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new beginnings

07/01/2023 10:30:42 AM


Rosa Whitten, Director of Education

I feel so fortunate to begin my position as Director of Education, which will be new for me, but has a long history of great success at PTS. I just had the privilege of taking an almost 4 month sabbatical from full time work. I feel fulfilled and ready to bring creativity and enthusiasm to this role. In addition to taking the extra free time to take care of myself and my family, I found myself leaning toward educational opportunities and personal enrichment. I was able to volunteer in a few different ways and spent time with friends and family. I enjoyed the breather in my professional life and look forward to a fresh start.

This unique opportunity is so special, not only to get to know more PTS families in a deeper way, but also to ensure the engaging programs that our community enjoys will continue to thrive. PTS has been a wonderful fit for my own family in the last 5 years. My husband Dave, and children Michael and Julia, joined in 2018 after moving to Burlingame from San Carlos. We have made great friends and celebrated our son becoming a bar mitzvah less than a year ago. I had the pleasure of knowing Rabbi Molly Plotnik and Rabbi Liora Alban when they were our leaders, both of whom left big shoes to fill through their dedication and creativity, and have paved a beautiful path for learning opportunities at PTS.

As I begin, I have been reflecting on what I hope for the youth and adults in our programs and I think there’s so much value in Jewish education. Now, possibly more than ever, due to the separation we experienced during the pandemic and divisiveness of culture worldwide, is the time to be together as a community of shared values and find comfort in our identities. We are taught that together we can repair the world, through Tikkun Olam. In addition to caring for each other through celebrations, mourning losses, and sharing meals, I’ve seen our synagogue work together to help understand important initiatives. Top of my mind are climate change, political activism, women’s rights, generational divides, mental health, refugees, and multifaith connections. Through these activities I have noticed a sense of shared purpose, kindness toward one another, and caring for others inside and outside the community.

The fun and exciting part of getting to create educational programs at PTS for youth and adults is that learning can be so many things. I always thought I would become a teacher and started as a preschool teacher a few years after finishing college. Preschool has been studied as foundational learning with positive short-term and long-term outcomes, and I think there’s a lot we can take from the principles and best practices of early childhood education and carry through to adulthood. 

  • One of the things we know is that effective teaching is intimate and teachers are most successful when there are strong connections with students and their families. Learning happens everywhere, both at home and school environments. Synagogue learning is especially transferable because it uniquely encompasses soulful topics surrounding values and ethics that are not typically discussed in traditional classrooms. 

  • Learning is about the process and not a product. There is no one outcome that we hope to achieve in Jewish education. Children, teens and adults have a variety of goals and those learning goals may change over time. The good thing about a place like PTS is that students can continue or come back to learning throughout their lifetimes and find meaning at different stages of life as their perspectives change. There are also no tests or grades and the results of learning may not be seen for years to come.

  • Learning happens through play. It’s the same advice for children as for adults. Children on a playground might be exploring the physics of a swingset, the composition of the clouds in the sky, or navigating a relationship with a friend. Learning through play doesn’t stop and the best recommendation for adults to keep our brains fresh is the same advice for children, which is to play. We’re supposed to play card games, learn a new language, and do crossword puzzles to keep our minds active. I remember interviews of athletes from the last winter Olympics saying they perform best when they feel like they are having fun. I think we learn best when we are having fun as well.

In addition to thinking about what I hope for children, teens, and adults in our community, I have been thinking about what someone will get out of a Jewish education at any age. I think about this question when I register my own family for a new activity and what our personal goals are individually or as a family. First and foremost at PTS is an opportunity to thrive and be seen. For me, synagogue is a place to feel welcome to ask questions. With inclusivity in mind and knowing the Torah teaches us that we are created B’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God, we all belong. I also want people to feel kindness in a way they may not experience elsewhere between one another. I look forward to meeting new families, and if I have met you before, I look forward to meeting you in a new way as I put on my hat as your Director of Education. I look forward to welcoming you and to creating deeper connections.

I feel blessed to become a part of a talented staff. I’m excited to get to know our teaching staff now as colleagues instead of as a parent. We are grateful most of them will continue over the next school year and I appreciate their knowledge and expertise. Our administrative and facilities staff is equally amazing and thorough. I couldn’t think of a better clergy team to work with as well. I get to shift from a congregant and parent to a staff member and look forward to the journey ahead.

Mon, April 22 2024 14 Nisan 5784