How personally do you take God? Does God matter to you on a daily, tangible basis? If you work in an elementary school, like I do, chances are your middle to older students take God very personally. What they feel about God is different from their kindergarten wonder or first grade awe, and it might surprise you.
HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal
The God Issue
In Jewish tradition, God alone is the Creator of all and the ultimate embodiment of unity, Oneness. In the 21st century Jewish community, however, God can often be a source of contention and divisiveness. Our community is far from united around questions of God's existence, nature and way of acting, the ways that we can understand God and relate to God. The authors in this issue approach the Big Questions from a wide variety of perspectives and thinkers, but they are united in their concern to bring the God Issue within the classrooms and halls of Jewish day schools.
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I am a rabbinical student, deeply passionate about creating truly inclusive and accessible Jewish communities in which all Jews can find a spiritual home, and in which we can all bring our full selves to bear on the life of our community. I want to create communities in which the perspectives and lived experiences of all of us, particularly those of us who find ourselves on the margins, bring added depth and richness to all of our lives. I also happen to be the first blind woman, as far as I know, to attend a rabbinical school.
The model for Jewish learning was articulated for us in the wilderness of Sinai: Na’aseh ve-nishma. The usual understanding of this famous line is that we will “do” and then come to “understand,” even if in other situations we try to understand something before with do it. But why insist on the sequencing of doing and understanding or understanding then doing at all? I now read the verse prescriptively: We can and should practice and learn simultaneously.
"Before you can find God, you must lose yourself.” -Baal Shem Tov
How do day schools help students cultivate a relationship with God? What practices and programs enable students to “get out of themselves” and engage with a Higher Power? We invited schools to describe an experience that empowered students to engage more deeply with God, whether through study, art, music, or some other vehicle for opening up their imagination and creativity. Here are a few examples that highlight the voice of students in this journey.
In December, I had the opportunity to participate in the Limmud Conference in the UK. This is the “original” Limmud, the one that has spawned a network of similar conferences held around the globe. It attracts over 2000 participants, including delegations from many of the other countries where Limmud conferences are held.
According to the official website of the Protestant Reformed Churches of America, Christian schools date back many centuries, with early schools based on “the Word of God” and fostering a close connection with the Church. Today, Christian schools continue to place God and the Bible at the center. Although, at first glance, their teachings and readings may seem foreign and inapplicable to us, by examining the philosophy of education related to the teaching of God in the schools, centered on eight main focuses, we at Jewish day schools can learn from the Christian tradition and modify their teachings to be more in line with our culture in order to enhance our own schools.
The discomfort in speaking of God in the Jewish studies curriculum is especially palpable in the community Jewish day school setting. It is so much easier to reinforce the values of Torah, peoplehood, tikkun olam, chaggim, Shabbat, even Israel. Although God is the central character in the Jewish drama, reckoning with an adolescent’s struggles with belief does not occupy a central place in many Jewish studies curricula. Whether it’s assumed or ignored, the absence of discussing the most fundamental relationship or non-relationship in Judaism would seem to beg the question: What makes this the concept that often dare not be mentioned, and why?
Sue Levi Elwell and Nancy Fuchs Kreimer are the editors of, as well as contributors to, Chapters of the Heart: Jewish Women Sharing the Torah of Our Lives, an anthology of personal essays that discuss the ways that Jewish texts play a role in the authors’ lives. The book is a recent National Jewish Book Award finalist. This interview is published in partnership with the Jewish Book Council.
As our students reach their teen years, their analytical skills begin to develop, and they begin to question preconceived notions of G-d, even to the point of doubting His existence. Do we, their teachers, ignore these questions, or do we take a proactive approach by enabling our students to understand and to evaluate philosophical formulations regarding the presence of G-d?
November 18, 1883, known as the “day of two noons,” was a turning point in the history of human consciousness. This was the day when standard time began. Previously, if people wanted to tell time, the ultimate artibiter was the sun. Since the sun rises and sets at a different moment depending on latitude and longitude, each town would effectively set it’s own time. The original timepieces were of course sundials; clocks and watches, increasingly affordable and widely owned in the 19th century, also reflected the owner’s local time. An enormous clock, generally placed on the town hall or the tallest church, would set the standard for the region. Clocks were at the service of the sun, helping to quantify the intervals between one sunrise and the next. Nature, not mankind, set the hour and minute hands.
Sometimes life presents us with challenges so arresting, so shattering that they change everything. This is the tale of a series of such moments, which began with my son’s diagnosis with autism, sending me into a tailspin, and sundering my conventional ideas of God and Torah.
If teaching about God in our schools is enormously complex, nurturing a relationship with God is exponentially even more complex. Even without engaging in modern theological dilemmas, many of our classic sacred texts and their commentaries reveal a wide spectrum of God’s attributes, God’s “personality” and God’s relationship with humanity and with the Jewish people.
My children are students in the school where I serve as an administrator. As you might imagine, this situation raises a host of questions and concerns regarding the setting of proper boundaries and avoiding any appearance of favoritism. Issues arise nearly every day, from “Should I say hello in the hallway?” to “How do I deal with my child’s teachers?” What guidance can you offer those of us—and there are a great many—who are navigating these unaccustomed waters?
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