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  • Learning leads to a deepening of Jewish commitment and expanding Jewish practice.
  • Learning contributes to the creation of a strong sense of community.
  • Learning develops a synagogue's capacity to be self-renewing.
These are some of the principles on which the ECE was founded. They have been borne out repeatedly in synagogues  —   large and small, across the country  —  that have participated in the ECE process.

Indeed, in ECE congregations, adults, children and families are learning in a variety of new and exciting ways, not confined to the classroom or beit midrash setting. Learners are teaching, teachers are learning, and all activities  —   meetings, worship, social action, and social events  —  now include learning. Through authentic Jewish learning, these communities have been revitalized and transformed. Want to learn more? Click here to hear their stories.


LEARNING AS A POINT OF ENTRY

Surely a lasting transformation of a congregation requires re-thinking each of the three traditional aspects of a synagogue’s purpose (prayer, assembly, and learning). Yet, we believe that — for many congregations — learning is the most accessible and empowering place to start. Learning helps one understand the meaning of prayers, and the reasons for praying communally. And learning creates community by establishing connections and relationships that are purposeful and substantive. At ECE congregations:
  • Members experience the power of learning to give them insight into their lives, and to ground their ethical decisions;
  • Members experience learning as enjoyable and deeply satisfying;
  • Individual growth through learning leads to transformation of the congregation;
  • Professional and lay leaders work in collaborative partnership; and
  • The institution as a whole becomes more deliberative and self-reflective.

HISTORY OF THE ECE

Created in 1992, the Experiment in Congregational Education (ECE) is the nation's first synagogue transformation project —  and among the most successful. It was founded on the belief that learning is the most effective pathway towards transforming congregations from membership service organizations into "communities of meaning," in which members are involved and engaged with Jewish living and learning and with one another.

Initially supported by grants from The Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Mandel Associated Foundations, The Gimprich Family Foundation, and The Covenant Foundation, the ECE began with an invitational conference of academicians, rabbis, educators and lay leaders to deliberate on the means by which learning could become a vehicle for congregation-wide change.

Since that time, the ECE has worked directly with 14 congregations throughout the U.S.  —  ranging in size from 300 to 3,000 member units. Through the ECE process, these congregations have worked to become Congregations of Learners, in which members of all ages are actively engaged in learning, and Self-Renewing Congregations that practice collaborative leadership among professional staff and volunteers, and have incorporated deliberation, reflection and ongoing experimentation and assessment into all of their activities.

In addition to the 14 congregations with which the ECE has worked directly, the ECE has influenced the transformation of a number of others in both the Reform and Conservative movements. The ECE’s concepts and methodologies have been put to use in many of the national and local synagogue transformation projects that have sprung up in the past few years. It has inspired three books, several research reports, and three similar projects at the local and national levels.


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