As many HaYidion readers know, The AVI CHAI Foundation is a private foundation which has, over the years, made tremendous investments in Jewish day schools and overnight summer camps. We invest in schools and camps because we believe that a vibrant Jewish future depends on a commitment to Jewish living, learning and Jewish peoplehood, and we subscribe to a research-based belief that the best hope for attaining this vision of the future is through a focused investment in educational experiences for Jewish youth which are Jewishly meaningful and full of joy. So programs and organizations that support schools and camps are the objects of our grant-making.
HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal
The Educated Jew
The authors here are engaged in an argument leshem Shamayim, for the sake of Heaven, over the question of what should a Jewish day school produce. Some emphasize cultural knowledge: Hebrew fluency, tefillah mastery, literacy of core texts in the Jewish library. Others view middot as central: ethics, commitment, curiosity, caring; while yet others choose social action as the goal.
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The title of this article—should Jewish schools aspire to create educated Jews?—is obviously intended to be provocative. In one sense, the answer to the question is surely yes. When we set up systems and institutions for educating people, our goal is to educate those people. Jewish day schools educate Jews. So it seems as if we are asking, “Do we want to achieve our goals?” Why else would we do whatever we decide to do, if not to achieve whatever we aspire to achieve?
The Jewish Day School Standards and Benchmarks Project, funded by AVI CHAI and run under the auspices of the Melton Research Center for Jewish Education of the Jewish Theological Seminary, has worked with more than thirty-five schools since its establishment in 2003. The Project is rooted in two core beliefs about vision. The first core belief is that vision is critical and the second, vision alone is insufficient.
Recent discussions about the importance of educational leadership and the way to strengthen it in order to improve American education have left me both pleased and very troubled. I am pleased because I strongly identify with the idea that success in education depends on high quality leadership, but troubled because the directions emphasized in the materials I have come across exhibit an understanding of leadership that is superficial in some fundamental ways. I would like to offer, not an alternative set of ideas, but a complementary perspective on the challenges of leadership and the cultivation of leaders for education. Though my concern encompasses the challenges of general education, my more immediate worry is that the outlook I will investigate might come to dominate the Jewish community as it seeks to cultivate leaders for our educating institutions. I hope that our field will engage seriously with the complementary set of ideas that I am proposing.
This column features books, articles and websites, recommended by our authors and people from the RAVSAK network, pertaining to the theme of the current issue of HaYidion for readers who want to investigate the topic in greater depth.
Chevra, It is hard to believe that more than three months have passed since the Leadership Conference. We have celebrated Purim, Pesach, Yom Hashoah, Yom Hazikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut and are counting the Omer until Shavuot. The counting of the Omer is intended to remind us of the link between Passover, which commemorates the Exodus, and Shavuot, which commemorates the giving of the Torah. This period of transition has also been an opportunity for the new RAVSAK board to benefit from the wisdom that comes with wandering and inquiry, study and learning and, ultimately, a focus on priorities.
As Jews, we have always had dreams, and as Jewish educators, we believe, as did Herzl, that אם תרצו אין זו אגדה—If you will it, it is no dream. Thus it is fitting that this Shavuot issue of HaYidion—which will reach you during commencement season—examines the “Vision of the Graduate,” and asks the question, What does it mean to be an educated Jew?
Jewish community day schools are relatively new entrants onto the educational scene. Our unique mission to teach and support a range of approaches to the practice of Judaism provide an opportunity to define our niche. But, as Seymour Fox z”l frequently reminded me, mission is not sufficient. “What is your vision of the ideal graduates of your school?” he would ask. At the Heilicher Minneapolis Jewish Day School, we wrestled with this question in the traditional way when our Board of Trustees reviewed our mission statement, electing to add a vision statement describing our students, and interestingly, the characteristics of a teaching faculty that facilitates children’s achievement.
While looking through some boxes of old stuff in my closet a few weeks ago, I came across the 3x5 flashcards that I brought up to the bima when I delivered my Bar Mitzvah speech. While the ink on the cards had faded somewhat, the words were still legible, so I took a moment and sat down to read what I had said to the congregation at my first attempt at public speaking.
This is my first year as Upper School Director at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy. It is my first year as a mother-in-law, standing under a chuppah as our daughter became a Jewish wife. It is the first year that I began to study Hebrew and Torah. It is the first time that I researched, wrote and delivered a Dvar Torah. It is the first time that my husband and I visited Israel. Most of these firsts I attribute to the self-confidence, knowledge, and personal growth that I gained as a result of my participation in SuLaM’s Cohort III.
Himmelfarb High School is Jerusalem’s largest high school for religious boys; at present, 650 young men from the greater Jerusalem area are educated in its halls. Obviously, scholastic achievements are important to us, but of even greater significance is our critical mandate to “fortify” the personalities of these adolescents and give them the tools to successfully contend with the vicissitudes and trials of contemporary life. We expect our graduates to demonstrate leadership and make a singular contribution to society.
Excellent schools have a clear shared vision, strong parental engagement, a reflective culture of inquiry and dialogue, and a context of investigation through play that grows the moral development of a child. Graduates of schools that excel in these areas leave with enhanced focus, a collaborative stance and self-reliance. Families, as well as the graduates, are seeded with Jewish ideas and memories left to sprout throughout a lifetime.
This past summer I took an energizing seminar with Independent School Management (ISM) on the role of the head of school in fundraising. Among the many ideas I gleaned from that seminar was the notion that we needed to translate our lofty school mission into something much more tangible that could be shared with our community and held up as a model of what our school is trying to produce. This past fall and winter I took our faculty and staff through an exercise to create a vision of the ideal Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy graduate. I began the process by conferring with my Academic Advisory Council, made up of division directors, department chairs, and representatives of each faculty discipline. We discussed how this process might unfold to involve the entire faculty in a meaningful way.
One of my darker pleasures as a twenty-something in Jerusalem was sitting in hotel lobbies watching my fellow yeshiva students endure the awkwardness of shidduch dates. The courting ritual customarily involved a young man with a pad of paper going through a prepared inventory of what he desired from the marriage candidate: education, pedigree, trousseau, and myriad other attributes and skills. The dating exercises I would witness were entertaining only in their anachronism. How offensive it felt to hear someone outline the qualifications of an ideal spouse, as if we could shop for a human being as we would for an automobile, listing standard and special features, upgrades, bells and whistles.
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