Today, Jon A. Levisohn, the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Professor of Jewish Educational Thought at Brandeis, becomes the Mandel Center’s second director. Founding director Sharon Feiman-Nemser will continue at the center as senior scholar and continue to teach at Brandeis. In honor of the occasion we offer these thoughts from Jon about the Center’s future direction.
What is the biggest challenge facing Jewish education today? And how can we address that challenge and contribute to a thriving, vibrant Jewish community? We’ve been thinking about these strategic questions over the last eighteen months or so. As we planned for our leadership transition, we knew that we wanted to take advantage of this moment to clarify what we want the Center to be and do.
Our answer to the first question, about the biggest challenge facing Jewish education, is this: We believe that Jewish educators, policy makers, lay leaders, and curriculum and program designers are flying blind.
What does this mean?
What did I learn from the conference on Rethinking Jewish Identity and Jewish Education a few weeks back?
The first thing, which actually occurred early in the process of planning the conference, is that my colleague Ari Kelman and I are not the only ones troubled by the concept of Jewish identity. Far from it. We received more than twice the number of proposals than we could accommodate, along with dozens of requests to join the conversation in other ways.
Clearly, a lot of people are concerned about the ways that the Jewish community talks about Jewish identity and Jewish education. Continue reading
At the end of March, about 45 scholars, educators, and Jewish community policy-makers gathered at Brandeis to critically examine the ways that the concept of “Jewish identity” is used and sometimes abused in discussions of Jewish education. As it turns out, the topic is of interest to many, and we had to turn away a lot of people who wanted to join the conference. We asked audio producer Ari Daniel to pull together the strands of the conversation, to make it accessible to a broader audience. The podcast is now available. Tell us what you think!
What happens when you get about 45 sociologists, educators, historians, scholars of literature, and people who work in philanthropic foundations in one room to talk about Jewish identity? What happens when they challenge assumptions about what “Jewish identity” means, and how the concept works in the Jewish community and in Jewish educational settings?
We’re finding out now, at our conference on Rethinking Jewish Identity and Jewish Education.
When I invited participants to share their thoughts and questions at the end of the first day (Sunday, March 30), here’s some of what they offered: Continue reading
In the blizzard of articles, reactions, and blog posts about the Pew Research Center study of American Jews, the most unexpected came from the prominent public intellectual Noah Feldman.
Writing in Bloomberg, Feldman’s column jumps from the Pew study to some observations about, surprisingly, the Lakewood yeshiva. He explains that Lakewood is a massive ultra-Orthodox educational institution (6500 students embedded in a community of 55,000) focused almost entirely on the study of Talmud and exclusively for male students, that its educational model is “astonishingly egalitarian and democratic,” that it demonstrates that “one kind of authentically Jewish experience is flourishing in America.”
[Lakewood] matters. It matters for the future of Jews in America precisely because it matters for the future of Judaism in America. By privileging ideas and thought over identity, it proudly stakes out a position of genuine durability.
Feldman is no apologist for traditionalism. What he notices about Lakewood, astutely, is that they have identified a particular cultural practice that they value above everything else, and they have set up an educational system to pursue that cultural practice with single-minded focus and discipline. Continue reading