Creating a 21st Century Temple

What makes a quality life and how can we make life better?
The 21st Century Personal Mishkan project is the culmination of a semester-long unit in Evan Wolkenstein's 10th Grade Tanach II course, nicknamed "The Mystery of Connection." The project ties together empathic listening and interviewing, design thinking and collaboration skills, design/architecture theory, sociology/human relations, and Tanach. Students collaborate to design and build a modern personal Mishkan with furnishings, incorporating motifs and imagery from the ancient Mishkan and applying wisdom gained from interviews with senior citizens that explore the question of, "what makes a quality life and how can we make life better?" They then return to senior center using their completed designs as springboard for deeper reflection on how to heal after trauma and how to reach our deepest human potential.

The Mishkan spans an entire book-and-a-half of the Torah, but for many young Jews today its relevance to modern Jewish civilization is not clear. When revisited and analyzed through a sociological and design lens however, the Mishkan provides tremendous insight into the age-old question: what makes a quality life? Beyond this, by sparking conversations about life and God, and by bringing people together, we re-create one of the most essential purposes of the Mishkan: community-building through holy collaboration.


Students learn reflective listening skills to develop their ability to empathize with a chevruta (and prepare for interviews with senior citizens).

Quality of Life

Students learn how to use the Quality of Life wheel, and use it to interview family members and senior citizens about their own philosophies regarding “what makes a quality life,” using reflective listening skills from step 1. 

Interviewing Seniors

Design Theory

Using an online Prezi, students learn basic Design and Architecture Theory, including how buildings/furniture transmit values and provide experiences that affect quality of life.

The Mishkan

Students learn about the Mishkan, from the original Torah texts and from G-dcast.

A Personal Mishkan

Students reflect on how to “intervene” when Quality of Life drops, and how to “fortify” to build resilience.

After journaling about their observations, they use models or digital design apps to create their own sanctuary--a place to heal one’s Quality of Life--in dialog with the ancient building/furniture.

To improve the design, they use “Critical Friends” protocol and complete three iterations of their design, internalizing the importance of the creative, collaborative process.


Students present completed design/models to class, and then share completed Mishkan with residents of Elder Care facility to spark conversation about how to recover from hardship and make the most of life.

Finally, students reflect on what they’ve learned from the design process, the interviews, and the Mishkan material –- and how it opens their eyes to their Jewish legacy and its possibility to empower their own lives.
Jewish Community High School of the Bay
1835 Ellis Street, San Francisco, CA 94115
Phone: 415.345.9777
JCHS is grateful for generous operational, programmatic, and financial support from:
The Jewish Community High School of the Bay (JCHS) is a unique college preparatory high school committed to integrating deep learning, universal wisdom, and Jewish values. We empower each student to embrace their Jewish identity, generate empathy and compassion, delight in lifelong education, and improve the world.