What are your concerns when deciding to include other (non-Jewish) traditions during your December celebrations?
    • What traditions do you include for Hanukkah celebrations?  What are your concerns when deciding to include other (non-Jewish) traditions during your December celebrations?

    In supporting families with young children in developing and combining traditions during the December celebrations, I have also learned from them.  In addition to the fulfilling the Mitzvot of putting your Menorah in the window and hanging up Hanukkah decorations, families have shared the following ideas regarding how they celebrate Hanukkah alongside or in combination with Christmas (or other December holidays):

    • Drive around to look at the beautiful Christmas lights, and discuss how many different ways that families decorate to celebrate their holidays. (One family shared that they made certificates that they passed out to the prettiest and the most colorful decorations in their neighborhood.)
    • Play Hanukkah music at home and in the car (don’t forget to use PJ Radio)
    • Make Hanukkah cookies and give gift baskets to friends and neighbors, regardless of what holiday they may celebrate.
    • Host a family for a dreidel game night.  If they’ve never played dreidel before, this is your chance to show them how you celebrate.  Perhaps you might learn something about their celebrations also.

    Consider the resources for background information for Hanukkah (and other holidays), as well as wonderful ideas for celebrating Hanukkah for families with young children:

    L’Shalom,

    Lori

  • 15 Nov 2018 by Tricia Ginis

    On October 27th, my husband and I spent the day hiking Mt. Etna and touring a local winery set on the slopes of the volcano.

    It was a beautiful day with blue skies and a light breeze. We felt grateful for the opportunity to be able to travel, learn and experience the world. That evening, after settling in for the night, we turned on the news to catch up with what was happening while we were away from the U.S.

    We were horrified to watch the unfolding events at The Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We spent the next few hours watching the news and communicating with our family and friends back in the U.S. We learned that the brothers, Cedric and David Rosenthal, were cousins of a close childhood friend of mine, and we felt helpless as we learned about the loss for the entire Jewish community. As I sifted through emails, I began to see a string of conversations on the ECE-RJ Listserv.

    One after the other, Directors were sending healing wishes and stories of how they had been touched by the events. I saw a supportive group of early childhood professionals who were there to help one another by sharing words used to communicate with the families in their communities and the steps they were taking to ensure safety for their congregations.

    I realized, at that moment, what this organization is really all about. Not only are we there for one another during the daily struggles and accomplishments in the world of early childhood education, but we are there to support each other in our own personal time of need. I am proud to be a part of this amazing group of dedicated professionals who care very deeply for their colleagues and are there for each other, whenever, however, they are needed.

    Jewish resources for coping: https://urj.org/blog/2018/10/27/wake-tragedy-resources-coping-after-pittsburgh-synagogue-shootings

  • 04 Oct 2018 by Tricia Ginis

    ECE-RJ, and the Union for Reform Judaism is proud to offer SPARKS, a four-week online course to support our member teachers in their personal and professional journeys as Jewish educators. For more information, please read the article written by Nancy Bossov, Associate Director of Early Childhood Education, Union of Reform Judaism. <Read>

  • 03 Oct 2018 by Lori Kowit

    Dear Friends,

    As early childhood professionals, we all aim to offer a warm, welcoming and high-quality Jewish educational environment that is responsive to the needs of children and their families. 

    In 2009, the Division for Early Childhood (DEC) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) issued a Joint Position Statement that gave a definition for early childhood inclusion. "Early childhood inclusion embodies the values, policies, and practices that support the right of every infant and young child and his or her family, regardless of ability, to participate in a broad range of activities and contexts as full members of families, communities, and society”.

    In order to provide the most inclusive environment possible, we have to arm ourselves with many tools in our toolboxes. There are many resources available to educators that can assist in creating an environment that is responsive to children’s needs. As a network, we strengthen ourselves when we share our knowledge with each other.

    Here are several resources that support inclusion in early childhood education:

    • Conscious Discipline (https://consciousdiscipline.com/about/)
      • Offers support for Teachers, Administrators, Mental Health Professionals and Parents. Conscious Discipline is an evidence-based, trauma-informed approach.
      • The website offers a book portal with social stories, videos, articles and access to their store.
        • https://www.facebook.com/ConsciousDiscipline/ Like their Facebook page and receive posts likethis: “This week’s Conscious Commitment: “I am willing to use the D.N.A. Process when I enter a conflict situation this week.”  Are you willing to commit?

    What resources do you use to support teachers and families on best practices in meeting children where they are?  Let us continue this conversation. Next week, look for these conversation starters on the member (Director and Teacher) list-servs

    1. What resources do you use to support children and families?
    2. What are your struggles in supporting children and families?
    3. What screening/assessment tools do you use?
    4. What is your referral process?

    L’Shalom,
    Lori

  • 14 Sep 2018 by Lori Kowit

    Dear Friends,

    In November 2016, I was part of a team of clergy and professional staff from The Temple-Tifereth Israel who participated in a URJ Community of Practice (CoP), Full-time Early Education Community of Practice journey, led by Nancy Bossov and Cathy Rolland of the URJ.  During our CoP journey, the facilitators shared two concepts that helped change our thinking at a strategic level at our Temple. 

    The first is “Why”. Nancy Bossov shared a video clip of Simon Sinek’s Start With Why - TED Talk Short Edited.   According to Sinek, “Why” is the core belief of any organization. Why does the organization exist? Once you identify your “Why,” you will know what to do and how to do it. 

    The second concept is “Relationship, Meaning, and Impact”.  The concept was introduced by URJ’s Vice President and Director of Strengthening Congregations, Amy Asin. In Asin’s article, Change Your Congregational Culture by Changing How You Measure Success, she states, “We need not discard the old measures of success, but in order to stay relevant and to succeed, we must also incorporate and focus on these new measures.” Asin went on to explain what she meant.  

    • Relationships-Are we helping congregants build deep relationships with people who will be there for them in difficult times and times of joy?
    • Meaning-Are we building meaning by bringing Jewish tradition and wisdom to the challenges our congregants face?
    • Impact-Are we having an impact on our congregants and the world around them?”

    Asin says, “These new measures must address the whole of congregational life and revolve around what matters most to our members”.

    These two concepts really make you think about building relationships, and focusing on how to connect with people.

    Our CoP team was excited to bring these two concepts back to our colleagues and leadership, and they have really begun to shift the culture here at The Temple – Tifereth Israel. The concepts really sparked excitement in me, and I (we) am looking at things differently.  This year when we were scheduling our calendar, we began the conversation with “Why?” and we focused on our Vision Statement to ensure that what we were planning aligned with core beliefs.

    For example, our Annual Early Childhood Center’s Fall Family Apple Picking will now become an all-Temple Family Apple Picking. This gathering is a wonderful way to connect to the High Holidays, creating memories and rituals among families and our community.  We are excited to see all of The Temple community come together at the wonderful outing.

    I encourage you all to watch the Sinek video clip and read the Asin article. They really have transformed the way we are engaging families.

    L’Shalom,
    Lori

    September 2018

  • 14 Sep 2018 by Tricia Ginis

    Non-profit leaders need all the resources that they can get. I’m constantly on the lookout for ways to develop the board, bring in new leadership, and engage members.

    I’m happy to share a very special opportunity for leadership learning. On October 28, 2018, the URJ is holding a URJ Day of Leadership Learning: Finding the Joy in Board Service, which will take place in 48 locations across four time zones. The 3-hour event is intended for executive committee members, clergy, and professional staff (or their equivalents) from congregations of all sizes.

    The key speaker will be Joan Garry, a noted non-profit consultant. Garry’s practice focuses on building strong board and leadership teams. Through the wonders of technology, Joan will stream into the various host sites to share her wisdom and spark discussion.  

    Registration is $10 per person (includes food) and will remain open until October 25. For any questions, contact the URJ Communities team (URJCommunities@urj.org).

    Tricia

  • At this time of new beginnings, you and your organization can rely on ECE-RJ to support any transitions or challenges that arise.
     
    For directors, ECE-RJ can provide:

    • support during contract negotiations
    • professional development through yearly in-person conferences/kallot, monthly “Meet Up” webinars, and Listserv Live convenings
    • continued peer support with ongoing conversations through our Listserv

    For teachers, ECE-RJ can 

    • connect teachers from across North America through a private Facebook group
    • provide professional development through yearly conferences/kallot, as well as monthly “Meet Up” webinars and themed Classroom Conversations

    For congregations, ECE-RJ can:

    • support the lay leaders and congregational staff during placement for an Early Childhood Director, including offer a FREE three-month membership to the point person at a congregation who is going through placement
    • help with visioning and reorganizing programming for families with young children and early childhood programming
    • provide guidance on integrating the early childhood families into the life of the congregation

    As for our organization, our 18th “chai” year is also a time of new beginnings.  We have re-imagined our brand, enhanced the professional learning opportunities offered, and revamped the consultative services offered to URJ Congregations. It has been a year of growth and changes within the organization while keeping the vision of ECE-RJ at the forefront: to foster a dynamic community of vibrant early childhood professionals rooted in Reform Judaism.
     
    Please contact me for more information at executivedirector@ecerj.org.  Please also feel free to reach out with any questions or just to introduce yourself! I look forward to supporting the work of the ECE-RJ membership.
     
    Tricia

  • 07 Aug 2018 by Lori Kowit

    Dear Friends,

    As we begin to get ready for a new school year and the High Holy Days, we often find ourselves thinking about the new people who will enter our schools and our synagogues— new students, new parents, new grandparents and caregivers, new teachers and staff members, new and prospective synagogue members, and many, many guests.  Then, our minds quickly jump to the ways we make these new people feel comfortable in our "homes."

    Rabbi Rick Jacobs talks about Audacious Hospitality, “Audacious Hospitality isn’t just a temporary act of kindness so people don’t feel excluded. It’s an ongoing invitation to be part of the community—and a way to spiritually transform ourselves in the process. Audacious hospitality is a two-way street where synagogue and stranger need each other, where we not only teach newcomers, but they teach us” (Rabbi Rick Jacobs, March 2014, www. blogs.rj.org/blog/2014/03/17/what-is-audacious-hospitality/).

    In early childhood education, we understand the importance of rituals and routines in everyday life.  They give children a sense of security and control over their environment. Routines allow children to emotionally prepare for changes that are to come.  We might consider the concept of Audacious Hospitality in the same way—not as a temporary or isolated act, but instead as a ritual and routine to give guests a sense of security over their new environment.

    Our days can become busy and overwhelming, and we may forget to take time to notice and perform acts of love and kindness. Traditionally, Jews begin each day with Modeh Ani, the prayer that thanks God for returning the soul to the body, enabling the individual to live another day. What rituals and routines can you add to help children, families, and educators feel connected and welcomed into your school, congregation and community?

    Here are a few wonderful resources:

    www.urj.org/audacioushospitality/audacious-hospitality-toolkit

    www.pjlibrary.org/beyond-books/pjblog/march-2017/a-book-list-about-welcoming-guests

     

    L’Shalom,
    Lori

  • 09 Mar 2018 by Lauretta Thomas

    As a Christian visiting Israel it has strengthened my own faith. I have deeper knowledge and understanding of the miracles that took place there. Sharing the experience with a group of dedicated Early Childhood Jewish Educators made it so much sweeter.

    Today we visited Na'ot Kedumim and learned about the connection between the land, the seven species and the festival cycle. I went to Israel with an open mind, but I am truly transformed from this experience. This sign speaks of the three types of virgin. I went into this experience with a virgin curiosity but came back transformed as a mature woman with a better understanding of my history in this land.

     

     

    Cooking in the garden reminded me of my childhood in the Caribbean surrounded by people I love and appreciate . A special thank you to all the steering committee members for doing such an amazing job.

  • 07 Mar 2018 by Heidi Baker

    It is exactly one week ago that the ECE-RJ Israel Experience ended.  Throughout the eleven days of learning, discussing, questioning, touring, observing, reflecting and listening we learned that Israel is complicated.

    Israel is a unique place in the world a center for many religions and a homeland for Jews.  It is a place where diverse groups of people often live separately and struggle with getting to know the other.

    It is a place of unbelievably historic sites and new developments and expansion.  A place where Israelis ooze pride in their country and their land.  A place where people choose to live with stress and danger in a beautiful area because it is their home.

    It is a place where connections between people are being made with integrated schools, Arab and Jewish teachers meeting together, and a Path to Peace Wall is growing each day.

    What was not complicated was exploring and experiencing this amazing place with our ECE-RJ group.  A committed group of educators learning, sharing. singing, praying, laughing   and crying together as we explored this dynamic country through the lens of an Early Childhood Professional.  This was a group of 40 individuals from all over the United States that truly shared thoughts, opinions, ideas, and lots of questions in a meaningful and respectful way.  Genuine bonds have been created and will continue as we all process and share our wonderfully complicated experience with our staff, friends, and family.

  • 03 Mar 2018 by Stacey Gabriel

    I can’t believe that just one week ago I was in Israel for Shabbat.  I sit here now with my mind spinning with all that I have learned, the people I have met,  and the wonderful experiences I have had. Each day brought new experiences that  topped the one before it.  

    While in Tel Aviv early on in our  trip,  we met a graffiti artist named Rami Meiri.  He explained to us that his mural paintings are a gift to Tel Aviv, the city that he loves.  Rami wants to create an environment for the people who live in Tel Aviv that is happy, peaceful and kind.   Much of his work is whimsical and carefree.  Rami uses the natural settings and the Israeli culture as inspiration for his art.  He is able to take an ordinary wall, doorway, building and create an optical illusion. When I was listening to his explanation for creating a particular mural or talking about his African project I could see the excitement and joy he gets from sharing his work with the world.  

    At the end of our visit Rami had a surprise for us.  We were given paint and brushes and a spot to leave our own mark in Tel Aviv.  I knew immediately what I wanted to paint.  SAAZ in a heart.   I sign all our exitended family cards as SAAZ. The whole time I had been thinking of my family.  The opportunity to go to Israel was a gift and I wanted to share it with my family.  I wished  they were there with me to experience it together.  So, I left my own gift in Tel Aviv for my family.    Stacey, Adam, Alex and Zachary.  

  • Another amazing day in Jerusalem! Our group had the opportunity to work with artist and Rabbi Matthew Berkowitz at Kol Haot, an interactive Jewish educational art program in the enchanting Hutzot HaYotzer Artists’ Colony in Jerusalem. Rabbi Berkowitz walked us through a collage depicting the story of the binding of Isaac showing us how a story can be told with pictures. It was incredible so see the story unfold without the use of words. We then used the same technique to trace our journey through Israel on the 2018 ECE-RJ Israel Experience. Choosing 10 key components and assigning colors to represent these, the group worked individually and some with partners to create a timeline story of our journey together. It was a wonder opportunity to reflect on what we each experienced, what we have learned and how we can take what we learned and bring it back to our early childhood programs.

    Learn More about Kol Haot

    Check out a slideshow of our visit

  • 28 Feb 2018 by Karen Lucy

    The ECE-RJ journey to Israel revealed many walls and/or barriers; the cold, protective walls facing Gaza, the holy and inspirational wall in Jerusalem and the earth tone sand walls of Negev.  In contrast of these barriers, the visits to the various preschools created such hope and dreams for the future of Jewish children in Israel and the United States.  As an educator, I choose to view my world through a bright lens encouraging children to develop their strengths for success. Likewise, the Ella tree in Negev displays towering strength of growth in a relatively barren ecosystem. Continue to stand tall, sisters, by guiding children like the Ella tree.  


    Ode To Ella

    As I rest beneath your expansive arms -
      always welcoming
      always strong.

    I imagine you at other times -
      as you mature
      as you grow.

    Were others kind to you -
      were they respectful
      were they interested?

    At times I feel your crisp, cool breath -
      it tingles my skin
      it makes me smile.

    Ella, your earthly beauty -
      is majestic
      is surreal.

    Another day, another time -
      I hope to see you bloom!

  • 28 Feb 2018 by Laurie Matez

     Today we left from Tel Aviv to go to Kfar Aza, a kibbutz on the border of The Gaza Strip.  One might ask themselves whether or not this is a safe place to be, and I too was curious as I had never thought of being in a place where I might be in danger. We were assured that we were safe, and that our experience would be intriguing. Upon arrival at Kfar Aza, we had the opportunity to meet with the childhood director for the gan on site.  She gave us insight into another childhood education system and style. We were lucky to speak with Ralph Lewinson, the sort of manager of the kibbutz to explain to us why he chose to live in this area and what the kibbutz life has to offer.  Ralph explained the history of where his family was from, and claimed “before I came to Israel I had no soul - I came HOME.” He also explained the manner in which children on this kibbutz...and around Israel are protected and that they do not live in fear.  They are aware of what goes on around them and best equipped to handle the challenges of living so close to the Gaza Strip. One final quote which touched my soul was that “Israel is an island of sanity in a sea of insanity.” Use your imagination to picture what that means for Israel, it’s people, and those around its land.

    We took a bus ride to a small area called Moshav, where we had a visit with a lady named Tzameret. She lives close to the Gaza area, and feels the daily stress of living in an area threatened by missiles.  She took her fear and created an art piece called “Path to Peace” wall where she created mosaic stones to be placed on a wall between Israel and Gaza. We participated in this amazing and moving workshop by placing our stones on the wall. We gathered together in front of the wall to sing “oseh shalom” as a group.  This was so powerful being all together with a common idea of peace for our world. Even though we stood not far from Gaza, there was a sense of calm, togetherness, and hope that there could one day be a peace for all.

    our final stop for the night was for a dinner in Yerucham.  We were treated to a dinner made by a woman who provides food for the people in her town.  She has a unique back story of her path in life, however, she has surely found her home here cooking for those around her.  She is one of the queens of Yerucham.

    off to Mashabey Sade kibbutz for our overnight!

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