Teaching Parents to Teach Children
Abiding Lessons from my Internship at Or Ami
Rabbi Dan Medwin
At Congregation Or Ami, I was honored to be a part of the Mishpacha Family Alternative Learning Program, one of the most effective and engaging educational models I have ever witnessed, let alone had the privilege to lead. Not only was this format for learning deeply transformative and revolutionary, it was also at its core, a very simple and apparent model. Called “Mishpacha,” Hebrew for “family,” this educational program brought families together for fun and learning, growth and exploration. Our basic premise was targeting the content to the various ages and experiences, as well as empowering parents to teach their own children.
A typical day would begin with children grouped by grades, learning with teachers age-appropriate material related to the day’s theme, while parents learned with the Mishpacha Coordinators – me and Sara Mason-Barkin (now a rabbi, as well). This opportunity for the parents to learn at an adult level fed their hunger for learning and Jewish connection, while simultaneously preparing them for the joint family activity during the second part of the day. When the children rejoined their parents, we often played a larger than life board game or activity, in which families worked together, and parents were prepared to engage with their children on the theme and further deepen their collective learning.
When the children see their parents learning about Judaism themselves and actively participating in their own children’s Jewish journey, it increases the perception of importance of Judaism for the children and mimics the very authentic ways families experience life out in the world: together. It also provides exceptional bonding time for parents to spend with their children, something I appreciate even more now that I have children of my own.
Preparing each lesson was a logistical puzzle and an opportunity for creativity that challenged and increased my own skills as an educator and Jewish leader. We often held the precept when planning our activities: go big or go home! This was exemplified in one of my favorite lessons in which we constructed a giant cardboard mountain on which families laid out their personal journeys to the top. This symbolized each person’s, and each family’s, unique path, which was not only honored, but celebrated. I have always, and will continue to, treasure my learning and experiences as an Or Ami intern leading the Mishpacha program.
Rabbi Dan Medwin, MAJE, serves as the Associate Director of Digital Media, in the Department of Strategic Communications, for the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the rabbinical arm and member organization of the Reform Movement. Part of his work involves creating and facilitating the use of Visual T’filah across the Jewish world, including its early development and innovation at Or Ami. He also served as the Mishpacha Coordinator during his internship at Or Ami in 2009-2010.