Jewish teen education in Pittsburgh is about to change.
The Agency for Jewish Learning has hired Gabe Goldman as its director of teen experiential education, a new position created with the departure of Beth Goldstein, who served as the AJL’s director of teen education since 2008.
While Goldman will oversee J-SITE, as did Goldstein, his duties will extend beyond providing formal education for local Jewish teens. A leader in Jewish environmental experiential education, Goldman will focus on getting kids out of the classroom and onto the land to explore Judaism in a hands-on way.
“I will be looking at how we take the black and white words of the texts, and transform them into a living color experience,” he said.
Goldman, who has doctorate in multicultural education from the University of Connecticut, has been working in the field of Jewish education since 1971. In Los Angeles, he co-founded the American Jewish University’s graduate program in experiential education. He has taught courses across the country in wilderness survival and Jewish ecology, and was the curriculum director at the Jewish Education Center in Cleveland from 1984 to 1994.
He and his wife moved to Pittsburgh in order to be closer to their four children and five grandchildren.
“The scope of [Goldman’s] position will be a bit broader [than Goldstein’s],” said Ed Frim, executive director of the AJL. “We’re trying to better integrate our formal educational programs with our experiential and engagement programs. And in addition to running our programs, he will serve a role in the community as a consultant and to help us help other institutions. We are moving toward a model of building capacity in the community, and not just running our own programs.”
While Frim does not foresee any “radical changes” in teen programming this fall, he said changes could begin by January 2014. Those changes could include overnight retreats, environmental projects and “more opportunities to bring kids together from across the community.”
“Gabe is a very creative thinker,” Frim said.
And he already has some ideas brewing.
He plans to organize large-scale community service projects, including “seasonal opportunities,” such as harvesting unused crops and then donating the produce to food banks.
“The new approach will be to make opportunities available to enhance what they are doing in class,” Goldman said. “We have to put the wonder back in Jewish education.
“We could take canoe trips on the Allegheny River,” he said. “And I want to take 11th-graders away for a weekend to college campuses to see the Hillels. I want to change up the environment.”
Whatever the adventure Goldman has in store, he plans to connect it up to Jewish values.
“Usually my approach will be experiential, and then bringing the text in,” he said. “All of this is a way to have a springboard into Jewish values.”
In related news, Danielle Kranjec, who replaced Amy Karp as the adult education coordinator less than a year ago, will be leaving the AJL to take a new position at Hillel Jewish University Center. Rabbi Scott Aaron will continue to oversee the department of adult education, and a team of people will work together on administrative responsibilities for both adult and teen education, Frim said.
Frim also anticipates that the AJL will be offering fewer adult education programs in the coming year.
“The landscape has changed in the community,” he said, noting a plethora of Jewish educational opportunities, including classes offered by Chabad, the Kollel, the various synagogues, and speakers brought in by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
“The market has changed,” he said. “We’ve had to really take a look at what we are offering.”
While the Florence Melton Adult Mini School will continue at various locations, and continuing legal education courses will still be offered, “our adult offerings will be thinner than they have been,” Frim said.
And with the AJL’s move to its new office space at Rodef Shalom, “there’s a lot of change going on,” he said.
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)