Recap: 2024 ARJE / ECE-RJ New Gathering

Yom Chadash – A New Gathering

B’tzelem Elohim – Reimagining Belonging in Our Jewish Spaces: Exploring Racial Justice & Intersectionalities

ARJE ECERJ New Gathering 2024 LogoAlmost 300 Jewish Education professionals from ECE-RJ (Early Childhood Educators of Reform Judaism) and ARJE (Association of Reform Jewish Educators) gathered at the historic Peabody Hotel in Memphis, TN for a 3-day professional learning opportunity. The conference, entitled “Yom Chadash” (a new day) focused on the concept of B’tzelem Elohim- Reimagining Belonging in Our Jewish Spaces. It was rich with spiritual, practical, and intentional learning that enabled participants to push their boundaries around what it means to be “warm and welcoming” in mission and practice. The conference itself was a beautiful representation of how two different organizations found the commonality needed to create moments of connection that will lead to changes within and across institutions. Participants left with the clear understanding that this groundbreaking partnership makes the field of Reform Jewish education stronger. By focusing all of our efforts on understanding the needs of current and future learners with a keen eye toward racial justice, diversity, and equity, we can ensure we offer a Jewish community that is vibrant, dynamic, and a place of belonging.

Early Childhood Educators kicked off with a Pre-Conference Day of Learning. The 35 participants, from all over North America, explored creating a “Culture of Belonging” through the lenses of environment, the five senses, and relationship building., It was a dynamic day that allowed the participants to leave with a shared vision, vocabulary, and understanding of how to enact plans of action needed to make visible changes.

The conference offered 2 full days of learning sessions, which focused on the meaning of belonging, racial justice/equity, and the intersectionalities we encounter in our settings.   As we gathered for tefillah on our first joint morning together,  we soaked in the energy of the space by mingling our voices in song and prayer.  T’fillah was led by participants of both organizations and featured an inspirational D’var Torah by presidents Rabbi Joe Eiduson, RJE, and Lisa Samick, charging us to remember the lessons from the text, “It is not enough to be free – we need to be seen, recognized and celebrated as individuals in the community”.

The first day was focused on listening and learning. Yolanda Savage-Narva, Vice President of the URJ led a powerful panel of People of Color working in Jewish educational settings who shared their own experiences of joy, pain, appreciation, and discrimination in their work. The learning continued with 16 high-level workshops focused on Overcoming Intergroup Anxiety, the intersections of Racism and Antisemitism, Learning from Latin Jewish families, Global classroom inclusion, authentic leadership, and tools to change the narrative and affirm everyone in our spaces. Sharing personal experiences and professional strategies, the presenters challenged, educated, and inspired all who attended.

On day two, the theme was ever present, as we explored the layered and complex history of the city of Memphis. We began with reflections on who we are as a community and where we find ourselves both geographically and historically. Participants then made their way through the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, Attendees gained insights, and perspectives and emotionally dove into the racial injustices that have existed throughout the history of our country. It also highlighted the tremendous amount of work that is still left to do. A tour of the Stax Museum of Soul Music illustrated how music can have a great impact on the culture beyond its community. Learning how soul music emerged from struggle and perseverance, provided additional insight into the role the city of Memphis has played in our country’s history. Visiting these institutions provided the platform for difficult conversations and reflections on how we may engage appropriately with our learners on the topics of civil rights, racial justice, and the intersectionality of music and culture. It also allowed us, as educators, to deepen our own personal work in confronting racism and learning about injustices in American history.

The final day of the conference was a culmination of all the experiences that had taken place throughout our time together. Reflecting in small groups, it became apparent that creating equitable spaces, representative of the culture and tenets of Judaism, is an important part of our roles as educators. Educators were able to support one another in their journeys. If we believe that we are all made in God’s image (B’tzelem Elohim), we must embrace the need for change and expand the walls of our tent to ensure people not only feel welcome but feel that they belong – it isn’t making space for them at the table, it’s designing the meal with everyone’s needs in mind from the start. We left Memphis with an understanding of the need to continue learning about g the historical, current, and institutional biases that impact our work and our learners. This conference brought to the forefront the need for ongoing conversation and learning around the unique and important role educators play in creating safe, inclusive spaces where people feel respected, acknowledged, and heard. We know that it is us, as leading Jewish educators, who can provide the path for a thriving multi-racial, multi-ethnic North American Jewish community.

Attendee Testimonials

The Annual Gathering is an incredible opportunity for younger educators and growing Jewish professionals to network, learn, and be inspired. My connections with educators around the country have grown tremendously due to the time I am able to spend having meaningful conversations both within and between workshops throughout the gathering. As someone who is eager to grow as an educator, I have benefitted from spending time with colleagues who can relate to my challenges in the workplace. I feel seen and empowered as a young, growing Jewish educator when I attend this conference, and look forward each year to new connections and knowledge that I can bring back to my congregation. It is a blessing to have the opportunity to step back from the busy work week and be able to feel rejuvenated and excited to bring back what I have learned.

Hannah Demick (She/her)
Assistant Director of Programs & Education
Temple Beth Or
Raleigh, NC

Whenever I return home from an ECE-RJ conference, l feel inspired, recharged and connected.  This year’s conference has me delving deeper into the work of making sure that our community is not only welcoming but ensures that everyone belongs. The sessions were thought provoking, very relevant, and I walked away with tangible things to bring back to my school and larger congregational community.

Spending time with old friends and making new ones is always a highlight for me. With this year’s partnership with ARJE, I feel as though my Jewish educator community is even broader and better.  I am already counting the days until we meet again next January!

Jennifer Richman,
Director Of ECEC Operations
Temple Emanu-El Early Childhood Education Center
Dallas, TX

There is nothing like being with colleagues from all over North America: the feeling of belonging– expanded this year with the combination of professionals from ECE-RJ and ARJE; the sharing of wonderful ideas and successes; recognizing your struggles in the stories that others share; reflecting on and reimagining inclusion by hearing from diverse voices, and experiencing learning and connection in the host city’s museums and historical sites.

Alison Weikel, RJE
Director of Education
Temple Shir Tikva
Wayland, MA

As a kid growing up in Texas, I saw Tennessee as one of several non-coastal southern states that existed on the map.  Without any family or personal ties, my only association with the state were those of pop culture. Over the past several years, I have begun to learn more about our American history that I was never taught in school. I am so thankful to the ARJE and ECE-RJ for not only choosing Memphis as a site for our annual gathering but for creating opportunities for Jewish educators like me to explore the city’s powerful and too rarely told history. Thank you for helping to thicken my understanding beyond the famous names and dates to the decades of valiant struggle that came before and enriching my learning as a clergy educator.

Rabbi Daniel K. Alter, MAJE
Atlanta, GA

This was my first time attending an ECE-RJ conference.  It was well organized and informative.  I enjoyed getting to know other Early Childhood directors and learning more about the ECE-RJ organization.  After my experience at this conference, I am looking forward to getting more involved.  I can’t wait to attend again next year!

Meagan Friedman
Senior Director of Early Childhood Education
Temple Emanu-El Early Childhood Education Center
Dallas, TX

Attending the first conference where two remarkable organizations converged was an enriching experience! The sessions offered a diverse array of topics deeply relevant to our work in Jewish Education. Each presenter guided us through thought-provoking workshops that not only provided valuable insights but also ignited numerous conversations and connections. The opportunity to participate in smaller reflection groups allowed for a deeper exploration of the learnings from various sessions. I left the conference rejuvenated and brimming with optimism for a future where belonging is truly universal. The atmosphere was not only educational but incredibly enjoyable, fostering an environment where learning felt meaning and fulfilling -allowing distinct friends to reconnect and new friendships to form.

Bubbles (Brianna) Francis
Parent and Teacher Engagement Coordinator
Becker School

About Association of Reform Jewish Educators (ARJE)


ARJE is the professional association of Jewish Educators who are connected to the Reform movement through personal or professional affiliation. We are a professional organization that inspires excellence through the work of Jewish teaching and learning in congregations, immersive experiences, after-school programs, communal and national organizations and more. ARJE members enrich lives by challenging minds, nurturing souls and strengthening Jewish communities.

About Early Childhood Educators of Reform Judaism (ECE-RJ)


Early Childhood Educators of Reform Judaism (ECE-RJ) is the professional organization and is committed to serving early childhood educators and leaders in congregational settings. We believe in elevating the professional self of our members through education, networking, and collaboration. We believe that the work of ECE-RJ increases the status and visibility of our profession and our schools within Jewish communal life, ensuring the continuity of thriving, high-quality Jewish Early Childhood programs. Our members include early childhood directors, assistant directors, teachers, pedagogistas, and experts in the field of Jewish early childhood education.

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