Lisa Exler, Director of Jewish Studies

By Josh Burg

A while back, the cohort had the opportunity to meet with Lisa Exler. Lisa coordinated the Curriculum Project, a joint venture between Mechon Hadar and Beit Rabban Day School where she is the Director of Jewish studies. Our encounter with Lisa started with her giving us a deeper understanding of work in Jewish day schools. She showed us sample schedules for a teacher, Judaic Studies department head, and head of school. Even as someone who grew up at day school, I never really understood what it is like on the professional side of things. I think her program gave all of us a strong understanding of what working in a day school might be like.

Lisa also gave us insight into the Curriculum Project. The Project culminated in the creation of the Standards for Fluency in Jewish Text & Practice. The Standards set out measurable curriculum goals in various skills necessary for Jewish literacy such as Hebrew, text study, and prayer. While these Standards are meant to be utilized in a day school setting, they made me think about something entirely different.

The Standards talk about all students being able to do x or have y skill. This sort of language of “every student will be able to…” caused me to imagine a Jewish world in which more North American Jews had these essential skills. What would it be like to be a part of a Jewish community that had the ability to access, on their own, basic aspects of the culture and religion? Imagine how many more Jews would choose to remain engaged because they were knowledgeable and therefore deeply connected to the tradition?

For my community specifically, I imagined how a Reform Kabbalat Shabbat might be different. Maybe the congregation would be able to pray collectively rather than listening to the cantor and rabbi. Maybe a lay leader would give a drash in addition to the clergy. It clicked in my head that ensuring just basic skills can move a community in leaps and bounds towards a livelier, communally oriented, and ultimately sustainable Judaism. In the Standards for Fluency in Jewish Text and Practice, I think we caught a glimpse of the ideal North American Jewish future. I have been left thinking about how to bring this future into being.  


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