HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal

From the Desk of Susan Weintrob, RAVSAK President

by Susan Weintrob Issue: Diversity

Diversity not only comes in many colors; it comes in many voices. Nonetheless, typical of many schools’ diversity definitions is the following goal from my neighboring independent school’s strategic plan: “The school will seek to raise the percentage of students, faculty and administrators of color…”

Diversity should do more than create populations with different races, although that is a worthy goal. Diversity of voices and perspectives in our schools helps us to craft educational philosophy, a framework for community and a plan for outreach. Yet we know that any change brings tensions and challenges each day. At RAVSAK schools, with no specific rabbinic authority, no political guidelines, and no imposed educational standards, a school may struggle in its creation and implementation of its own community values.

Celebrating diversity should open the door to Jewish families, creating common ground for those in our community raising Jewish children. While we may not welcome the tensions that diversity brings, they polish our values and aspirations, test our assumptions and stretch our notions of identity. These challenges help us confront whether we are comfortable dialoguing with those with whom we disagree, and help us to learn to respect those who may pray differently or eat with different standards. We should, with the right process and values, create a community with those whose families are structured differently and who may think or live differently.

While many other schools have diverse populations, few encourage the dialogue among families, staff and students that we generate in RAVSAK schools. We are used to exchanges of ideas. Once a Christian student of my husband asked me how we knew what the right way to read the Bible was. My answer was to show him a Talmudic page. “But which one of the rabbis’ views is the truth?” he asked. I explained that all were considered holy. The study of many points of view is not only a commandment but a way of life.

Diversity in our schools should create a living Talmud page. The central text of Chumash becomes the school and the diverse rabbinic texts, which speak to each other across the centuries, become our ideas, our families, our students, our curriculum and our guide.

Jacob Neusner describes the Jerusalem Talmud as a text of many voices, but one melody. This is the vision that we share, the paradigm that we hope to create. How we bring the Talmudic pages to life is a day-by-day test of our leadership and values. In collaboration with our administration, staff, trustees, families and community, we find the many paths that will allow us to open our doors, grow our schools, and strengthen the next generation of Jewish children. ♦

Susan Weintrob is the President of RAVSAK and the Head of School at the Hannah Senesh Community Day School in Brooklyn, NY. Susan can be reached at sweintrob@hannahsenesh.org.

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Diversity in day schools usually goes well beyond the denominational spectrum that falls under the rubric of pluralism. It includes socioeconomic disparities, gender and sexuality, color and ethnicity, and other differences of religious practice and customs. In this issue, authors recommend ways for day schools to become sensitive to a range of diversity, to welcome all students and teachers and find ways for them to validate these identities within the school community.

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