Sarah Lauing square

Pushing Interns to “Go Bigger, Bolder, and Deeper”
Abiding Lessons from my Internship at Or Ami
By Sarah Lauing

The year I was an intern, and Coordinator, of Congregation Or Ami’s Mishpacha Family Alternative Learning Program, Rabbi Paul Kipnes had decided the curriculum topic for the year would be “Henaynu: Caring Community.” I admit, I was skeptical. In my mind, that was more of a value than subject matter for a curriculum, but Rabbi Paul insisted. He was sure there was deep rooted content in Jewish tradition pointing toward what it means to be a caring community.  Of course, he was right. As we brainstormed how to teach this value, we drew from Torah, philosophy, life cycle, and Jewish values. As we designed the activities, Rabbi Paul was constantly there, pushing us to go bigger, bolder, and deeper. He challenged us to make the curriculum more experiential, more active, and more fun, while also maintaining high expectations for the level of content.

So we did. 

We created Abraham and Sarah’s tents, so participants could learn how to welcome classmates with juice and Nutella. We transformed our teachers into biblical characters to remind us how to say “hineni,” (I am here”). (I remember robing a shorts-clad Rabbi Paul in fabric fall leaves to play Adam, and he was more than willing to take on the character!) We created art pieces around our values and engaged in Tikkun Olam projects. We built a model home to explore the shiva rituals (after a death) and a chuppah for a wedding. By the end of the year, families had not only studied about the value of showing up for each other, but modeled Henaynu through the program.

Mishpacha also reinforced my understanding of the power of family education. I witnessed parents who were so committed to Jewish education that they gave their weekend time regularly and enthusiastically to attending the program alongside their children. I was impressed by the level of relationship building that was possible among families. (Snack time was as important to the program for Rabbi Paul as learning time, as it helped build community. We had to ensure that there was abundant healthy food, and he coached me regularly on the art of synagogue schmoozing.) Most importantly, I had the honor of helping parents teach their children. The Torah says “teach them diligently to your children…” While many Jewish families today tend to outsource this task to educators, in Mishpacha, now Mensch-ify) and family schools around the country, parents are empowered to own the material and teach their children alongside our teachers and educators. 

As I write this, I have just completed two wonderful family education days in my own synagogue in my role as Director of Learning and Educational Innovation. Fifth Grade families “flew” to Israel in a plane complete with passports and El Al tickets, then participated in science, art, and language activities to engage with the different geographic locations in Israel.  Third Grade families went on a Torah scavenger hunt, matching mitzvot with texts from the Torah, and discussing how they play out in their family and parenting lives. The Mishpacha program and the mentorship of Rabbi Paul Kipnes served as powerful growth opportunities, leading me to prioritize both family learning and experiential education as central to the way I educate and to my values as a professional and leader.

Sarah Lauing square

Sarah Lauing was an intern and Mishpacha Coordinator at Congregation Or Ami in 2011-2012. After graduating from HUC-JIR’s Rhea Hirsch School of Education, Sarah worked simultaneously as Director of Jewish Life at URJ Crane Lake Camp and as Youth and Family Educator at Temple Shaaray Tefila in New York City. She then served full time as Associate Director at Crane Lake. Sarah recently returned home to California in a new position as Director of Learning and Educational Innovation at Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills, CA.