by Elliott Rabin
Last week, I had the luxury and privilege of spending a couple of days with some 70 educators, administrators and professors at a remarkable conference on Jewish day school education, Inside Jewish Day Schools, hosted by the Mandel Center at Brandeis. Many things about the conference felt fresh, even pathbreaking to me. The focus entirely on day schools, within an academic setting. Attention paid to challenging subjects from contemporary society that rarely get addressed in the day school context: race, gender/sexuality, class. A screening of excerpts from the movie Race to Nowhere, with frequent interruptions in which we grappled with questions about homework. The framing notion of the “grammar of day schools,” component features that are accepted as a given. Addressing some of the big, catbird-seat questions about Jewish studies.
. . . the barrier between “academics” and “practitioners” of Jewish education appeared, for two days, entirely permeable . . .
But what struck me as most special and unusual about the conference was that the barrier between “academics” and “practitioners” of Jewish education appeared, for two days, entirely permeable. This conference was set in a magical kingdom where day school educators conduct and present sophisticated research projects, and scholars of Jewish education immerse themselves in issues and data that speak directly to Jewish day schools. This is a kingdom where I wish all of us were able to live, all the time. Having spent the past 10 years dwelling in the tent of the day school field, however, I feel that most of us don’t get to live in that space often enough.
Brandeis and Prizmah have committed to try to share, spread and extend the learning from the conference in different ways. To that end, I am delighted to commend the work of three brave participants from different day schools who were willing to reflect upon something they learned at the conference. Dr. Sarah Levy conveys what it felt like addressing some of the elephants in the day school classroom (“Reflections on Day One“). Rav-Hazzan Scott M. Sokol PhD is struck by the critical importance of Hebrew literacy and the need to give teachers effective pedagogic tools (“The Importance of Hebrew Literacy“). Rabbi Judd Kruger Levingston EdD takes observations about the foundations of Jewish Studies and considers how they apply in his pluralistic high school (“Creative Tensions Around Pluralism“).
Thinking about this conference reminds me of a statement I read of Kafka, that the measure of a book’s value is whether it changes your life. What conference experience has changed your life?
Elliott Rabin works at Prizmah, where he edits the magazine HaYidion and writes a weekly blog for Judaic directors. He has written two books of biblical scholarship, Understanding the Hebrew Bible: A Reader’s Guide and The Biblical Hero: Portraits in Nobility and Fallibility. He studied comparative and Hebrew literature at Indiana University at a time when issues of race, class and gender were starting to gain prominence in the humanities.