The Merage Jewish Community Center has launched a new education initiative to “invest in the future of Jewish education for all in Orange County,” according to a press release. The closure of the Bureau of Jewish Education left no central resource in Orange County for Jewish education. The JCC intends to “deliver multiple and flexible forms of Jewish education to all ages,” including everything from informal education to professional development.
Heading the program is Mark Lazar, a professional Jewish educator with more than 20 years’ experience spanning diverse global settings, topics and audiences. Lazar, a native Californian who has lived in Israel, “is known for his hands-on, experiential learning style,” the JCC said. According to the press release, “He has been a member of the Screen Actors Guild, the Writers’ Guild and the American Guild of Variety Artists. With long hair and a penchant for tie-dyed t-shirts, Mark promises to surprise Orange County in many ways.”
The JCC is planning to start the first year of its education initiative with a professional development curriculum for teachers and staff at all 14 preschools in Orange County. Additionally, religious school and Hebrew school teachers in Orange County will take part in high level professional development programs.
Another aspect of the program is Jewish education for families and youth through a menu of learning experiences. Included are Young Philanthropists, a giving circle for teens; concerted and family social action experiences based on the JCC Cares Family Initiative that recently garnered the 2016 Zahav Award, or gold medal, nationally for inspirational programming; and JCC Global Teen Fellows-Amitim, an exchange program for teens with partners in Mexico and Israel.
In an effort to strengthen the community’s connections to Israel, the JCC will “host outstanding speakers and offer seminars on various aspects of Israeli life, arts, and culture will increase Jewish OC’s knowledge of the modern State of Israel and foster a stronger connection to the Jewish homeland.” There is also a program called Interfaith Connections, giving interfaith couples information and resources to make Jewish choices for their families.
In the future, the JCC plans to put a teacher resource library online with a blog, resources and links. Other objectives in the second and third year of the initiative are to lead educational tours to Israel; host teen, tween and family weekend retreats/Shabbatons; establish an Israel program desk dedicated to providing individuals with information, resources and links to Israel-related organizations; add a teen trip to Poland and Israel with a focus on in-depth Holocaust education; and develop teen and adult programs on leadership and models of Jewish leaders.
“The JCC’s mark of innovation on Jewish education lies in expanding from the traditional JCC priorities on fitness, early childhood education and camps to include equal emphasis on Jewish space and Jewish education,” explained Merage JCC’s President and CEO Dan Bernstein. “Under this new strategy, we embrace the concept of becoming a ‘destination’ for Jews – a Jewish space to experience and learn Judaism in everyday activities. We intend to pioneer Jewish space strategies in Orange County.”