By Ziva R. Hassenfeld
This year marked the beginning of an exciting new chapter in Jewish education. A few weeks ago, Prizmah, a new organization comprising the five major day school networks, held its first conference. Thousands of educators from across the country gathered to compare notes, share best practices, and chart the future of Jewish education in North America.
This moment represents an opportunity to take a fresh look at what day schools, regardless of their particular ideology, share: the study of Jewish texts, however defined. For the last 15 years, the Jewish Day School Standards and Benchmarks, developed by the William Davidson School of Education at JTS, have offered a clear picture of what it looks like to read Tanakh successfully. The first standard, for example, states that students will be “independent readers of the biblical text.” They should notice textual details and ambiguities, and will be able to “cite a text to prove a point opinion or claim.”
But how do we get students to that point? Continue reading
By Elliot Goldberg
Virtually all of my colleagues who teach in Early Childhood (EC) or Early Elementary (EE) settings tell me that rabbinics is not a part of the curriculum that they teach.
This is not a surprise. It is a common assumption in Jewish schools that rabbinics is a discipline for the upper grades. In reflecting about the place of rabbinics in their curriculum, educators are likely to identify the starting point as the time in which a book from the rabbinic canon is placed in front of students and/or when students take a course that is named after a rabbinic text.
There is a certain logic to this assumption. Because we encounter the rabbis – and their stories, thoughts, ideas, and values – through texts, we equate the discipline of rabbinics with the study of rabbinic literature. Because rabbinic literature is often complex and, due to its language and logical structure, can be challenging to learn, we wait until students have acquired the appropriate skills and intellectual maturity before we engage them in the study of rabbinic texts.
But the notion that educational experiences must have a text at their center in order for students to be learning rabbinics is not accurate, and it is one that the field of Jewish education should work to change. Continue reading
By Charlotte Abramson and Rabbi Sheryl Katzman
Building on 13 years of experience designing standards-based curriculum in TaNaKH, the Jewish Day School Standards and Benchmarks Project (now the Legacy Heritage Instructional Leadership Institute) of the William Davidson School of Jewish Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, launched the Rabbinics Initiative to develop a compendium of standards and benchmarks for the teaching and learning of rabbinics. We began the process at our February 2014 advisory board meeting entitled A Collaboration of the Academy and the Field.
We brought together teachers, scholars and the leadership of the day school associations. Practitioners shared experience from the classroom and their knowledge of children. They represented schools from grades K-12 and a broad spectrum of religious affiliations. By design, they pushed the group to see the faces of diverse learners. Scholars from the fields of Jewish education and rabbinic literature supported the work and ensured that we remained authentic to the disciplines of rabbinics and education.
Inviting Jewish education scholars created a bridge between the field and the academy that had immediate impact on the work of developing standards and benchmarks for Jewish Day Schools. Inspired by their participation in the Rabbinics Initiative, the Davidson School and the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education at Brandeis University launched a partnership to develop a research project, Students’ Understanding of Rabbinics. The project brought the experiences of students to the forefront of our deliberation in new and invaluable ways during the writing and initial implementation phases of our work. During the initial writing phase, the voices of the students represented in the study helped us develop criteria to select which standards to develop. Those voices reminded the pilot schools to place student at the center when selecting standards to guide the development of their curriculum.
We had some trepidation about sharing this research with our schools. Continue reading
In Jewish education and policy circles, the typical attitude to assimilation is clear: it’s a bad thing. In fact, it’s often taken to be the thing that Jewish education is supposed to help us avoid. In other words, the assumption is that educating Jewish students “Jewishly” (setting aside what that might mean, for the moment) is counter-assimilatory.
Conversations about assimilation often use one of two metaphors. The first is a biological one: assimilation is a disease and education is the inoculation against that disease, or at least provides the healthy nutrients to strengthen the body against it. Stuart Charmé calls this a “drink-your-milk” model of Jewish education. The second metaphor is martial: assimilation is an assault and education is a defense against that assault. For example, Seymour Fox once asked whether Jewish education was succeeding as a “bulwark against assimilation.”
But what do we actually mean, when we use these metaphors? What’s the disease, exactly, and what’s the organism that is being threatened? What’s the assault, and what’s the fortified position? Both metaphors rely on dramatic oppositions between in and out, between Jewish and other – distinctions that no longer hold, regarding practices and ideas, and even regarding community. They assume a zero-sum model of identity and culture that is utterly alien to the lived experiences of contemporary Jews. Continue reading
By Sharon Avni, Sarah Bunin Benor, and Jonathan Krasner
“Chanichim, follow your madrichim to the teatron for peulat erev.” For those not conversant in the language of many American Jewish overnight summer camps, that means “campers, follow your counselors to the theater for the evening activity.” Why do some camps feature sentences like this, or decorative Hebrew signs, or spirited Hebrew song sessions? How does Hebrew usage differ among the wide variety of Jewish overnight camps? These are some of the questions we set out to address in our study of Hebrew use at camp. While we are working on a book presenting the full study, we want to share some of the results with you: findings from a survey of 103 camp directors of diverse Jewish residential camps across North America, about their camps’ use of Hebrew.
Our findings show that, for the most part, in the minds of camp administrators, Hebrew usage at camp is not about developing proficiency in spoken Hebrew. Rather, it is a vehicle for nurturing feelings of belonging to the camp community and the broader Jewish community, as well as connection to Jewish sacred texts, Israel, and the Jewish people. Continue reading