By Joseph Reimer
As I look back at last month’s The Power of Jewish Camps, a research conference at Brandeis’s Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education that Jonathan Krasner and I planned, I am pleased with how many of the sessions went. The session that made the deepest impression, however, is “Jewish Music at Camp and Beyond.” Let me share its significance.
Virtually anyone who has spent a summer at a residential Jewish camp could tell you what a significant role Jewish music, and particularly, communal singing, plays in the life of the camp. Camp alumni report remembering fondly the way the whole camp came together to sing on Shabbat and how they still remember the songs they once learned for a camp play or song festival. The music lives on when other details fade.
So how can we more systematically understand the role that Jewish music plays at these camps?
By Sandra Fox
Kiva Rabinsky, Seth Winberg, Sharon Feiman-Nemser and Joseph Reimer at the conference
At last month’s conference on Jewish summer camping, at Brandeis’s Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education, I hoped my participation would place a friendly parenthetical question mark at the end of the conference title. This hope grew out my research, which questions the assumptions Jewish leaders and educators hold about camp’s power, and highlights the perspective of the youth they seek to mold. However, I ultimately found it refreshing to talk about camp with fellow scholars and practitioners–people who, like the historical figures I write about, participate in and shape the lived experience of Jewish camping today. Continue reading
By Daniel Brenner
When I envisioned attending The Power of Jewish Camps conference, convened by Brandeis University’s Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education, my visceral camp associations—bug juice, fudge brownies, Deep Woods Off, and the smells of hormonal factories in full output mode—came into consciousness. “No,” I told myself, “this is not a conference at camp, it is about camp. It will just be an academic conference.” What I didn’t expect was both a thoughtful political analysis of the role of summer camp in Jewish life and a delightful exploration into the artistic diversity of Jewish summer camps.
First, the political analysis.
For many years, Jewish educators have relied on the phrase “Jewish identity” to describe their educational goals. We hear about “strengthening Jewish identity” or “deepening Jewish identity.” The Mandel Center’s new book, Beyond Jewish Identity: Rethinking Concepts and Imagining Alternatives (Academic Studies Press, September 2019), argues that this formulation is a problem. What does it actually mean? What are the unintended consequences of talking that way?
This is the first book to examine critically the relationship between Jewish education and Jewish identity. It looks at the costs of framing Jewish education in these terms and provides educators, policy makers, scholars and policy-makers new ways of thinking and talking about the desired outcomes of Jewish education.
Edited by Jon A. Levisohn (Brandeis University) and Ari Y. Kelman (Stanford University), the essays collected here argue that the use of “Jewish identity” as an educational goal hampers efforts to think seriously and aspirationally about Jewish education, and offer new possibilities for thinking about what Jewish education can be for.
by Sarra Lev, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
Last spring, I participated in a gathering that was part of the Rabbinic Formation project, a study of the role Talmud learning in rabbinic formation, sponsored by the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education at Brandeis University. The gathering included cognitive scientists, sociologists, education specialists and Talmud specialists. We spent the day looking through rabbinical students’ written responses to questions about learning Talmud, as well as syllabi and course work from three rabbinical schools (JTS, HC and RRC), and transcripts of extensive interviews with some of those same students. We also listened to brief recordings of classes. All in all, the day was exhilarating, and left me with many questions about Talmud learning in the context of rabbinical school, but one issue in particular, the relationship between “skills” and “content,” struck a chord. Continue reading