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MIFGASHIM  December 2001

MIFGASHIM December 2001

Subject:

MIFGASHIM

From:

Solly Kaplinski <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

MIFGASHIM LIST <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 24 Dec 2001 01:08:51 +0200

Content-Type:

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Parts/Attachments:

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MIFGASHIM


December 23 2001
8 Tevet 5762
Volume 1 Number 6
Moderator: Solly Kaplinski



CONTENTS:


1.Questions from a first year teacher


Tali Tarlow: Teacher, London


2. A response to Non-Judgement Day at Yale
Michael Kelly: Washington Post December 18 2001
MIFGASHIM December 18 2001

Sharon Bacher: Social Worker, Israel


3. The pluralistic school /environment debate: Three responses
 (See MIFGASHIM December 9, 16 & 18)

Paul Shaviv: Principal, Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto

Zvi Civins: Head, Jewish Studies School, Bialik College, Sydney, Australia

Steve Israel, Informal Jewish Educator, Jerusalem


------------------------------

1. Questions from a first year teacher


Tali Tarlow: Jewish Studies Teacher, London


I am in my first year of teaching Jewish Studies in a Jewish high school in
England. I think a very fair way to summarise this year is full of "highs"
and "lows". We all know the "high" which comes from having a good rapport
with a class, or teaching a great lesson, and that can carry one...just
until the next "low". It seems to me that there are classes that I will
just not succeed with, because the pupils are not interested in learning
Jewish Studies, an attitude that comes from the home, and they are also
lacking in developed social skills to handle an "interactive" class. The
majority of my lessons are much better than that...but at a great price.
There are some days that I am awake until past midnight preparing classes
or some mornings that I wake up more than an hour before the rest of my
family so that I can prepare a lessons of a high standard.

I have 2 questions for the more experienced educators:

1. Would you agree that there are some classes with which a teacher will
just not have success? If so how does one carry on teaching them and what
should one's aims in teaching be?

2. How does one have the stamina to keep up in Jewish Education (teaching
Jewish Studies in particular)when it is so much easier to have another job
with so much less "tsores" ?

Looking forward to hearing some words of wisdom

---------------------------------

2. A response to Non-Judgement Day at Yale
Michael Kelly: Washington Post December 18 2001
MIFGASHIM December 18 2001

Sharon Bacher: Social Worker, Israel


I find it hard to believe or accept that there can even be a debate about
whether murder and terror such as was experienced in the September 11
bombing of the Twin Towers was moral or immoral. It amazes and saddens me
that our education of students should be so misguided that they no longer
know what is clearly right or wrong. There are no grey areas here - the
killing of thousands of people who were simply going about their lives, the
creation of havoc, psychological pain and suffering for their families, the
mass destruction of other people's property, was plain and simple evil.

How can anyone question this?

---------------------------------


3. The pluralistic school /environment debate: Three responses

(See MIFGASHIM December 9, 16 & 18)


3.1 The pluralistic school /environment debate:

Paul Shaviv: Principal, Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto (CHAT)


I have often observed that at CHAT the words 'Orthodox -Conservative -
Reform' are barely heard in school from year to year (except when we have
visitors, or in an academic context). In our school life, they appear to
have little interest for students or staff. This is mirrored in the
community behaviour; most Jews seem unconcerned by denominations. Much more
relevant, accepted and indeed useful is Denis Prager's distinction
between "serious and non-serious Jews". The problem with this -- one of the
problems with this -- is that we are essentially educating students to
attend synagogues that don't exist -- where a girl can sit in a mixed
shiur, and study Gemara-Rashi-Tosfot-Rishonim with an impeccably Orthodox
Talmid Chacham, in fluent Ivrit.

---------------------------------


3.2 The pluralistic school /environment debate:

Zvi Civins: Head, Jewish Studies School, Bialik College, Sydney, Australia


The question of what exactly is a pluralistic institution is reminiscent of
the old question, "What is Art?"

Answer: "I can't explain what it is, but I know it when I see it!"

Bialik College in Melbourne (which by the way is home to some ten Jewish
day schools, ranging from Adass Israel - a loose conglomeration of mainly
Hungarian Chassidic groups including Satmar, Mizrachi, Chabad,
communal/traditional, cultural Zionist, Progressive, Yiddishist /Bundist) -
qualifies as a pluralistic institution. Even if we can't exactly use
precise words, you would know it if you saw it...

1. The Head of Jewish Studies is a member of the Progressive/ Reform
community; the Vice- Principal is ' Conservadox '/Modern Orthodox; one of
the Music teachers is a member of the Chabad Movement, and a Maths teacher
is part of the Adass Israel community. The Jewish Studies teachers include
former Israelis and South Africans, representing a spectrum, which ranges
from secular Zionism to Modern Orthodoxy

2. Our students and their families belong to a wide variety of
congregations, ranging from Progressive, Mizrachi, Chabad, Modern Orthodox,
Masorti to Secular Humanist. Our Bar Mitzvah teacher, who is Orthodox,
teaches all the students, including girls from Melbourne’s Progressive
congregations.

3. In terms of curriculum, we expose our students to the rich variety of
Jewish life, practice, customs, and belief. They study Tanach and are
presented with a variety of interpretations, both traditional and modern;
they study Jewish History and are taught about the Enlightenment and its
impact; they know about the Shulchan Aruch even though the school does
demand adherence to Halachic prescriptives; they follow a traditional
Hagaddah at seder, and recite a traditional Kiddush during our weekly model
class based Kabbalat Shabbat


4. When we celebrate or mark a festival or commemorative day, we do 'stick
to the middle', not because we must, but because this approach best
accommodates our students and us. Our canteen is Kosher, as are all
catering at school camps, together with all students/staff functions. We do
not however encroach on our students’ private domain: students’ lunch boxes
for example are not inspected

5. We have madrichim from every movement coming in to promote their camps
and programmes. We also have a variety of Rabbis, ranging across the
ideological spectrum (currently, all are coincidentally from the Orthodox
Rabbinate) who teach small groups of students. We shall soon welcome three
young Israeli women, each of whom has completed her army service in Israel
with a Masorti Olami garin, to work in the area of informal Jewish and
Hebrew education for a year.

Does this mean we are pluralistic? Perhaps. But we can say with certainty
what we are not: we are not a school, which sets behavioural demands for
our students based on Halachah. Rather, we educate the students so that
they have a comprehensive basis from which they can express their Jewish
identity and live as Jews. Our curriculum reflects the reality of our
community- its variety of congregations, families, levels and nature of
observance and identity.

In response to the following from Shlomo Kaye:

"If a school does not have a specific ideological position and by
implication, if all points of view are equally valid, doesn't this seem to
suggest that ultimately, what does prevail is a laizzez faire type of set
up where instead of equally competing points of view, there is a watering
down or dumbing down of ideological positions or put more colloquially: a
wish washy school philosophy?"

We certainly are not wishy-washy. On the contrary, our students are in
daily contact with Jewish educators who are passionate about Judaism, even
if their passion is expressed in different ways. They know who differs from
whom on the staff, and yet they see the respectful and collegial way these
differences enrich our school community. Above all else, they are
challenged to think, understand, reflect upon what being Jewish does and
can mean to themselves.

---------------------------------


3.3 The pluralistic school /environment debate:


Steve Israel, Informal Jewish Educator, Jerusalem


As someone who teaches students from all denominations and has done so for
many years: as someone, moreover, who grew up in a nominally orthodox home
where the degree of ignorance about non-Orthodox Judaism was equalled only
by the feeling of superiority towards whatever it was that non-orthodox
Judaism was thought to consist of (usually wrongly): and as someone who
believes in addition that non-acceptance of Jew by Jew is the biggest evil
in the Jewish universe at this particular point in time (and at pretty much
every other moment in the last two centuries at least), some of the
assumptions that seemed to be underlying Shlomo Kaye’s responses to Tamar
Rabinowitz pushed a number of buttons and made me want to respond.

I say “some of the assumptions”.  I do not say all.  I agree that
the “dumbing down of ideological positions” is a very negative result, at
least from the Jewish perspective, of the politically correct school of
liberalism.   Time after time I try and encourage students to define their
own positions on Judaism and to challenge each other, and yes, to judge
each others viewpoints from the standpoint of their own position.  As far
as I am concerned, this is healthy: it pushes the development of a world-
view and a theological/philosophical position regarding the individual’s
place vis a vis the Jewish world.

I do the same regarding Zionism.  As far as I am concerned, not every
Jewish child or adult has to be a Zionist, but everyone should be
encouraged to develop a position on the subject which they believe in and
which they support and are prepared to defend.  In order to do this,
whether for Judaism or for Zionism or for that matter for anything else-
ism, a couple of things are necessary.

Firstly, there needs to be a fair and coherent presentation of different
points of view so that the individual can make a choice which reflects who
he or she really is and what they believe.  The presentation needs to be an
educated and deep one which doesn’t corrupt or stereotype other positions
just because they don’t agree with the philosophy of the person
presenting.

Secondly, the individual must feel free to start stammering their way
towards their own belief system.  Finding a true philosophy for yourself
(rather than just taking someone else’s – parents or educators) – is a long
and difficult process.  It can last many years, sometimes a lifetime.  For
a true search to take place it has to start with one’s own questions.

Questions come from the same place where vulnerability and insecurity come
from, the “still small voice” of uncertainty inside every one of us where
our deepest most authentic self dwells.  When those questions start to
emerge – if they are real, honest, existential questions of our own rather
than questions that come from somebody else’s agenda – they almost always
emerge in inarticulate, hesitant, form.  At that rare moment of true
questioning, we are like the turtle which pops its head gingerly out of its
shell.  We are ripe prey for someone with better formed opinions than ours
to bash us over the head with a point of view that we cannot answer and
cause the head to descend back into the shell, bruised and battered, (in
human terms, embarassed and with feelings of inadequacy), for a very long
time.

At the moment that a person is engaged in true questioning, he or she needs
a very safe place indeed to test out her or his ideas. And it makes
absolutely no difference how old that person is.  What is important is that
the environment is good for turtles, i.e. a place to dare, a safe place.
In my opinion there is no statute of age limitations on the need for a safe
place.  The only ones who don’t need safe places are the ones who are never
going to stick their necks out.  And who are they likely to be?  When you
are talking about real big issues like the ones mentioned, those are
probably either people who have never been taught that the issues are
important and real, or people who have grown up in environments where all
questioning is done inside careful parameters of “What is permitted to be
asked from OUR point of view”.

I would suggest that the process of encouraging people to discover who they
really are and what they truly believe could best be done in truly
pluralistic frameworks.  What does this mean?  It means that they must
contain people of different perspectives who are encouraged to challenge
both themselves and others but are taught to do that by using a certain
vocabulary of questioning and listening which will encourage all to stretch
themselves without the risk of being “defeated” and humiliated by a well
articulated alternative point of view.   It also means that the task of the
educational institution is to act as a neutral umpire, which ensures that
the differences are presented clearly and deeply, that the dialogue between
the different opinions is a dialogue of listeners and not a dialogue of the
deaf and that ultimately each student is challenged to explore and to push
his or her own boundaries forward to wherever they might be taken.

Does that mean that such an institution has no values, that it has a “wishy
washy school philosophy”?  That it stands for nothing?  No, just the
opposite.  It means that it has a philosophy of commitment to authentic
searching and deep challenging.  It can be an institution that says
that “one of the deepest of all Jewish values is questioning, and one of
the deepest of all Jewish responses to the world is not to take anything
for granted”.  It can be a school where every day is Pesach and where the
question goes before the answer.  It can be an institution that says “we
believe that all Jews should engage themselves in a deep search for their
own meaning in a confrontation with the insights of Jewish culture.  If at
the end of that search, that individual makes decisions to reject
everything – after an in-depth examination of what they would be rejecting –
 that might be regrettable but we affirm it as their right”.  That is what
true pluralism in Jewish education is and in my opinion, it is the finest
aim of any educational system, because it encourages a person to find their
own position in this world rather than accepting that of other people.

I would suggest that one of the reasons for intermarriage and assimilation
in the Jewish world today is that people of all streams in Judaism are not
encouraged to go through this deep and open questioning process.  As a
result they come out of the educational process – or rather the
indoctrinational process to give it its right name, mouthing positions to
which they are not personally committed. If they are not personally
committed to something, then their own roots in that position are unlikely
to be deep.  It will take a small wind indeed – chance romance? - to blow
them out of the Jewish framework altogether.

I hope that this is clear.  These ideas run a different race to most of the
institutionalised thinking in the Jewish educational world, which goes in
the direction of defending territory and “bringing people over to our
side”.  The ideas will be dismissed by many but they are, I would suggest,
the sort of ideas that are needed in order to bring the Jewish people
forward to a better place.  Maybe, these are turtle ideas and I am about to
get my head whacked!

---------------------------------

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