Sunday, April 17, 2011

Innovation, Passover & 21st Century Tools (updated for 2013)

This week, Jews around the world celebrate the national birth of the Jewish people through the holiday of Passover.  One of the primary tenets of celebrating the Passover holiday is the commandment to “remember” (Exodus, 13:3) and commemorate what happened to the Israelites in Egypt. Furthermore, the Israelites were commanded to “tell your son” (Exodus 13:18). Historically, during the period of the Second Temple, Israelites began to engage in the Passover Seder experience an innovation of experiential learning in order to fulfill the injunction to “remember” and “tell” the exodus narrative from generation to generation.

The Seder experience serves as a complex educational model, integrating Jewish and Greek methodology, hands on ritual, a rich text and intricate number and word play, all to promote active participation and inquiry from its participants. Familiar elements, such as the Karpas and Afikoman, originate in Greek custom. The repetition of the number four creates patters. The structural order creates a planned pacing designed to enhance the sensory and learning experience, within which we touch (Yachatz), taste (Karpas), speak (Kadeish), listen (Magid) and even smell (Marror).   This innovative educational tool serves as a model for how we in the 21st century aim to utilize new tools, adapted from the environment we live in order to satisfy age-old educational processes.

We, as lifelong learners, should use the tools of our time, just as the Rabbis in their time used the Greek tools and methods to enhance the storytelling and experiential learning experience for the Passover holiday. Today, we must utilize the new technological tools, whether digital or not, but we must keep in mind that when we say “technology”, we really mean the tools that have been brought to market in recent years. As the Passover Seder proves, we have always been using technological tools to enhance learning experiences to be more participant-centric and experiential.

Technology enables us to learn, both skills and content, but cannot become the central purpose of the learning experience.  The new technology of today surely becomes dated even more quickly now than ever before (anyone use ICQ or AOL Chat anymore?). As educators, we must play with as many tools as possible, become familiar with those we don’t access and embrace the reality that we will never have knowledge, let alone mastery, of every tool available, let alone the one’s our students use. In our capacity as educators, we serve our students as partners to plan and guide our students in how to utilize these great tools to meet the same educational purposes as ever before.  Since biblical times, story telling critically served to foster between generations the memories and values inherent to a people. Today, we need to foster expertise in digital storytelling, which teachers can master using sties such as Digitales and the University of Houston’s Digital Storytelling Site.

The Passover Seder has evolved over time, incorporating customs that utilized the technologies and methods of the contextual environment they evolved from. This year, two new tools incorporate the spirit of open source to allow Seder leaders and participants new tools to enhance their learning experience. and DIY Seder provide a range of tools to allow users to post, comment and share content and tools for their Seder experience, by constructing their own planned experience and a personalized Haggadah. These new tools, specific to 21st Century technology, clearly provide a model for how new tools clearly impact the educational process of Jewish experience.

Update Passover 2013:
This year, G-dcast unveiled a brand new FREE IOS mobile app "Let's Get Ready for Passover" that introduces children (of all ages) to the narrative of Passover preparation through an interactive game. It includes a short hidden object game that teaches about Bedikat Chametz (the ritual search for leavened foods) plus a Passover recipe. This simple game provides easy access for learning about the holiday experience beyond the exodus narrative, in a way that embraces storytelling through gamification.
I hope this Passover season, you will consider how the Seder learning experience and methodology can impact other Jewish experiences. What other new tools will we utilize to renew and advance the experience of Jewish life in the 21st Century? This year make your Seder memorable.


  1. Before Pesach this year a group of educators embarked on an experiment, utilizing Twitter to reenact the Exodus story. For over three weeks each of the participants played the role of one of the figures in the story. The results of the play and its rationale can be seen here:

  2. Yechiel,

    Hope your pessakh is going well.

    Just read the Jewish Journal article. Sounds like it was a great day. Yasher Koach for organizing and inspiring.

    A recent Avi Chai Foundation survey demonstrates that many leaders of the most creative new Jewish initiatives attended Jewish day schools. But deep Jewish knowledge in the 21st century is insufficient. Children must develop the innovation mindset. The founders of Google, Amazon and SimCity, like my daughters, acquired this mindset at Montessori schools. The Jewish Montessori educational approach--where children embrace and learn from their mistakes, follow their passions and work collaboratively--can help create an entire generation of Jewish innovators; Jews with skills, knowledge, daring and confidence to question the status quo and create vital new paradigms for Jewish life.

    If you want Jewish kids to be producers and not just consumers, shouldn't they be in an environment from an early age where they do not fear failure and questions matter more than answers?

    Moadim lsimchah,