The Fifth Child – the first question

As a lurker in the Jewish blogosphere, it’s taken me a while to get the courage to stop being a voyeur, and to start getting into the thick of things – virtually speaking. So here goes:

Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present my first foray into blogging: “The Fifth Child”.

We’re familiar with the 4 sons of Passover: the wise, the wicked, the simple and the one who doesn’t even know how to ask. These characters are meant to teach us that we must recognize the different types of learners that cross our paths. I think that many of us (including yours truly) fits into a fifth category – a combination of all of the above. Sometimes I know something and want to find out more. Sometimes I revel in questioning authority. At times I really don’t know what’s going on. And then every once in a while I don’t even know how to ask. Ergo “The Fifth Child”.

I’ll be writing about questions I have that touch upon how the modern world interfaces with the Jewish past, present and future. With answers that you can provide, together we can explore ways that will enable us to transmit what we know (or think we know) to the next generation.

I start with a couple of (my) “givens”:

1) Technology, such as twitter, Second Life and iPods, is poised to be the connective tissue that links tomorrow’s Jews to Judaism and the Jewish community today.

2) Learning and teaching need to be experiential. The effectiveness of what has been dubbed “formal education” has been exposed to be a myth, especially in supplementary Jewish education. We understand that learning must involve doing, experiences.

Does anyone out there have other “givens”? Anyone disagree with mine? Let’s start the conversation.

I think it’s time for tachlis…what works and what doesn’t. As a Jewish educator in a congregational setting, I am fascinated by how we can engage our students with their Jewish heritage. I’m not talking about ideas that can be applied the day after tomorrow (like my friend, Adrian Durlester’s idea of divorcing supplementary schools from synagogues. Check out his blog at I want to know what we can do this afternoon, and tomorrow. What can we do to keep our students interested? What can we do to get the parents to park their cars and to come into the building? What works? What doesn’t?

The next question, of course, is what I mean by the concept of “our Jewish heritage”? Well, that’s the 64 thousand shekel question. I maintain that it is time for us to reevaluate what we are teaching. What (if any) role does the modern State of Israel play in the lives of 21st century American Jews? Do denominations matter? And when you get down to it…what in tarnations IS a Jew anyway? In a world made up of what Joey Kurtzman of called “Frankenjews” (, what does it mean to be a Member of the Tribe? How does it impact what we teach about ourselves and about the idea of Klal Yisrael?

I’ll stop here for now. If anyone is reading this, please respond – let’s start a discussion about what are the practical steps in creating a meaningful Jewish future.

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Peter Eckstein

Director of Congregational Learning at Temple Beth David
Peter Eckstein began his career a Jewish educator in 1982 on Kibbutz Ketura, working with children of all ages and serving as the kibbutz Education Coordinator. In 1993 upon returning to the U.S. he became the Director of Education and Programming at Temple Israel in West Palm Beach. Currently he is the Director of Congregational Learning at Temple Beth David in Palm Beach Gardens. In addition, serves as the Technology Integration Educator for the Friedman Commission for Jewish Education.He was very active with the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education as programming co-chair, Shabbat chair and conference chair for several conferences. He has taught professional development for educators, Judaic adult education classes, and the Palm Beach County’s “Introduction to Judaism” course for those seeking to become part of the community. He is specializing in teaching educators how to integrate Education Technology into the Jewish classroom. He has also served on the faculty at URJ Camp Coleman as an informal Jewish educator.Peter is fascinated by how technology and experiential education will aid in the transmission of Jewish awareness to the next generations