Welcome to The Jewish Educator - NewCAJE's journal of Jewish Education. Here you'll find summaries of the articles, links to the full PDF's, and - most importantly - a chance to comment on what you read.
Please keep the conversation going.
HOT TOPIC: Should there be limits on the way we interpret text? Can open discussion lead to better understanding?
THE DESIRE TO PROTECT JUDAISM
What makes a person a good teacher? In professional development, I came across the following book, The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life, by Parker Palmer. In it, Dr Palmer argues that the essence of teaching is being true to oneself: Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and the integrity of the teacher.
As a teacher, I struggle with what it means to teach with identity and with integrity. I want my students to develop their own relationship with the Jewish community, with a personal conception of God. I struggle with how much I should guide their journey. I wonder when I should engage my students in the tensions of thousands of years of tradition in literature and perspective and when I should omit information. I want to open their minds to the fluidity and vastness of Jewish opinion and text and am simultaneously frightened that I will repel students with some of the more complicated and less-politically correct parts of our tradition.
THE ISSUES AND QUESTIONS DRIVING MY WORK IN JEWISH EDUCATION
I have been involved in Jewish education for over 25 years, serving as a teacher, advisor, mentor, principal, and director to students ranging from elementary to graduate school, and working in both religious and secular environments. Throughout, I have repeatedly struggled with how to merge religious and secular educational techniques. I have discovered that there is a shortage of opportunities for Jewish educators to come together in an academic environment and acquire the tools to become exceptional Jewish educators. In an effort to address this need, I have founded the Instructional Leadership Institute for Jewish Educators in collaboration with a team of Towson University (TU) professors from the Center for Leadership in Education.
The Jewish experience is unique and requires a customized approach and set of rules. This is particularly true in the field of Jewish education. The guidelines and procedures that work so well for teachers and administrators in public schools may not easily translate to a Jewish day school, yeshiva or Hebrew school. Nevertheless, there are many innovations and developments in secular education that would greatly benefit the Jewish community.
HOT TOPIC: How can we offer adult education that utilizes the skills and connections within your community?
Jessica Spitalnic Brockman
PROJECT NUREMBERG: THE POWER OF ADULT JEWISH LEARNING
Two things distinguished me from everyone else in the room:
1. I was under 50 years old.
2. I was not a child survivor of the Holocaust.
Frieda Jaffe, a congregant of ours, was, and she had invited me to the annual Yom HaShoah Child Survivors memorial service in Boca Raton. What happened at this service allowed me to purse a philosophy I have had about adult Jewish learning that has surpassed my wildest dreams.
Hot Topic: Even though Jews are a minority, they are, in the main, racially classified as “white.” How should Jews respond to class and privilege in American society?
“WITH GREAT POWER COMES GREAT RESPONSIBILITY.” – Stan Lee/Voltaire
We benefit from white privilege. We have significant power and status in this country. So what are we doing with it?
I wrote these questions up on the board to start one of my Monday night post-confirmation classes at Temple Beth Or in Raleigh, NC. We had spent time talking about what it means to be Jewish in the South, we had discussed the basic concepts of privilege — racial, religious, class based, etc. Now it was time to think about how this group of almost entirely white, almost entirely upper middle class group of teens could understand the power that comes with privilege. As they say in Spiderman, with great power comes great responsibility.
WHAT SHOULD A HEBREW SCHOOL IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD LOOK LIKE?
In a time when families no longer live down the street from the syngogue, both parents work, public/private school has extended school time, and traffic has increased, parents have difficulty getting their children to religious school during the week. The Hebrew School in Your Neighborhood program is an alternative for unaffiliated families who are not ready or do not want to belong to a congregation as well as the families who cannot make it to the main religious school in the synagogue. These neighborhood schools take place during the week in private and public schools, a law office, and a showcase art space.
What should this neighborhood school look and feel like? This is a temendous opportunity to explore the best of religious school and a chavurah style of learning in order to build the neighborhood school into a positive, exciting, and communal Jewish learning journey that is convenient and close to home.
Daniel A. Epstein
JEWISH EDUCATORS AND THE OPPORTUNITY TO DEVELOP A SOCIAL MEDIA CULTURE
My clinical experience in mental health has ignited a deep interest in studying the impact of social media use on the behavior and development of teens. A lifetime in the Jewish community and in education has shaped my approach to developing solutions. This is a particularly interesting time in the study of the interrelationship of social media and behavior because it still so new. Most of the data shows a general understanding that while there is, of course, a new world of possibilities in education, democracy, networking, and much more, there is also a host of problems associated with overuse, exposure to age-inappropriate content or activities, and harassment.
A major consideration in the prevention of negative consequences is to acknowledge a “new normal” may be forming among emerging generations. Yet, as anyone working with the youth would likely agree, something must be done to promote an experience that mitigates potential harm. This is where we, as Jewish educators, have an edge – but first we need to connect, collaborate, and get creative.
SOUL NURTURE: IGNITING AND MAINTAINING CHILDREN’S INTEREST IN JUDAISM
If I had one message to deliver to anyone who cares about Jewish children, it would be “Don’t extinguish the young embers!” I can speak not only for myself, but also for hundreds of former students. A key factor in awakening and fostering interest in Jewish education is a passion and exposure to aspects of Judaism that can rival the longing that children have for the mysterious. In this left-brained, competitive, and achievement-oriented world, it often is rationalized out of them in contemporary educational circles, across many denominations.
Speaking about “orient,” is it any wonder than that so many of our Jewish youth are attracted to Eastern cultures and even religions? There is a natural yearning in a pure neshama, perhaps hard-wired into the relatively neglected right brain area, for journeying into the unknown, and even cognitively, in contrast to experientially, unknowable, mystical areas of life.