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Lookjed Digest XX:56

In this issue:

| I. Combined Jewish-secular history curriculum (Rhonda Leibowitz)

| II. Reports from recent educational conferences:
- YHShare Conference (Perry Tirschwell)
- Inside Jewish Day Schools (Tikvah Wiener)

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I. Combined Jewish-secular history curriculum (Rhonda Leibowitz) (Back to Top)

Meir Zirkind’s request for a curriculum that blends secular history together with Jewish characters/history of that same period led to a note from Perry Tirschwell describing just such a presentation given by Rhonda Leibowitz at the recent YUShare conference.

My thanks to Rhonda for contributing her curriculum to the Lookstein Center website -
"Rhonda Leibowitz’s detailed curriculum for her 9th grade integrated World and Jewish History Course, as presented at the YUShare conference."

For other resources on the Lookstein Center website, see 

Details on the YHShare Conference and the Mandel Center’s “Inside Day School” Conference appear below.


II. Reports from recent educational conferences:
     - YHShare Conference (Perry Tirschwell)
(Back to Top)

YHShare Conference

Over 100 yeshiva high school limudei kodesh educators participated on June 12-13 in the First Annual YHShare Conference. YHShare was a groundbreaking forum for sharing innovative pedagogic and curricular ideas that was organized by the Torah Educators Network (TEN), a new organization that serves Jewish educators from coast to coast in ways that their schools cannot do independently, including increasing the benefits offered to teachers.

Teachers in yeshiva high school classrooms across the country are facing the exact same challenges, and there’s a teacher somewhere who has a creative solution. The purpose of YHShare was to provide a venue for those teachers to learn from each other. Just like the movement in education away from the “sage on the stage” to “guide by the side”, sessions at YHShare were presented by classroom teachers, not consultants or celebrated authors.

The first day, which was held at Frisch in Paramus, NJ, focused on Bible and Jewish Philosophy. The second day, which took place at Torah Academy of Bergen County (TABC) in Teaneck, NJ, concentrated on Talmud and Jewish History.

Participating schools at the YHShare conference included Ateres (NY), Bruriah (NJ), Central (NY), DRS (NY), Fuchs Mizrachi (OH), RASG (FL), HANC (NY), Ida Crown (IL), Katz (Boca), Kohelet (PA), Ma’ayanot (NJ), Magen David (NY), MTA (NY), Naaleh (NJ), Kushner (NJ), Ramaz (NY), SAR (NY), Shalhevet (CA), SKA (NY), TABC (NJ), Ulpana (Toronto), Flatbush (NY), Frisch (NJ), and YULA Girls (CA).

Like in all fields, technology is making possible rapid changes in education. Many of the sessions focused on a technological innovations that a teacher has adapted to the Judaic studies classroom, such as “Hyperdocs for Gemara” and “Jewish History and Tanach through Google Earth”.

YHShare was dedicated in memory of Rabbi Dovid Kaminetsky, who passed away the previous week. An extraordinary educator and beloved role model, Rabbi Kaminetsky, who most recently served as the middle school principal at Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey, also held leadership roles at Manhattan Day School and The Moriah School, and was the former national director of NCSY.

There were three or four concurrent breakout sessions in most slots which included “Using Jewish History to Discuss Core Identity Issues,” “Reaching the Struggling Gemara Learner,” and “Should We Raise Philosophical Questions We Can Fully Answer.”

In an interactive conference-wide session entitled “Designing Solutions to Common Challenges,” small groups of educators brainstormed solutions and shared resources with peers on such topics as Teaching Nach, Judaic Studies Alternative Assessment, and Time & Structures for Learning.

During the panel discussion on “The Teacher’s Great Balancing Act: Rigor, Relationships & Religious Growth,” renowned educational leaders responded to a variety of questions about building a culture of religious growth in the classroom, and examining the relationship between challenging academic goals and inspiring religious growth. The panel, which was moderated by Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin, the Director of Education at International NCSY and included Rabbi Eli Ciner, Principal of Yeshivat Frisch, Mrs. Rivka Kahan, Principal of Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls, Rabbi Yisroel Kaminetsky, Rosh Yeshiva of Hebrew Academy of Long Beach (HALB), Mrs. Racheli Luftglass, Director of Judaic Studies of YULA Girls High School, and Rabbi Asher Yablok, Head of School of TABC.

“It was such a valuable experience to be able to connect with other like-minded educators nationwide, especially with the other Jewish history teachers, and to hear about their schools and classrooms, and to share ideas,” said Alissa Zeffren from Ida Crown Jewish Academy. “I found all of the sessions I attended to be very worthwhile.”

“I really enjoyed the program – both the sessions and the opportunity to interact with so many wonderful colleagues,” said Miriam Krupka, Dean of Faculty and Tanakh Department Chair of the Ramaz Upper School.

“I had a great time and I really thought that the sessions I went to gave me what to think about and ideas to help improve my craft,” said Rabbi Aaron Horn, Dean of Students and Gemara and Halacha Chair of Kohelet Yeshiva High School.

In addition, there were participants from the Avi Chai Foundation, Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools, Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary at Yeshiva University, and Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education & Administration.

A number of the session were recorded and can be accessed by clicking on the titles below;
Balancing Academic Rigor & Inspiration (Panel: Ciner, Kahan, Kaminetsky, Luftglass, Yablok)
Google Maps Bring Tanach & JH Alive (Fredman, HANC)
Teaching Gemara to Struggling Learners (Schenker, MTA)
A 2 Year Jewish Philosophy Curriculum (Rebbetzin Kohn)
How to Teach Israel in 2018 (Bochner, Kushner)
An Interdisciplinary Course in a YHS (Sinensky, Kohelet)
Teaching Emunah to MO HS Students (Jachter, TABC)
Student at the Heart of the Classroom (The Mercava)
Failing Forward for Authentic Learning Experience (Blaustein, Fuchs)

For more information about this year or next year’s YHShare Conference and/or Torah Educators Network, please email Rabbi Perry Tirschwell


Rabbi Perry Tirschwell is the Founding Executive Director of the Torah Educators Network, whose mission is to provide education and benefits to mechanchim/chot. After teaching in the classroom at Frisch and Hillel (Deal), Tirschwell served for 15 years as the founding Head of School of the Katz (Weinbaum) Yeshiva High School in Boca Raton, and is a graduate of Yeshivat Har Etzion, Yeshiva College, RIETS and the Graduate School of Education of the College of New Rochelle.

- Inside Jewish Day Schools (Tikvah Wiener) (Back to Top)

On April 30-May 1, 2018, the Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education at Brandeis University hosted a conference entitled Inside Jewish Day Schools, where educators in the field and researchers studying it got a chance to hear from each other. The conference, co-chaired by Jon Levisohn and Jonathan Krasner, engaged a series of panelists who offered views on a range of issues, as well as facilitated sessions that explored those topics in deeper ways. The evening consisted of dinner and a viewing of clips from the edu-documentary Race to Nowhere that attendees then discussed. The two days were informative, rich, and thought-provoking.

Some highlights: the panels on day one were on race, gender and sexuality, and class, topics we don’t discuss often enough, if at all, in Jewish day schools. As a result, our students, ignorant of the place they inhabit in the American landscape, become even more sheltered and oblivious of the advantages they have. An example: the suburbs in America were created to exclude blacks by preventing them from owning homes, through practices such as redlining and restrictive covenants. Yet students, many of whom live in suburban enclaves, have no knowledge of how their neighborhoods came to be, and the day school system, though giving our students precious Jewish knowledge, might be guilty of perpetuating a system of wealth and privilege that those in it don’t actively interrogate.

The conference left us with a call to action: to have conversations in our schools and classrooms about what Jewish identity means and how we’ve appropriated aspects of whiteness, and to incorporate other identities and perspectives into our schools, by hiring and retaining people of color and by having our students interact with other races and ethnicities in authentic and meaningful ways.

The panel on class was particularly fascinating, since I had never heard articulated openly and honestly some of the challenges that class and growing economic inequality have created for our communities. Since the 2008 economic crisis, parental and communal groaning about affordability has become de rigueur, but the longer view of day school history shows us we’ve built a system that requires great affluence. As our communities’ wealth has grown and we’ve moved farther away in the last half a century from our roots as impoverished immigrants, we’ve become blind to the luxury we now take for granted -- and that not all of us have.

Over the same time, the American school system’s obsession with grades and our society’s competitive college admissions process have led to wealthy communities’ developing cottage industries around shadowing schooling. Parents and students have learned to fight for every point on a test, and schools feel increasingly pressured to inflate grades. What does this race to nowhere do to actual learning -- and to the moral, spiritual, and intellectual health of our communities?

This question lay at the heart of the table discussions we had during the evening, when we talked about clips that Jon Levisohn introduced and showed from Race to Nowhere - Middle schoolers killing themselves literally and figuratively because of schoolwork; a college admissions process designed to bring out the worst in students, parents, and schools; and parents and kids feeling lost and alone, navigating a system designed to rob children of their childhoods were some of the depressing features of this nevertheless important and thought-provoking film. One immediate fix I wanted to give the school system after watching it was a homework overhaul. Why are kids required, as one former student of mine said, to do a day of school after their day of school? A good question indeed.

Day two of the conference saw more expected topics of discussion on, for example, Hebrew language instruction and on the balance between skills and content in Judaic Studies. But the fact that we were learning from top researchers in the field in these areas imbued them with new meaning and gave us greater insights into how we might approach language acquisition and Judaic Studies material. Panels on social and emotional learning and on what it means to be a day school student today provided twenty-first century ways of looking at our schools and thinking about how we might cater to the next generation. Sociologist Dr. Steven Cohen added humor to the discussion, asking us how we deal with all the lines being blurred by this next generation of kids. He wondered what it would have felt like to have asked his Bubbie, “Did you date a non-Jew?” He answered, “There are many parts of that sentence my Bubbie wouldn’t have understood -- starting with the fact that it was in English.”

Dr. Cohen left us with these questions: what is memorable and meaningful about the Jewish day school experience? What do we know about what our students are experiencing and what they’re learning? What is happening in the classroom?
Given the many aspects of their lives, society, learning, instruction, and assessment that we pondered over the two days in Boston, these questions were appropriate ones to take home with us. I look forward to discussing them with my peers, students, and parents, and to bringing them back to Brandeis next year to explore again.


Tikvah Wiener is Head of School of The Idea School, a Jewish, co-ed, project-based learning high school opening at the Kaplen JCC in the Palisades in September 2018

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