Engaging the Four Students

by Benji Berlow

In his book Conscious Business, Fred Koffman articulates a concept that he calls “mental models”–models that depict how each of us perceives the world.  As a result of biology, culture, and personal experiences, we each have a unique lens through which we see the world, one that is often different even from those closest to us.  Many times, we get stuck in a pattern of seeing the world a certain way, making us oblivious to problems that surround us (even though they are obvious to others with different mental models).  Koffman goes further and suggests an evolutionary model for how mental models can change overtime, from the unconscious stage (not even perceived) to the impulsive stage (“it’s all about me”) to the conformist stage (herd mentality) to the reflective stage (not satisfied with conventional thinking).

As I read Koffman’s description for each stage, it hit me that each stage corresponds to one of the four children from the Passover story, and that each child has a different mental model for how they view the Jewish community.  It inspired me to analyze college students from this perspective in order to uncover engagement methods that fit their mental model:

First is the student that does not know how to ask.  He is unconscious and unaware of the Jewish community.  However, he is not at fault for not knowing how to ask, because he has no language, no background, and no connection to the Jewish community.  For this student, one must make the barrier to entry as low as possible.  Find out who he is and create relevant and attractive programs in the physical place where he is already. Being warm and welcoming will not work, because he will never step foot into Hillel.  Your approach should be accessible, sexy, and visible.

Next is the simple student.  She knows about the Jewish community, but only has a surface relationship.  She attends events with free food, but never will stay for the speaker.  With a sense of entitlement, she will take everything that Hillel has to offer, but give nothing in return.  For this student, one must demonstrate the value of community and purpose.  Find out what her passions are and connect her like-minded students.  Show her the power of organizing and shared value.  Your approach should focus on creating networks of interest groups and meaningful programs.

Then there is the wise student.  He is absorbed in the Jewish community, perhaps even a leader.  Although he gives all of his time and energy to his group, he also seems to be going through the motions of recreating the same, stagnant programs.  For this student, one must change the status quo.  As Wayne Firestone says, “If it ain’t broke, break it.”  Challenge his assumptions and innovate with compelling, never-before-seen initiatives.  Your approach should be out-of-the-box and anything but normal.

Finally, there is the wicked student.  She knows the Jewish community, but sees herself as better than the establishment.  She may come to events, but will not fully engage with the program because she will tend to point out what is missing or unappealing.  While the simple student may not feel part of the group, the wicked student sees all of the people not included in the group.  For this student, one must trust and take a huge risk.  Create a space for her to be independent and still part of the community.  Give her an internship with responsibility to do things her way.  You will take a leap of faith to engage this student, but listening to her will allow you to connect to others who are not yet engaged and who have difficulty feeling included in their community.

I once had a teacher who explained to me the difference between Shammai and Hillel.  When someone asked a question of Shammai, he would labor intensively for days to find the “true” answer.  When a question was asked of Hillel, he would answer with a question: “Who is asking?”  As we create different models for young adult engagement and assess their effectiveness, we need to know exactly who we are engaging.  Which type of student was Taglit-Birthright Israel designed for?  What would a successful experience look like through the lens of each of these mental models?  Should we expect every student to become a leader?  How should we engage students who are already leaders?  Is the student who sees everyone that is left out of the group truly wicked or just perceived as wicked from the mental model of the establishment?

It is important to remember that while we may get stuck in our own mental model, we are able to transform and grow out of them as well.  As we continue to evolve our mental models and our engagement methods from the unconscious stage to the reflective stage, what could the next stage look like?

Benji Berlow (@benjiberlow) is the director of Jewish student life at Carnegie Mellon University.

NEXT’s National Opportunities

Our tools are yours to use as you reach out and engage with Birthright Israel trip alumni in your community.

  • Give the Birthright Alumni members of your cohort the tools to do Shabbat their own way with NEXT Shabbat.
  • Check out and share our compilation of Holiday Resource Guides to demystify the Jewish Holidays.
  • Empower Birthright Alumni to take back Passover with Passover Seder Grants.

Pesach: Central, Pivotal, Crucial.

by Yoni Sarason

Happy Summer in March!

Weather aside, the Jewish calendar let’s us know Spring has arrived through the celebration of Pesach/Passover. The holiday, which is filled with symbols of rebirth (eggs, parsley, etc.) is also host to what has been called the central narrative of the Jewish people; the Exodus from Egypt. In retelling the story every year of our journey from slavery to liberation, we recommit ourselves to both memory and to working towards a world in which we are all free from physical or mental bondage.

So that you don’t have to search, I’ve distilled what I believe to be the most interesting things about the Pesach holiday and story into a few ideas:

1. Compassion is the basis great leadership. Much like Harry Potter, being saved from a certain death by his mother’s compassion, Moses’ life is saved by three women; his mother, his sister, and Pharaoh’s daughter. We are taught that this compassion, conferred upon Moses early in his life, allowed him to hear the suffering of the Israelites and be motivated to act on their behalf.

2. We must understand inequality and actively work to counter it. The first actions we read about Moses taking are quick and occur in rapid succession. First, he leaves the palace, second, he sees an Israelite being struck by an Egyptian and kills the Egyptian. Next, he sees to Israelites fighting and intervenes, they call him out on killing the Egyptian and he flees Egypt. Finally, he sees women being accosted as they try to tend to their flock and defends them. We learn that these actions represent an ideal of behavior. First we must make a conscious decision to understand the injustices of the world, as Moses does by leaving his cushy life in the palace. Once we have seen injustice, it is our duty to act against it, as Moses does with the Egyptian taskmaster, the arguing slaves, and the women at the well. It is this willingness to ask, combined with Moses’ humility that we understand to be the reason he is chosen to lead the Jewish people from Egypt.

3. We cannot progress when we are narrow-minded. Speaking of Egypt, or Mitzrayim, as it is known in Hebrew, is an interesting word. The literal translation of Mitzrayim is ‘from the narrow places’. We can understand this as a metaphor for the creation of the Jewish people, where the narrow places are the womb, and the exodus is the process of birthing. Alternatively, it is taught that the narrow places represent a non-expansive world view. When we are narrow in our thinking, we do not create to our full potential. Only through an exodus from this perspective to expansive thinking can we truly see the world and identify our purpose within it.

4. Memory is powerful. We are specifically commanded to remember the exodus from Egypt, and the seder itself is a highly ritualized reenactment of our journey from bondage to freedom, replete with foods, songs, stages,and stories to carry us from point to point. In envisioning ourselves as freed slaves, we may better empathize with those still not liberated.  Further, in helping our peers and children to live this ritual, we ensure the continuity of these ideas and work towards a more just world.

May your Passover help you to ask important questions and find more gratitude and meaning.

Chag Sameach!

Yoni Sarason is the Midwest Regional Director at NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation

Image by RonAlmog, licensed under Creative Commons.

Staying Kosher on a Budget

While many of your participants may not keep Kosher, Kosher on a Budget offers a great breakdown of how to prep a Holiday menu without breaking the bank.

Read more here.

Rosh Hashana & Sukkot Prep on a Budget

Planning for Rosh Hashana: Getting Organized

Inviting Guests, Making a Budget & Meal Planning for Rosh Hashana and Sukkot

Shopping Lists for the Jewish Holidays

Rosh Hashana Post-Mortem with Recipes

Apple Challah Recipe for Rosh Hashana

Peach Noodle Kugel Recipe for Break-the-Fast

Pesach Prep on a Budget

How to Shop for Passover on a Budget, Part 1 and Part 2

On Passover Bondage & Credit Card Debt

Frugal Hostess Gifts for Passover Seder

Passover Side Dish Recipes

Passover Charoset Recipes

Passover Menu Planning Made Easy

Challah image by Grongar, licensed under Creative Commons.

Passover Haggadot

Did you know that the Maxwell House Haggadah is the most widely-used haggadah in the U.S.? Since 1934, over 40 million copies have been printed and distributed around the world. Now, nearly 80 years later, there are just as many varieties of haggadot as there are blends of coffee.

Help your participants personalize their Seders by finding a haggadah that matches their vision and values. Below, we’ve collected a variety of options to choose from (some of which are free!) 

ONLINE
PRINT
Many of the titles listed below can be found on your local book store or Amazon.com and range from $5-$15 each.

Image by Brownpau, licensed under Creative Commons.