Sunday, December 4, 2011

Noemi Szoychen

As an amazing first chapter to our Network-Weaver-Wisdom series, I had a wonderful conversation with Noemi Szoychen, a Jewish educator extremely passionate about topics ranging from technology to teaching, creativity to travel, Judaism to art. Here are some of her thoughts as a "Digital Immigrant" exploring the worlds of networking, community, education, and the arts - the collisions between them and her hopes for the future.

What do you think is the state of network development in Jewish education?

The Jewish world has opened up as never before with the possibilities of networking. At the same time, in Jewish education, there is a big gap opening up more every day between those – like myself – who want to transition into new things and those who don’t make space to deal with technology.

Do you have any tips for those who aren’t digital natives?

As someone who is myself not a digital native and has learned about networking, I’m now trying to get other educators interested in it. The truth is that you can’t train others to like it. Even when convinced of the benefits of sharing with others what they are teaching, many educators see it as doing extra work on their own time, not as something they themselves can also benefit from. Networking is not for everyone. You have to be open to this new work style, interested in learning new things, and good at communicating with other people for this to work for you.

One piece of advice: get people engaged in something that interests them on a personal level, even if it gets away from the focus on Jewish education. One person I worked with is an artist, and I asked, “Wouldn’t you like to have your art out there, so people could see it?” She had never thought of that before.

Moving to the next generation, how do you see the new trends in networking playing out?

In the new generation, the ways of networking and technology are going to be a given. I see my kids networking – no one teaches them to do that. I see my daughter working as a project manager in an online architectural designing place – she’s 10 years old and directing 20 people. These kids are working while they play. In another 10 years, I predict that most people will be working virtually from home – it will be a world without borders (I’d rather focus on the positives of this rather than the negatives).

What does the idea of community mean to you? Does it still resonate in a networked world?

Even though I do belong locally and have a circle of local friends, I have never felt I’m rooted in a specific place. I was born in one country and have lived in different countries and different states. When I started lacking that sense of community in my real world – specifically in terms of spirituality – I have found I was able to achieve the type of spirituality level I wanted through people I met online. Through online networking, I found different communities that have opened up and tried to reach people globally – places that are all-inclusive, without the barriers a lot of synagogues have. I have connected with people who think like me in three parts of the world: Israel, Argentina, and Mexico. The next step is to travel and get to know the people – I feel I already know them.

Could you describe some best practices you use to connect with others and leverage these connections, personally and professionally?

If I have something in mind – not just in Jewish education, but in a wide variety of things I like, such as art and music – I usually follow certain people and what they post, and I check it out in different websites. I try to learn from people I respect. If something really catches my eye, I start a Word doc and write down lots of ideas on what I’ve learned that day. I start thinking how this subject can be useful for certain groups of people I’m in contact with. I try at least once a week to come out with something new, a new suggestion, idea, or solution to someone’s posting of a problem.

Are there any networks you wish you were part of or wish you could start?

I wish there was a network that allowed the interaction between well-known artists (from all spectrums of the non-Jewish and Jewish art and media world) and educators who would be interested in including these artists’ work as a tool for teaching without worrying about the copyrights. This open network would distance itself from any politics or politically correct Jewish practice and rather present works as was originally intended. We all could benefit to hear directly from the artist themselves their vision and goals during the creation process.

Noemi Szoychen blogs at and tweets as @jewlearnit.

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