The following is a guest post by Leora Koller-Fox.
This week, the birth of NewCAJE was announced. Several months ago my mother, a founder of CAJE, and I started to get young educators involved in the process. I sent out an email to friends and got some great responses. When the website went live, I posted it to facebook and one of the people I emailed apologized profusely for not getting back to me and asked what she could do and to “tell your mom I’m sorry for not responding!” When my mom saw it, she wrote back: “Not too late to join the NewCAJE Young Leaders group. Go to www.newcaje.org and look for the link that lets you sign the list. As to what else you could do, I want to be in touch with everyone in Jewish education under age 40 and everyone over 40 that I don’t already know. So please have them go to the website and to the section called names and add their names. Not because you want more email, but because you want to be part of something amazing. Signed, Leora’s Mom!”
So what is this NewCAJE thing and why should you be part of it? (No, it’s not just because Leora’s mom thinks it’s a good idea!) CAJE (the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education) was an organization that began in the mid-1970s and for the next 30 years proceeded to completely change the field of Jewish Education and really Judaism itself.
When the coalition was founded, educators needed a place to come together and share ideas and CAJE provided this place. This gathering produced such concepts as family education, eco-judaism, advancements in early childhood education, Tzedakah education, storytelling in its modern incarnation, and the expanded use of media and technology. CAJE was a magnet for blending education with the arts; artists from all over the world have come to premiere movies, introduce art forms, and show teachers how to incorporate the arts into their classrooms.
And then there’s the music. The annual summer conference provided the main stage for Jewish musicians to get their start and gain recognition. Since I’ve been going to the conference since I was in utero I can tell you about the thrill of my first concert which was a little known group named Schlock Rock! And I heard Debbie Friedman sing the aleph-bet song you probably learned as a child because whoever taught it to you heard it from someone who heard it at CAJE.
At its core, CAJE was a place where educators could meet with their colleagues to experiment with innovative, cutting edge ideas about the most essential piece of Judaism—its transmission to the next generation.
So what is NewCAJE, and why do we need it? Well, last February CAJE closed its doors and filed for bankruptcy. With the board of directors and the organization now out of commission, a small group of CAJE-niks, sought to rebuild their beloved organization.
This week, an eblast went out to the membership list to announce the birth of the new grass roots movement. So now I can officially introduce to you to NewCAJE. While its purpose and mission haven’t been defined yet, it has a solid foundation of the most experienced and talented educators waiting to mentor the next generation into the field. Their mission is to build up a solid framework for NewCAJE and give it to us to do with as we please.
A question has been raised many times since news of NewCAJE has spread which is “What’s new about NewCAJE?” The answer? Well, it’s called NewCAJE for a reason. Here’s how I can explain it best: I took a Bolt Bus back from NYC after the Simchat Torah weekend. I compared it to the Greyhound I had taken down from Boston days earlier. Bolt had more legroom, comfortable seats, reliable wireless internet, and electrical outlets. Greyhound, on the other hand, was a bus. The best part was sleeping through the trip.
I thought about how innovative Greyhound must have been in its time. It opened up travel to people who couldn’t otherwise afford or have access to a train. And now, all it did was get me from point A to point B. Thus it did its job, but the innovation was lost. And then, the irony hit. When I looked at the side of the Bolt Bus, it said, “distributed by Greyhound Industries.”
We should think of CAJE as Greyhound and NewCAJE as Bolt. Better services, cheaper prices, but built on the strong foundation of an established, reputable framework. Veteran Jewish Educators have the tools and knowledge to build a successful national organization but they can only do that with new leadership. And that’s where we come in.
The whole point of reimagining this organization is to transition to a new age of an exciting and innovative field of Jewish education. If you’re using cutting edge techniques in your classroom, you could be a NewCAJE leader. If you design programs that engage entire families in Jewish life, you could be a NewCAJE leader. If you organize innovative community service days for your community, you could be a NewCAJE leader. If you know how to engage twenty 13-year-olds in meaningful conversation, you’re already a genius, but you also could be a NewCAJE leader.
NewCAJE is for educators but this category includes each person involved in the transmission of culture and knowledge: Day School, Hebrew School, Pre-School teacher, Rabbi, community organizer, Cantor, Principal, musician, tzedakah guru, special educator, artist, lay leader, counselor, adult educator, programming director, philanthropist, techno-wiz, etc. Whether you work with toddlers or teens, seven-year-olds or seniors, young adults or not so young adults, NewCAJE can be the place where we exchange ideas with the best and the brightest.
We have an incredible opportunity now to design an organization that will meet our needs as Jewish Educators. We can redefine Jewish education. We can advocate for what we need to succeed.
I encourage you all to check out the website www.newcaje.org. Read the letter and the FAQs and sign your name to the Young Leaders Group. In closing, I will quote the great Jewish educator Gloria Estefan who said: “Get on your feet, get up and make it happen. Get on your feet, stand up and take some action!”
Leora Koller-Fox has attended 20 CAJE conferences as camper, teen, college student, and twice as staff, so even though she’s a founder’s daughter, she has some experience with these things. While currently gainfully unemployed, Leora is hoping to begin an MBA in non-profit management so that she can get back to teaching kids that Judaism is the coolest.