I have always wanted to learn to juggle. Adept at juggling tasks, schedules, and ideas, one might assume I’d be able to quickly make the transition to tangible objects. Not quite. When interviewing students for Taglit-Birthright Israel (shout-out to Bus 1188!), I asked them if there was any other last minute information they wanted me to know before the trip. I got warnings for potential “hangry” moments, quips about needs for daily compliments, and then boom — fate intervened: a request for a mastery of juggling. I had my in — I was going to learn to juggle.
When we speak about engagement, we talk about opportunities to meet students where they are, sharing coffee at Starbucks, cheering them on at the soccer field, or attending their final dissertations. We find out who they are personally by learning their stories, and Jewishly, as they outline their Jewish journeys, their struggle with concepts, or their questions about relevance. Engagement is a dual activity, with both sides taking time to share and experience together.
Alternatively, when Jewish education comes to mind, we talk about it from a distance, seeking how we might deepen our programs, introduce texts and theories (without scaring away our participants), and how to remember that really meaningful Hillel quote (or was it a Talmud tractate?). We often approach education in a very one-sided manner—what we are going to teach, what we want our students’ takeaways to be. We want to challenge our students and in the process sometimes forget the partnership that is so prominent in the field of engagement.
The Engage2Educate fellowship seeks to bridge the gap between engagement and education, to remind us that the two concepts are in fact teammates, not rivals. Students seeking a relationship with the Jewish community often find it through engaging individuals who, once they know where a student’s at, find ways to tie their interests to Judaism in a resonant and relevant way. By creating a cohort of engagement professionals who take the time to invest in their own Jewish education, Engage2Educate offers even more opportunities for connection. In this way, Judaism becomes more accessible for professionals and participants alike, as they embark on new learning opportunities together.
Engagement and education are both rooted in partnership — students have plenty to teach campus Hillel professionals. By taking the time to speak with and learn from our students, we take the risk that something within us might change—and that change might be passed on to others. Engage2Educate does two things in support of this change: first, they ensure that education in its purest form is truly a form of engagement and second, that education is based in relationships, focusing on the importance of the connection between our students, ourselves, and the content at hand.
It is as important to learn from our students as it is for us to teach them and to meet them where they are—be it learning a text in a new way, teaching leadership skills, or debating Israel in a campus coffee shop. Without the relationships, the education won’t matter; without the education, the relationships won’t grow. Engagement and education go hand-in-hand and allow us to create deeper connections as we go. And most importantly, both facets give me a good reason to seek out that student and finally learn to juggle.
Amanda K. Weiss (pictured above, center) is the Director of Jewish Leadership & Learning at Oregon Hillel, and an Engage2Educate and Taglit Fellow. A student at heart, Amanda loves finding opportunities to learn with and from her students on a regular basis.