“I just don’t get it,” Shira muttered and flung herself dejectedly into the chair. Prodding a bit, I tried to understand what, exactly, she didn’t get. “Judaism, the rabbis, Halakhah, everything!” she exclaimed as her cadence quickened and her pitch rose. “I just can’t relate to any of it. I don’t buy into this system!”
HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal
Day schools aim to transmit a passion for Judaism to their students. Parents send their children to day school because they want them to cultivate a love of Judaism in all its dimensions. The articles in this issue explore the vital but elusive notion of Jewish inspiration from various angles. How do we define it, measure it, and recognize when we've achieved it? What does a school need to do to become a place that inspires students, faculty and all who work there? In what ways can schools undertake a process of change to improve in their work of inspiring students? And what do students and alumni tell us inspired them? Come to read, learn and be inspired for your work in Jewish education.
Click here to download the PDF and printer friendly version of this issue of HaYidion.
“Thank you so much for this inspirational experience.” These words were repeated many times over by participants as we completed our closing banquet in the brightly colored dining room of the Jewish Community Center of Krakow.
The role of Jewish education is to inspire us to become our best selves. To inspire students, teachers first need to inspire themselves. Teachers don’t need to create inspiration, but model it for their students.
What does it mean to inspire? Doesn’t it all just boil down to being charismatic and a great singer/storyteller?
Middle school students are crying out for meaning—body and soul. During the tender years, when they are plagued by an obsession with pimples and popularity, young adolescents are grasping for autonomy. They are unsure of their place, and test out the boundaries in all directions—with their parents, their teachers and their friendships. Middle schoolers feel powerless, and it is upon schools to show them that they do indeed have sway.
The classic conversation has repeated itself in one faculty room after another. The Hebrew teacher turns to her colleague from the math department. “You are so lucky. The kids don’t give you any trouble. They know that learning math is important. I wish they thought Hebrew was that important.”
Kevin is the author of three highly successful books. He has helped turn creative ideas into reality for many organizations such as Starbucks, Walt Disney, Nike, and Mattel. Kevin has dedicated his life to advancing education, sports and play as a vehicle for social change and success.
Tell us about the red rubber ball: how did it inspire you and what has it come to represent?
As Jewish day schools work mightily to generate the funds to improve the quality of their programs, maximize mission-compatible enrollment, and strengthen volunteer leadership, they need to tap into every potential resource. I would assert that no available resource base offers more potential than that of inspired day school alumni. There are literally hundreds of thousands of day school alumni whose active support could make a huge difference to our schools if properly harnessed. Measuring Success has conducted extensive research to understand the factors that inspire alumni engagement.
We are a math teacher and a development professional, both identified Catholics, who have found our ways to a Jewish high school, Gann Academy in Waltham, Massachusetts. As members of this professional community, we have opportunities to learn about Judaism, to see the ways that being in a Jewish school can enrich our lives as people and professionals, and even to explore our own faiths. This summer, we even travelled to Israel with 23 of our colleagues to experience elements of the new Israel program that is currently being introduced at our school.
In the work that we do for the AVI CHAI-sponsored Jewish Day School Collaborative and for Educannon Consulting, we have had the opportunity and privilege of visiting or connecting with well over 100 Jewish day schools across North America. The schools range across the denominational, geographic, size and economic spectrum. One question that we always ask the head of school when beginning a visit is, “What are the four or five biggest challenges that your school is facing?”
In the past, Israel provided a kind of simple, unmitigated inspiration; now, that kind of simple presentation of Israel often leads students to rebel and question their connection to Israel when they discover a more complicated and fraught picture of the country. Israel can still be inspiring, but schools need to engage students in the history and arguments of the conflict to inspire them.
At the Fuchs Mizrachi School in Cleveland, our annual high school retreat is one of the highlights of the school year. In addition to the community building that comes through bonding and fun activities, spending an extended weekend together as a school community provides many opportunities for experiential learning and moments of inspiration. This year, the theme for the weekend was deveikut, literally “cleaving to God,” exploring different ways we find religious meaning and connection.
A quick search of Jewish day school websites around the country shows that about one-quarter of the schools use the word “inspire” as a descriptor either on their main page or in the their mission statement. Most of us in the business do see our purpose as that of inspiring our students, our staff and our families. What exactly does “inspire” mean in a school setting? Is there a way to make inspiration happen? Why should we make sure that we are peppering our open house speeches and our websites with the verb “inspire”?
A good teacher can teach you something that you will remember for a day; a great teacher will teach you something that you will remember for the rest of your life. Several of the defining teachers in my life came to me at a time when I needed them the most during my days as a student at the Shlenker School.
Politz Day School was for me a unique and exceptional school in providing its students with a close-knit, intimate environment of excellence in Judaic and general studies. What made it especially outstanding was its eclectic array of teachers. During my 12-year Politz experience, I was fortunate to learn from mentors of numerous faiths and backgrounds, each of whom had an idiosyncratic story to tell in the classroom. As a middle school student, I was surprised at how individuals from such dissimilar worlds could inspire and impact so profoundly.
When you think about your fondest memories from school, it is easy to think about a time your friend made your day, or that test you aced after a whole night of studying. What is often more challenging is to think about what and who made those culminating experiences possible. Each and every day, there are people who came to school to help students learn, to help them become better people, and to help them discover their true passions in life. If you are fortunate enough, hopefully one of those teachers will take the time to get to know you as a person.
Eight years ago, an amazing teacher named Michal Almalem lit a flame deep inside me that that is still burning brightly in my life today. She was my teacher, my bat mitzvah tutor and my friend, and now I know, my inspiration. The ways she influences me even today are too numerous to list here. Suffice it to say, she is an extraordinary teacher.