Feb 04 2016

Israel Education Needs Coaches, not Cheerleaders

By Sivan Zakai and Hannah Tobin Cohen

Imagine you’re playing in the Super Bowl. Would you rather have the encouragement of an enthusiastic cheerleader or the guidance of a skilled coach?

The field of Israel education is crowded with cheerleaders. Believing that it is their responsibility to champion Israel, teachers and parents aim to instill in young children positive feelings toward the Jewish state, in the hope that they will be protected from bad press and negative feelings about Israel as they grow older. The only problem: It’s not a winning strategy. Continue Reading »

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Oct 26 2015

How to Talk to Your Kids About the Violence in Israel

By Sivan Zakai, director, Children’s Learning About Israel project. This article originally appeared at Forward.com, Oct 19, 2015. Reproduced from here by permission of the Forward.

These are dark days for the Jewish people. In Israel, Jewish children head off to school not knowing when or where the next attack will occur. But Jewish children in the United States are geographically removed from the fray, and their bodies are not on the front lines in this new frightening chapter in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So what do American Jewish children know and feel about the conflict? And how should we — their parents, grandparents and teachers — talk to them about it? Continue Reading »

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Oct 21 2015

Wet, Hot, Hebrew-Infused American Summer

By Sarah Bunin Benor, co-director of the Hebrew in North American Jewish Summer Camps project

Image from "Wet Hot American Summer"What is a Hebrew word doing in an American Netflix preview? Near the end of the official trailer for Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, this appears briefly on the screen: “וגם (featuring) David Wain.” Wain, the show’s co-creator, plays Yaron, the one Israeli counselor at Camp Firewood. The insertion of a foreign word – not decipherable to most prospective viewers – fits in with the absurd, “campy” nature of the film. But as a sociolinguist, I see a whole world of significance in that word and in the Hebrew used in the show. Continue Reading »

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Oct 04 2015

Three Cheers for the Jewish Vitality Statement – and Three Qualifications

Published by under Center News,Commentary

When I was asked to join the distinguished group of signatories to the Statement on Jewish Vitality, I was pleased to do so. I am not, by disposition, a hand-wringer. If anything, I tend towards optimism. But I agree that the American Jewish community faces a set of significant challenges that we should not ignore.

This, I think, is the main message of the statement. Many of the signatories differ about the specific policy recommendations, the most obvious being the one about tax policies related to day school tuition – a recommendation that is surely far too tentative for some, and wholly anathema for others. And as some have already noted, these ideas are hardly revolutionary. But that’s the point. We already have a toolkit of well-developed and well-documented ways to build stronger Jewish communities. What we seem not to have is a communal and philanthropic commitment to support them, or a sense of urgency in doing so.

I was pleased that the invitation to sign the statement also included the encouragement to offer commentary or additional perspectives. The goal, in other words, is to provoke discussion. In that spirit, I offer three caveats:

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Apr 17 2015

More than Content

Published by under Center News

This post is by Orit Kent, who was director of the Beit Midrash Research Project.

“Does the Torah hold us or do we hold together the Torah?” asked Josh, my 7th grade student. This philosophical question arose out of intentional study of core skills and habits of mind for learning text in partnership. He was in a course created and taught by my colleague, Allison Cook, and me. Partnership learning, or havruta text study, highlights the notion that “learning depends not only on the content that is encountered but also on the nature of the encounter itself between text and learner.” (A Philosophy of Havruta, 41) It is in the encounter that the potential for dialogue and transformation exists.

A Philosophy of Havruta examines these encounters—between reader and text, and between readers themselves. In Jewish education, we have long focused on the content, and for good reason. It offers a portal into a rich culture, history and religious practice and seemingly infinite possibilities for learning. However, we have often overlooked the nature of the encounter with that content and thereby missed an important opportunity to help students fully harness and cultivate the potential of the text, of each other and of themselves. If we want Jewish learning to teach people new ideas and help them “be”, we must pay more attention to the encounters we create and the skills that are necessary for engaging in them. Continue Reading »

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