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New network gathers the educational elite

    Out in support of our educators were (left to right) Ben Gilad, Tom Mor, Tal Mesika, Adi Tal, Shahar Schreier, Ophir Shay, Jasmine Yellin-Fass
    Out in support of our educators were (left to right) Ben Gilad, Tom Mor, Tal Mesika, Adi Tal, Shahar Schreier, Ophir Shay, Jasmine Yellin-Fass

    As far as community event locations go, it certainly was unique.

    Last Tuesday, more than 170 informal Jewish educators gathered together under the fake sky of KidZania - a theme park located inside Westfield shopping centre in west London - to celebrate the launch of new educational group Reshet.

    Leading community figures including JLC chief executive, Simon Johnson, PaJeS's executive director, Rabbi David Meyer, and UJIA's director of research, Helena Miller, ambled down the streets of KidZania, which are made to seem like a bustling city populated only by children, before mixing and mingling with their contemporaries from Jewish schools and youth organisations.

    Former Limmud director Shelley Marsh, now Reshet's executive director, welcomed attendees and explained the new educational body's journey from conception to reality.

    "Since Pesach, I have been on a constant road show, meeting people involved in informal education from across the community and finding out what they need," she explained.

    Reshet’s Shelley Marsh
    Reshet’s Shelley Marsh

    "Informal Jewish educators can learn from and with each other. To go from good to great, we need to work in partnership to maximise the Jewish experiences of our young people. In my numerous conversations with people throughout the field, I found there is a strong desire for real partnership in Jewish youth provision."

    With the support of UJIA and the JLC, Reshet will serve as a bridge for more than 2,000 people working in informal Jewish education in the UK - from teachers at Jewish schools to youth leaders, shul directors and researchers.

    The plan is to hold regular networking events to enable the sharing of ideas and initiatives, and also launch a website containing a comprehensive list of all that is on offer in the world of education.

    "The key is to be out in the field as much as possible," said Ms Marsh. "We want to be proactive and reactive.

    "Our website, which will be up and running in a few weeks, will be a great resource for parents who do not necessarily know what is out there. They can search for activities by theme, or by geographical location."

    According to Ms Marsh, the group was born out of a JLC report released last year, which found that there was no centralised ideology for informal Jewish education and also that more value and attention should be afforded to this sector of the community.

    Reshet, meaning "network" in Hebrew, boasts board members from across the spectrum including UJIA's Anthony Ashworth-Steen, Maccabi GB's Martin Berliner, Reform Judaism's Libby Burkeman and United Synagogue's David Collins. Former Limmud chair Elliot Goldstein will serve as Reshet chair.

    Lord Jonathan Kestenbaum addressed attendees. He told them: "There is one thing we all share here. We are doing nothing less than transforming this community. That is the business you are in."

    Sara Levan and Ben Abraham, both informal Jewish education teachers at JCoSS in Barnet, said they had come to the event as they were "always looking for ways to improve".

    For Mr Abraham, "informal education is the beating heart of our school. It puts our ethos into action."

    Meanwhile, Rabbi Meyer celebrated the creation of Reshet. "It will provide a much-needed link between informal educators across the community," he said. "It adds an element that cannot be provided solely by a formal environment. I have been having disucssions with the Department for Education on how to build tolerance, and this is certainly the medium for it."

    As educators made their way around Kidzania's cobbled lanes, which are lined with shops and offices where children can learn vocational skills, Ms Marsh explained her surprising choice of location for the launch.

    "The KidZania vision of independence is shared by informal Jewish education. Parents can watch but they cannot join in. I wanted something immersive - something like the 'Jewish bubble'."

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