What are the lenses?


The work of IDEAL18  is rooted in foundational Jewish ideas and values through which we view and experience our world. We have grouped these core concepts, drawn from our ancient tradition, into seven interconnected categories, which we call lenses. These lenses provide an ethical model for living, a set of resources designed to help us experience increased sanctity in an increasingly confusing, commercial, and difficult world, and a language through which we can articulate a shared vision that we want to pass on to future generations. The lenses open windows to transcendent Jewish values, serve as foundational and transformative guides, and are lived in the classroom as well as the extended school community.


These lenses articulate our approach to our work. They inspire as much as they inform. They are ideally manifest daily in each of our early childhood centers – in the ways in which we structure our time, our curricula and our classrooms; the quality of our relationships with our students, our faculties, our host institutions; and the partnerships we forge with the families in our communities. They improve and sharpen our vision, and enable us to see our world more clearly and in a particularly focused way.


Judaism is not exclusively a matter of the “what” or “when” in the world of ritual and faith, but includes the deeper matters of the “how” and “why” of the totality of our lives and our relationships to the world as a whole. It welcomes diversity, inclusion, reflection and innovation.

For each lens there is a Hebrew word which captures the essence of the lens, a literal translation of the Hebrew, and a more interpretive word or phrase which illuminates IDEAL18’s understanding of the core value within each category.

אֶחָד   ECHAD – One

(Unity, Interdependence, Wholistic, The Source of Creativity, Continuity)

While the most common meaning of echad in the Torah is “one,” it is also used to mean the first, the same, and denotes unity or common purpose. When we consider the concept of “one,” we are highlighting uniqueness, that each person is one-of-a-kind. Yet, inherent in any “one” person, is their relationship to every other “one.” Our relationships and peoplehood as Jews make us part of a larger oneness; “The people answered with one voice.” (Exod 24:3) Our sages teach us that “One” refers to God’s unity with His Creation. All of us are creators, and the desire to be creative is a testament to creation. We are always in relationship with the creative process, and what we ultimately create is an expression of our uniqueness. Echad is living in an ultimate state of creativity and creation, a state of uniqueness and relationship. Each of us is a one and only, and each of us is part of a whole, part of “Am Echad,” one nation. (Gen 11:6).

שִׂמְחָה   SIMCHA – Joy

Simcha, loosely translated as joy, is deeper than happiness. While happiness may be a symptom of joy, happiness denotes a transient state while joy is transformative, it and making a lasting impression. Sukkot is called “Zman Simchateinu,” the Season of our Joy, in the Festival Shemoneh Esrei prayers. This is based on the verses in Vayikra 23:40-43, that describe Sukkot as deriving its joy from the Mitzvah observances of the Four Species, and the Mitzvah of living in the Sukkah itself. What does building a temporary home, and shaking four different types of plants together, have to do with joy? From here we see that joy occurs when we are intentional about our our experiences, and when we use these intentional experiences to elevate relationships (as mitzvah observance is ultimately experiential relationship-making with God). We also notice that we create and prepare the environment (the sukkah), and the sensory experiences within it (the Four Species) in order to create a sense of joy. In addition, living in a sukkah (a temporary structure with no real roof) represents trust in God. Here we see the connection between trusting relationships and joy. Each of the Four Species represent a different type of person. We see that when we bring everyone together for a common purpose, no small feat, it results in joy.

חָכְמָה   CHOCHMA – wisdom

Chochma comes from koach mah, meaning potential. It is interesting that society often associates the idea of wisdom with senior adults, and yet potential is most often associated with the youngest children. How might these two groups intersect for a synergistic type of wisdom? Chochma is an idea that has yet to be developed, an inspiration.  Yet, a Torah scholar, one who has studied extensively and is well versed in Jewish law is a talmid chacham, a student of the wise or sages. It seems that wisdom lives in constant pursuit of learning and self-development. A scholar is always a student. We see raw potential in many different facets; qualities such as creativity, spacial awareness, and ingenuity are not intellectually processed.

בִּינָה    BINA – connection

(Deep emotional understanding)  

The word bina is related to the word livnot, meaning “to build”, for this is the essential quality of bina. An idea by itself is lifeless; an idea takes shapes when it is built up, expanded, extended. Potential and inspiration are harnessed and developed into something deeper. An initial idea or theory  might be explored or expressed, yielding deeper meanings, understandings and creations. What began as a palate of colors now becomes a painting. What began as a question is now an intricate web of understanding. Every morning, humanity is figuratively woken by the song of a rooster. Why a rooster? As our morning blessings tell us, the rooster has bina; he understands that each new day brings fresh opportunities to develop ourselves and our ideas, and that is worth singing about.

מַסָּע   MASAJourney (Reflection, Return, and Renewal)

Judaism asks that we see ourselves as part of a larger picture – our personal stories impact and inform our community. Our personal vision is part of a communal promise. Where we find ourselves at the start of any journey is as much about our shorashim, contextual roots, as it is about our individual choices. Jewish tradition understands that our success in life depends as much upon the integrity with which we progress as it does upon reaching our goals. Our journeys are both internal and external, and must be taken in context – others came before us and shaped our journey, and our journey will always affect the journeys of others. Even as we travel toward a particular goal, we strive to be reflective and recognize each step as a moment of learning, containing unique value in and of itself.  How do we recognize those steps? As we put our right hand over our eyes to begin the Shemah, deep listening, focus, and presence (both within ourselves and around ourselves) guide our footprints on the world.

צֶלֶם אֱלֹקים   TZELEM ELOKIM Divine Image (Dignity, Honor, Competency, and Potential)

We are, each of us, created in the Divine image. This knowledge and perspective has enormous impact on both our self-image and the ways in which we relate to all those around us. It affects our views on potential, special needs, multiculturalism, multi-ageism, diversity, and our communal relationships. The way one treats, and feels about others is directly related to the way one relates to and feels about God. When we internalize the idea that everyone is a reflection of Godliness, interactions demand kavod, respect. When we see each person’s spark as part of a larger flame, we recognize that we treat each other with the dignity that comes along with knowing that we are all fulfilling our collective and individual missions.

בְּרִית    BRIT Covenant (Belonging and Commitment)

We do not make our journeys alone. We live in partnership with our family, our schools, our larger community, and God. The ways in which we fashion and nurture relationships are key to the success of our journey. We honor agreements, follow rules and norms, and trust that others will do the same. Our behavior is a sign of the covenants we honor with others and with ourselves. We strive to maintain our integrity and continually develop healthy relationships filled with honor, trust, honesty and faith. Both our personal and professional lives are enriched by binding relationships in which we feel a true sense of security; relationships in which our individuality is honored, our opinions are heard, our needs are considered.

הִתעוֹרְרוּת   HIT’ORERUTAwakening (Amazement and Gratitude)

Our sense of awe when faced with the enormity of our world, is a gift. Judaism provides us with vehicles for realizing our dreams, and fills us with gratitude for the processes as well as the products. From the outer reaches of the universe to the smallest atoms, there is much in the world to fill us with amazement and respect. Wonder fuels a culture of inquiry and reflection. Awe and amazement are natural responses to things that we do not understand, but it is important to realize that understanding does not preclude awe – if anything, it can intensify it. Amazement and wonder are products of awakening, and that awakening leads to a sense of gratitude and desire to return the favor.

דְּרַשׁ      D’RASHInterpretation, Searching (Observation, Inquiry, Dialogue, and Transmission)

The spirit of inquiry within human nature is the impetus for growth and reflection. It leads to discovery, broadens one’s horizons, and uncovers information from which others will grow and learn. The language of d’rash comes from the Hebrew darash: “inquire” (“seek”) – the comparative meaning, as given through similar occurrences. The Jewish understanding goes beyond observation and  inquiry to interpretation, interaction, and transmission. It engages the knowledge and experience of the past in conversation with the present, and documents the new learning for the benefit of future generations. The art of inquiry within Judaism is a time-honored tradition. Our Torah (the scroll itself) lays the foundation for inquiry and instruction as our eternal partners, teachers and companions. We keep torah alive, we engage it in challenging conversation, we listen closely to it, we add to its lessons with the context of our own generations, and we pass it along to those who will come after. To ask, to argue, to interpret, and to transmit are all essential elements of our growth and maturity as human beings. To constantly be both the teacher and the student, placing equal emphasis on the answers we have already received, and allowing them to give birth to new questions and challenges within our own lives is to take advantage of the spirit of drasha and its important place in the life of the Jewish people.

קְדוּשָׁה     K’DUSHAH Holiness (Intentionality and Presence)

The first instance of K’dushah in Torah is the sanctification of time – Shabbat. Setting aside portions of time for reflection, deepening understanding, and regeneration is a sacred act. Moses meets God on holy ground – the burning bush, and responds “Hineini – I am ready.” His full attention to his surroundings attune him to the unique relationship he has to this particular moment in time and what is required of him. The Israelites build a holy place in the desert in order that they might be more constantly aware of God’s presence in their midst. We are commanded to realize our communal potential for holiness through our intentional relationship with the Divine – “You (pl.) shall be kadosh, because I, your God am kadosh.” Our surroundings, our relationships, our schedules, are reflections of our values and beliefs. Times, spaces and communities are enhanced when given our full attention and our full intention. When we mark our time and build and use our spaces in a sacred way, it is we who are sanctified, enriched, re-energized.

תִיקוּן עוֹלָם  TIKKUN OLAMRepair of the World (Responsibility)

We live in a fragmented world, and it is our nature to be somewhat dissatisfied with the acceptance of things the way that they are. We speak and yearn for a time of increased harmony, unity, synthesis and partnership with others. Tikkun comes from the language of fixing (something that is broken). Judaism places an enormous and unique emphasis on our role in bringing about this “fix” or redemption of the world. Tikkun Olam is connected to, but not confined to Tzedakah, and Tzedakah is about giving of all of our resources to the world – not because we are told to, but because it is the right way to behave. Jewish faith obligates us to be “response-able” to all we experience and the numerous gifts we have given. We must realize the Divine Image in others and ourselves through right action, our responsibility to be partners with others in repairing what has been broken in the world, and our commitment to act now, not later. Everyone can participate in tikkun olam- “It is not upon you to finish the work, but you are not free to ignore it.” (Mishna, Ethics, 2:21)