What is “Flourishing in Synagogues?”
Flourishing in Synagogues is a grass-roots program to integrate Judaism and positive psychology in congregations, with a special focus on 10-to-17-year-olds and their families.
This project is organized by Sinai and Synapses (which is incubated at Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership) in collaboration with The Jewish Education Project and in consultation with the VIA Institute on Character and the Mayerson Academy. It is funded by the John Templeton Foundation, as well as other individual donors.
What are its goals and how did it arise?
Synagogues can be centers of human flourishing. That is a bold statement, and not one that comes to most people’s minds when they think of synagogues today. But what if they could be? What if we applied principles from the science of positive psychology in such a way that when people interacted with a synagogue, they encountered an institution that enabled them to find meaning in their lives, to cultivate their own character strengths, and to learn how certain aspects of Jewish wisdom and practice could help them flourish in their lives?
In fact, this would be both a revolution and a recovery in Jewish life. Synagogues used to serve this need for people. Don’t we want them to do so again?
The Jewish world is beginning to understand the opportunity for synagogues to recognize how powerful a focus on growth and flourishing can be. As the John Templeton Foundation has discovered, people are searching for meaning, purpose and growth, and both children and parents are looking to both deepen character and thrive. Religion can offer those tools, when presented in the right way.
Ultimately, this project hopes to show that the science of positive psychology help deepen families’ connection to their Judaism, as well as show how Judaism can help families flourish.
What are the expectations of the synagogue?
- To create, plan and run at least three programs in their community at some point between July 2019 and December 2020 integrating Judaism and scientifically-accepted methods of positive psychology, such as the VIA Classification of Character Strengths and Virtues.
- To attend a workshop (heavily subsidized) from June 18-19, 2019 at The Jewish Education Project in New York City for the rabbi (or other senior professional), educator and one lay leader. We anticipate being able to subsidize approximately $2100 per team for the workshop, depending on the synagogue’s location.
- To send out pre- and post-program surveys and metrics from students, parents, staff, teachers and other stakeholders in order to gauge the impact of this project. All respondents and congregational teams will also receive individualized reports in order to discover new tools and skills for growth and flourishing.
- To create one written blogpost for public distribution describing the project and its impact.
- To allow a staff member of Sinai and Synapses attend one site visit during this grant.
- To provide qualitative and quantitative data throughout this process, such as interviews, attendance sheets and stories, which will help guide future programming and a potential expansion of this program.
What are we looking for?
The ideal project is one that:
- Uses methodologies and programs that are grounded in accepted scientific theories of positive psychology, and in particular, are interested and able to use the VIA Classification of Character Strengths and Virtues to enhance flourishing
- Has multiple stakeholders who are invested in making this project a success, and are not looking simply for a “new initiative” for the rabbi or educator to impose on the teachers, students or families
- Is willing to have this project span multiple sessions, and not simply be a “one-off” program
What will the synagogues receive?
The synagogues that are selected for Flourishing Synagogues will receive three main benefits.
First, they will receive up to $2500 for use between July 2019 and December 2020 for materials, additional training or other expenses as they see fit.
Second, at the two-day workshop in June, they will gain a deeper introduction into the theory and practice of positive psychology, learn from experts in the field and from rabbis who are doing this work effectively, receive free copies of books such as Dr. Ryan Niemiec’s book Character Strengths Interventions: A Field Guide for Practitioners, and will workshop and prototype their program to gain immediate feedback.
Finally, they will receive opportunities for mentorship and connection from Sinai and Synapses, The Jewish Education Project, psychologists versed in the field of positive psychology, and selected rabbis, such as through Clal’s Rabbis Without Borders program, throughout the grant.
At the June workshop, they will receive guidance and learning from:
- Rabbi Geoffrey A. Mitelman, Founding Director, Sinai and Synapses
- Rabbi Jennifer Goldsmith, Managing Director, Congregational Learning & Leadership Initiatives
- Dr. Jillian Darwish, President & CEO, Mayerson Academy
- Rabbi Matthew Gewirtz, Congregation B’nai Jeshurun
What are potential programs or interventions synagogues might run?
These are a few examples of potential programs / interventions several rabbis have used based on the VIA Survey and scientifically-accepted ideas surrounding positive psychology. These are designed to spark ideas and inspire possibilities. If you have questions, feel free to contact us.
- Family education programs – how can we thrive as a family? What is my connection to my ancestors and what is my responsibility to future generations?
- B’nai mitzvah parent or clergy speeches – how do parents or clergy strength-spot in their kids, and how does that impact how the b’nei mitzvah students feel about their experience?
- Divrei torah – how can students look at their Torah portions through the lens of thriving or character strengths?
- Counting Your Blessings
“This gratitude exercise involves counting one’s blessings. People fall prey to habits and routines and can quickly overlook the good things that take place during the day. When we slow down to look at the details of our life, we begin to understand that it is the little things that matter. This exercise invites you to reflect on the little things – small, positive things that occur during the day.” (Niemiec, Character Strengths Interventions)
Jewish liturgy commands us to say “100 blessings every day,” yet when we are asked to think of things we are grateful for, we often fall back on the platitudes of things like “my family” and “my health,” and don’t deeply connect to that sense of gratitude.
How can we find gratitude in unexpected places? Can liturgy help give us words of thanks, and can those blessings help us inform how we see the world? How can we better live out the value of hakarat hatov, acknowledging the good?
- Acting “As If”
A common refrain around character strengths from individuals is to exclaim, “If only I could…” (be more creative, have courage, have more hope, etc.). Alfred Adler (1963), creator of the influential psychotherapy called “individual psychology,” created the “acting as if” technique as a way to counteract “if only” beliefs with actual action. The power of trying out new behaviors to create reality out of practice has long been championed by those working in psychodrama, an approach articulated by Jacob Moreno (Blatner, 1988). Modern personality researchers are confirming that individuals can be instructed to take on behaviors of a trait, such as a character strength, and this can boost the trait and well-being (Blackie et al., 2014). (Niemiec, Character Strengths Interventions)
In the Passover Haggadah, we are told to see ourselves “‘as if’ we ourselves went forth from Egypt.” What are some areas where we want to act “as if” we were certain kinds of people, and what would that mean for how we behave? What’s the relationship between behavior and emotion? In the Torah, the Israelites say “na’aseh v’nishmah” — “we will do and we will hear.” How can our actions — and doing things even if we don’t understand why — influence our beliefs and our feelings?
What is the timeline?
The deadline for applications is May 6th, 2019 at 11:59 PM Eastern. All decisions will be made and applicants will be notified by May 17th, 2019, if not earlier. All congregations are expected to bring three people (one rabbi or other senior professional, one educator, and one lay leader) for a two-day workshop in New York City on June 18-19, 2019. We anticipate being able to subsidize approximately $2100 per team for the workshop, depending on location.
Our selections will be based on organizational engagement, potential impact, ability to execute, and integration of Jewish content with accepted scientific theories of positive psychology.
What will the ultimate impact be?
The expanding field of positive psychology is making a huge impact on people’s lives. It is offering scientifically-grounded tools to help people find more meaning, purpose and joy. Jewish communities have a unique opportunity to bring these principles to their communities. Using the tools of positive psychology has the potential to create deeper engagement in these students, leading them to a stronger sense of Jewish identity.
If you have other questions, please contact us.