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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

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New website aims to raise ‘Jewish quotient’

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MONTREAL — Federation CJA has launched jQmtl.com, a website it describes as a “one-stop shop for all your Jewish learning needs.”

Using the slogan “Raise your Jewish quotient,” the site is intended to be a centralized location for publicizing Jewish educational programming in the Montreal Jewish community – free of charge.

It’s open to all organizations, whether affiliated with the federation or not, and the education offered may be formal or informal. The site’s creators subscribe to a broad definition of Jewish learning and see it as a lifelong process.

jQmtl.com, part of the federation’s Jewish Learning Initiative (JLI), seeks to reach Jews of all backgrounds, including those who define their Jewish identity in non-traditional terms.

It is hoped this project will also encourage the development of high-quality programming, and networking among those who provide it.

The learning may be about Judaism or Jewish history, Jewish arts and culture, Jewish languages, community leadership, or values and identity, for example.

While the terms are flexible, to be eligible for inclusion, the programs listed must meet three basic criteria: be curriculum-based, be “infused with Jewish content” and take place on an ongoing basis, even if only annually.

The site offers the feature “Ask Libby” for answers by email or phone to questions from those who can’t find what they are looking for, need help posting information, or want to start a program but don’t know where to begin.

Postings may be searched by age group targeted; type, location, time of program; or organization. The site is offered in English and French.

The website was officially launched during a day-long conference hosted by the federation on the changing educational needs of the Jewish community resulting from technological advances and the increasing diversity of its members.

The focus was on “complementary” Jewish education.

As federation president David Cape said, while day school education is important, “a more pluralistic approach” will help ensure that all Jews can learn in a way that suits them.

JLI director Steven Lapidus, who holds a PhD from Concordia University’s religion department, shared the findings of a recent survey carried out by the federation.

It shows that Montreal Jews are more diverse than ever, in terms of affiliation, language, culture and residence. More Jews are living on the West Island, Laval and the South Shore, in neighbourhoods that have not been historically Jewish and are not near Jewish institutions.

Ninety per cent said they are “very conscious” of their Jewish identity, while 67 per cent thought it important that they provide their children with some kind of Jewish education, but not necessarily at a day school.

There is a thirst for Jewish learning, even among those who describe themselves as secular, assimilated or in interfaith families, Lapidus said.

That the educational desires of North American Jews are rapidly transforming was underscored by conference guest speaker Jonathan Woocher, chief ideas officer of the New York-based JESNA (Jewish Educational Service of North America), a partner in the event.

Jewish organizations must move with the times and offer innovative programming, he suggested.

The vast majority of Jews in Canada and the United States identify as Jews, he said, but they do not identify only as Jews.

They see themselves as being part of larger society and as having multiple identities, he said, and have differing understandings of their Jewishness.

“Their identities are hybrid, fluid. They belong to different communities and not one can claim complete ownership,” Woocher said. “The Jewish community is not necessarily in a privileged position,” among these ways of seeing themselves.

Jews today want to decide for themselves how they express being Jewish, he said.

In the spirit of “prosumerism” (producer plus consumer), they want to shape their experiences, not be passive recipients of what others offer them.

“They have a declining loyalty to institutions, be it schools, synagogues, Jewish community centres.”

Woocher said the future will increasingly see Jewish learning taking place in not just one place or according to a set schedule. It may be face-to-face, online or a blending of the two.

The content may “not be exclusively Jewish… [but rather] educating the whole person, not just the ‘Jewish’ part.”

Jews want Jewish learning that helps them lives their lives better generally, he said.

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