Meet New Midrasha Director: Kendra Sager

I feel honored and privileged to take on the role of Midrasha Director. This program has a tradition of excellence and is part of the fabric of the Madison Jewish community. I am excited to be a part of this important work. I’ve spent the summer meeting with parents and teachers as well as current and former students to learn about what makes this program unique and successful. It is clear to me that Midrasha serves two important purposes for our teens. It is first and foremost a facilitator of relationships - a place that allows our teens to form their own community and share their experiences with one another as Jewish teens in the Madison area. We might describe this concept as “community” or “connection” both of which I believe are firmly rooted in the concept of love. And, just as importantly, Midrasha helps to build our students’ Jewish literacy so that they can enter the world feeling a connection to their shared history and having considered how they will live Jewishly as adults.

These two concepts, which I will name “love” and “literacy,” are my mission as an educator. My goal is for Midrasha to be a place that develops Jewish teens who are both knowledgeable and literate and also feel loved by and love for their community.

It is often argued that one comes at the expense of the other, but I believe the synergy between these two values is what gives meaning to the Jewish experience. Each of these two values is essential to the development of our Jewish youth.

Love, cannot be our students’ only anchor to their Jewish experience. Of course, it is important that our students have fun and enjoy their experience in our program, but when a student’s experience is based solely on love, there is no grounding, no substance, and the love easily dissipates. When our students leave their time with us not knowing the foundations of our Jewish texts, rituals, language, and history, we are doing them a disservice. Conversely, when we focus too heavily on students’ literacy, the experience may feel isolating and elitist. If students feel their religious education is only a series of drills and tests, then failure feels like a rejection from Judaism.

When our programs and educational offerings are positive experiences of Jewish learning, we help to build a foundation of love of Judaism that can sustain our students’ connections through challenging, difficult, or negative experiences. Additionally, the learning experiences themselves often serve to foster community by providing groups of learners with a shared bond and language.

I accept the challenge to help our students to find both love and literacy, even if not in equal measures, so that they can continue to reach higher and higher levels of both. When the values of both love and literacy are upheld, we are preparing our children to navigate the world with a strong sense of self and a clear understanding of their place in the Jewish story. Helping to create the environment where students achieve this goal is my life’s work

 I look forward to engaging with our community’s amazing teens and learning with them and from them. I always appreciate feedback from the community about how our program can better meet the needs of our teens. Please feel free to reach out to me to let me know your thoughts.

Kendra Sager

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