Reflections on the Third Space
Josh is is the Campus Rabbi at Fiedler Hillel at Northwestern University and an alumnus of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship Program. Josh can be reached at email@example.com.
Recently I co-chaired a conference sponsored by Hillel with funding from the Jim Joseph Foundation called Toward a Third Space: A New Dimension in Jewish Education for Emerging Adults. While Hillel and JJF were the official conveners of the gathering, many of us noted that The Wexner Foundation was the unofficial sponsor. I don’t have an official tally, but I would imagine at least half of the phenomenal group of 120 educators, organizational leaders, and funders present are alumni of the Graduate Fellowship. (Including Beth Cousens, Orit Kent, Miriam Margles, Shira Stutman, and Aaron Dorfman.)
The major focus of the conference was on understanding how teaching Torah to emerging adults (ages 18-30) works. The name Third Space is drawn from sociological theory (Ray Oldenberg), signifying spaces that are neither work nor home, but common areas. Our Hillel colleague Rabbi Dan Smokler gave a talk outlining how the concept of Third Space can be useful for understanding how the teaching and learning of Torah in emerging adulthood can work as a powerful means of engagement. The paper will soon be posted on the conference website, www.thirdspaceconference.com.
Two major highlights of the conference: First, the opening session with Dr. Sharon Daloz Parks, one of the leading theorists on emerging adult identity formation. Sharon is a mentor of mine whose work is deeply informed by her Quaker faith, and it was a dream come true to have her teach 120 of our best educators and Jewish professionals. (The first two chapters of her book, Big Questions, Worthy Dreams: Mentoring Young Adults in Their Search for Meaning, Purpose, and Faith, are available on the conference website. I highly, highly recommend them.) Second, nine phenomenal teachers of Torah had a chance to teach their colleagues and then collectively reflect on the experience. (Wexner alumni were prominent among both the teachers and the ‘unpackers’ for these sessions.)
What I feel most excited about coming away from the conference is that we brought a level of depth and richness to the nascent communal conversation about emerging adulthood. While the Jewish world has been working on various strategies for engaging young adults in Jewish life, I got the sense that this conference talked about it in a way that was new. There will be additional writing and reflecting coming out of the conference, I am sure. In the meantime, I wanted to make sure The Wexner Foundation was appropriately thanked and recognized for being the hidden hand in bringing it about. We have much to be thankful for.