The more we encounter others, the more deeply we learn about ourselves.
Beth Tzedec Congregation wants to develop a program for Jewish teens involving purposive, meaningful encounters with groups that are different than themselves, but through whose stories and traditions they gain insight into and appreciation of their own culture and heritage. This unique initiative will be a structured reflective opportunity for Jewish teens from Beth Tzedec and other Toronto congregations that will culminate in a multi-day encounter with teens from an Ontario Aboriginal community.
The program, to be known as Tawiskam Mifgash, from the Cree and Hebrew words for Encounter, is an exciting and enriching Jewish identity-building initiative. The idea for Tawiskam Mifgash was born out of Beth Tzedec’s highly successful Tolerance trip of February, 2011 during which the synagogue led a delegation of 35 teens (members and non-members) on a trip to the Paperclips exhibit in Whitwell, Tennessee. The focus of the trip was “teaching tolerance” through the dual themes of the Holocaust education and Jewish/Black relations. Participant feedback indicated that the teens were overwhelmed by their experience and challenged when learning about the complex history of Jewish and Black communities in North America. The trip was very successful, but was missing a crucial element….Encounter.
There is a need in our community to develop quality, meaningful teen programming that engages our adolescents in a deeply Jewish way. This project has the capacity to strengthen connections to their culture and heritage, engage them in synagogue and Jewish activities; and introduce teens to another minority community. We hope to create the opportunity for Jewish teens to learn about themselves through the lens of others. We have learned through programs such as the March of the Living, Birthright, summer camp and movement travel programs that experiential education has the unique capacity to lay the groundwork for a lifetime of ongoing engagement in Jewish life. The application of highly structured, thoughtfully developed Jewish experiences, delivered by committed and engaging personnel can be a powerful tool for building Jewish identity and affiliation. The formative years of adolescence are an optimum time to nurture commitment and understanding not only of one’s self, but of the world around. There is a critical need to engage Jewish teens, increasing the possibility of them becoming committed Jewish adults.
Our teens, like the majority of young Canadians, have limited experience with Aboriginal peoples. The teens on the Paperclips trip expressed a strong desire for powerful encounters with groups that are different than themselves, but with whom they share stories and traditions that are comparable to their own heritage. Jews and Aboriginals share concerns about assimilation, religious rights, and the maintenance of language and culture in a multicultural country.
Former Justice Sidney Linden, a member of Beth Tzedec, served as the Commissioner for the Ipperwash Inquiry; he has spoken of the resonance of the Aboriginal narrative for Jews involved in the Inquiry. The Honourable Irwin Cotler, MP, former Minister of Justice, spoke at Beth Tzedec about the connection between Aboriginal Canadians and Zionists who returned to their aboriginal land, language and spiritual life. Beth Tzedec has had a relationship with the Na-Me-Res Aboriginal residence for over a decade, including programs for our Bar/Bat Mitzvah age children, and will build on our existing relationship with the Aboriginal community.
Since David Ahenakew’s anti-Semitic remarks in 2002, the organized Jewish community has made intermittent attempts to increase ties to Canada’s Aboriginal communities, which are regarded as growing in political and demographic clout. To our knowledge, however, no community has organized an educationally thoughtful and Jewishly meaningful encounter program between Jewish and Aboriginal Canadian teens.
This project includes, but goes beyond, service learning, as modelled by American Jewish World Service and Ve’ahavta, among others. The goal is to engage with Aboriginal culture(s) while reflecting upon the participants’ own heritage. The participants, by the end of the year-long program, will have deepened their own Jewish identity by learning more about their own heritage, culture and religion. In addition, the participants in Tawiskam Mifgash will learn and experience the heritage, culture and religious traditions of Aboriginal teens. Participants from both communities will spend planned time together to develop an understanding of each other’s lives. When the participants “graduate”, they will carry forward a memory of real people in real life situations.
All of Beth Tzedec’s major youth programs include an evaluation component, as will this project. The impact will be measured by parent and participant surveys, and surveys with participating synagogues and groups that will provide qualitative and quantitative data. It will also be measured with ongoing discussions among our clergy, youth director and the participants.
We would involve SixPoints JVPF in Tawiskam Mifgash in the areas of technological development, social media outreach and graphic design; developing program content; navigating government and Aboriginal community organizations; marketing and PR; and research analysis.
Planning will begin in early 2012. The application process will start in the spring of 2012 with the orientation and seminars commencing in the fall of 2013. The trip is projected to take place in the spring of 2013. Follow up, in the spring and summer of 2013, will include, with the help of SixPoints JVPF, securing funding for future trips and programs from the synagogue (and private funding), the community, government, and the not-for-profit sector. The time frame would be:
January 2012 Approval of Grant
February 2012 Solicit funding partners and initiate development of relationship with Aboriginal community
February 2012 Develop Jewish resource materials regarding identity, culture, history and ritual
March 2012 Confirm Aboriginal community partner
April 2012 Develop recruitment and application materials for participants and chaperone/staff members
May 2012 Launch advertising to recruit participants
June 2012 Interview and accept participants
July/August 2012 Initiate seminar development, including hiring of faculty
Sept 2012 – Feb 2013 Launch program with monthly seminars
December 2012 Staff site visit to Aboriginal community/Toronto community
March 2013 Encounter Trip to Aboriginal community
April 2013 Evaluation of Year 1
April 2013 Initiate recruitment of Year II participants
May 2013 Evaluation by participants and conclusion of Year I participants
June 2013 Secure funding for continued programming
Beth Tzedec will be the primary sponsor. Based on previous experience we expect other synagogues and private donors to support the program. We will also approach government, corporate and Aboriginal organizations.
Tawiskam Mifgash will be supervised by Rabbi Adam Cutler of Beth Tzedec Congregation who has significant experience as an organizer and implementer of youth trips and experiential and informal learning. The professional staff of the synagogue will provide the administrative support. The synagogue’s Youth Director and the Director of Education and Family Programming will recruit and work with seminar faculty and chaperones including David Koffman, PhD candidate at New York University, whose thesis focuses on historic Jewish encounters with the indigenous North American population. Seminars will also feature local Aboriginal leaders and a presentation from Na Me Res, a local Native humanitarian organization and at least one local Aboriginal leader.
Synagogues are at the forefront of innovation and engagement in Jewish communal life. Jews in Toronto affiliate with synagogues more than any other Jewish institution and synagogues have the human and physical resources for a wide variety of programming. At Beth Tzedec, as we complete our strategic plan and with the hiring of young, gifted and creative clergy and staff, we are committed to measured risk-taking to bring greater numbers of Jews into active Jewish life.
Beth Tzedec Congregation is a 2600 family Conservative Synagogue with a long history of excellence in a variety areas including creative youth programming that involves travel. Professionally, the synagogue is led by the Senior Rabbi and the Executive Director. The fully functioning Board of Directors is driven by an engaged and talented Executive Committee and is supported in its work by 24 committees and a large number of volunteers. We offer programs for all age groups in addition to regular prayer services and life-cycle support. Tawiksam Mifgash will run under the auspices of the Youth Committee, which is co-chaired by two extremely committed volunteer lay leaders, Laura Orzy & Ellen Kachuck Rosenbluth.
To our knowledge, no program of this type has ever been attempted in Toronto or anywhere in Canada. American Jewish programs that involve meeting Native-Americans generally function under the service-learning model, begin and end within the span of a few days, and do not include real encounter, making Tawiskam Mifgash the first of its kind anywhere. The program could operate with as few as 10 to as many as 35 participants in its opening year.
A portion of the budget is dedicated to one-time costs such as program formation and marketing development. Additionally, the budget is geared toward twinning with a remote community, which the travel budget reflects accordingly. With the removal of the start-up costs and (in the absence of non-SixPoints monies) twinning with a more easily reachable Aboriginal Community, Tawiskam Mifgash has the ability to continue long after the initial SixPoints investment. We are hopeful however that the success of the program will generate sufficient interest to attract other donors, which we hope the philanthropists behind JVPF could help us secure, in addition to governmental funds. We are excited that seminar and encounter materials will be developed as part of this program. We believe that as the program unfolds, it will develop traction in the Jewish and general community and will be a model to be replicated by other schools or faith communities in Toronto, North America, Australia and elsewhere.