As educators we often forget that the word “socioeconomic” has two parts – “socio” and “economic.” Socioeconomic status has come to refer only to financial means. We have all but forgotten the first part of the word. There are many individuals within our communities with a rich diversity of experience and opinion. This diversity makes our schools better learning communities. We have children whose parents are first generation immigrants, artists, or carpenters. They are from Argentina, adopted from China. Some come from interfaith households, some have single parents. They may live in homes that are multigenerational or include extended families. They may have relatives to care for in other parts of the world. Some of these families are also poor.
HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal
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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Community day schools have the potential to become powerful points-of-entry for interfaith families. They can serve as pivotal institutions, acting as exemplars for the way that the entire community responds to the opportunity presented by interfaith marriage.
According to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network’s 2005 National School Climate Survey, two thirds of LGBT students report being verbally or physically harassed at school because of their perceived sexual orientation. Three quarters of students surveyed for this respected, nationwide study reported feeling unsafe in school, with predictably negative impacts on their school performance.
So many of us are engaged in the challenge of introducing new people to the marvelous world of Jewish day school education. One of the concerns that day school advocates hear most frequently from potential parents or donors is the perception that day school culture is, by definition, too homogenous to adequately prepare graduates for life in “the real world.”
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…”
A famous Mishnah states, “When a human being makes many coins from the same mint, they are all the same. G-d makes everyone in the same image – His image – yet none is the same as another.” (Sanhedrin 4:5)
Yavneh Academy is a Modern Orthodox high school located in Dallas, TX on land rented from a Baptist church from $1 per year, and supervised by a Pentecostal headmaster. Founded in 1993 by a core of six committed families, Yavneh had been through three campuses and as many heads in its first five years. That’s when Don O’Quinn comes in.
Originally presented at the 2007 RAVSAK Annual Leadership Conference in Los Angeles, this case study accompanies
Dr. Bob Berk’s article on pages 4-5.
As the Executive Director of the Ayecha Resource Organization, I have had both the pleasure and opportunity of gathering networks of support for Jews of Color while providing educational resources to the greater Jewish community on appreciating difference and building sensitivity and tolerance. Through our Rabbinical Advisory Council, Training and Curriculum, Relief Fund and Annual Shabbaton, Ayecha has brought people of various backgrounds and affiliations together to consider what binds Jews to each other despite difference, and to examine the misunderstandings around difference that can, unfortunately, keep people apart.
Coming out at work was one of the scariest things that I have ever done; I was frightened that I was going to lose my job because I am a lesbian. At that time I was chair of the Bible department and knew of no other Jewish school that had a(n out) gay or lesbian chair of a limudei kodesh (Jewish studies) department.
I was recently part of a 24-hour think-tank aimed at speeding the recognition of diversity in Jewish life. The three categories of Jews considered in need of attention were Jews of color; gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Jews; and—are you sitting down?—women.
Diversity is a fact of Jewish life today. The radical openness of American society, where individuals craft their own identities based on choices they make for themselves, leads to – and celebrates – all sorts of hyphenated and hybridized identities. Marriages to non-Jews, inter-marriage and adoption mean Jews, who have never been monolithic, are multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-racial in ways not known before.
Perhaps it goes without saying that every interfaith family is different. Some families celebrate the holidays of only one religion. Others create an amalgam of their separate faiths. Others still navigate the calendar from one secular celebration to the next.
One of the questions I am asked most often is “What is a community day school after all?” This query is frequently followed by the questioner’s attempt to answer it himself: “Schools where anything goes… Judaism-light… private schools for Jewish kids…Orthodox schools disguised as liberal schools… schools that can’t make up their minds what they want to be or who they want to serve.” In an attempt to avoid a second round of Q&A (question-and-assume), I offer that a Jewish community day school is “created in the image of the local community in which it is found, and that the school understands Jewish diversity as a strength and not a threat.” Of course, this begs an explanation of what we mean by Jewish diversity, and given the theme of this issue of HaYidion, I attempt to offer one now.
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