by Rabbi Judd Kruger Levingston, Ph.D.
“Rabbi Lev, how come we have to go to Shaharit services? It’s a pluralistic day school!”
“Rabbi Lev, why can girls wear leggings, but the boys have to wear khakis? It’s a pluralistic school!”
“Why do boys have to wear a kippa in Jewish studies classes? Can’t it be optional? Isn’t this a pluralistic school?”
“Shouldn’t we be hearing more from the pro-Israel community?”
“Why don’t we hear more from the left?”
Attending this conference, Inside Jewish Day Schools, brought a welcome immersion in Jewish day school dilemmas, tensions, successes, and questions, some of which greet me every morning when I walk into my classroom. Participants came to the conference from universities, professional training programs, and from classrooms and administrative wings of Jewish day schools throughout the country. Each session provided opportunities to hear about research and practice; to question whose voices are loudest; and to consider whose voices from among our many stakeholders might go unheard and stay silent at any given moment.
As the Director of Jewish Studies at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in the Philadelphia area, I oversee the Jewish studies curriculum and Jewish life at our 6th-12th grade pluralistic school, and each day brings questions that call us to take seriously our commitment to pluralism:
Should we emphasize depth or breadth?
Should we continue to emphasize the teaching of Jewish texts in the original Hebrew or should we provide more materials in translation?
When our students say that they love our school because it feels like camp, should we take them seriously and loosen up a little?
Alternatively, when our teachers say that they wish our Jewish studies classes were more like AP Chem, because then our students will take our classes more seriously, should we take them seriously and toughen up a little?
A single conference can’t answer every question, but it certainly validated that my colleagues and I at Barrack Hebrew Academy are not at all alone in wrestling with these questions.