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To Repair the World

Jessica Harrison

To begin, I’d like to share a little story. One afternoon, when I was about one years old, our family (then just the three of us) went to the park for a picnic. We sat down for lunch, Mum and Dad on a picnic blanket with me in the pram (absolutely marinated in sunscreen I’d add). Dad, never one for small talk, picks up a chunk of cheese in one hand and a tomato in the other and starts moving his arms around describing the solar system. Rotating the cheese and the tomato, he describes planetary orbits and alignments. Then, someone walks past and kindly (albeit uninvitedly) points out to us- “You know, she’s not going to understand a thing you’re saying”. To which my parents replied- “How do you know?”.

Once I outgrew the phase of being mortified by my parents sharing baby stories of me with our friends I found this story really empowering. My parents respected me enough as a baby to allow me to learn and be challenged.

A lot has happened between that solar-system picnic and now. Now, I’m lucky enough to not only be a recipient of learning but a facilitator of it as one of the teachers at Emanuel Synagogue’s Kef Kids. As a teacher, I work to facilitate an educational space where every child can leave feeling empowered and worthy of a great learning experience.

In keeping with the theme of this Tell - ‘Making A Difference’- I’m going to talk about both the difference made by Kef Kids and the difference of Kef Kids.

Rita Pierson, a long time primary school teacher, said in her TED talk that “teaching and learning should bring joy”. I like how she couples teaching and learning here because it reminds me that education is a two-way street. Running a great Kef Kids class benefits me and my students. When students ask great questions, it’s meaningful for them, their friends in class, their parents at home and for me as their teacher. When the children of our community love and value their Judaism it benefits them as well as all of us. Then I guess education isn’t just a two-way street but a multi-lane highway!

A vibrant young families and youth education program like Kef Kids raises the next generation of engaged pluralist Jewish leaders. But, their giggles, energy, singing and questions are also an indispensable thread in our community’s tapestry today.  The difference which Kef Kids makes can be seen all around us today and into the future.

Kef Kids

Educational programs are the cornerstone of any synagogue and thriving Jewish community. Abraham J Heschel in his book ‘The Spirit of Jewish Education’ aptly points out that “the Hebrew term for education means not only to train but also to dedicate, to consecrate”. That is, learning isn’t just important, but is sacred. Providing learning opportunities for Jewish kids, young people, adults and seniors is a sacred act. When I think of education as something which sanctifies teachers, students and the community they operate in, it motivates me to make every Kef Kids lesson dynamic and inspirational. It’s a big responsibility.

Bec Szabo, one of our Kef Kids teachers says about the Kef Kids mission and experience:

Education is really important for kids but specifically exposure to education in an informal setting can play a major role in shaping that child's identity. I think that Kef Kids does an amazing job at providing that non-formal setting with relatable teachers and this allows the kids to be comfortable being creative, feel empowered, and learn things all at the same time!

Non- formal education, like what we do in Kef Kids, is defined by UNESCO as education which is “carried on outside the framework of the formal system, to provide selected types of learning to particular subgroups in the population”. This means that Kef Kids has a curriculum is specialised to best reflect the synagogue’s ethos and tailored to the needs and interests of our students.

For Kef Kids to achieve its goals in a non-formal setting the Kef Kids teacher educates both for relationships and through relationships. Relationships are the most effective educational tool in non-formal pedagogy. Educating for relationships in Kef Kids means that our challah baking, lesson plans and Kabbalat Shabbat services help students form positive relationships with each other, their Judaism and the synagogue. We work to establish a strong and supportive cohort of students.

Educating through relationships in Kef Kids means that we utilise the positive relationships the students have with each other and with us as their teachers to teach about Jewish values, history and peoplehood. The relationships formed within our Kef Kids space between students, families and teachers all help us enrich each other’s Jewish lives.  

These methods are what makes Kef Kids different from other Jewish experiences our community’s children experience.

I’ll conclude with my favourite quote from Janusz Korczak:

“To repair the world is to repair education.”

This is the perfect reminder that when the Kef Kids teachers spend hours on a lesson plan, when you commute for an hour to come to a Torah study group or when you get up early for a lecture from the Rabbi, the learning you are a part of is helping to make yourselves, our community and our world a better place. 


This article originally appeared in Emanuel Synagogue's TELL Magazine in November, 2018.

Sat, 8 August 2020 18 Av 5780