Here's me telling a story based on the classic tale about the Seer of Lublin, who as a child would go to the forest to pray. God is the same everywhere, but we are not. Enjoy!
(Full Transcript after the jump)
Dear School Families,During Religious School on Sunday and Monday, we did not explicitly raise the tragic events at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh with our students. We know that every child is different, and each family must choose to handle the situation in its own way. Yet, we also know that many of our children have questions and fears that we, as their parents, want to address – not to mention our own, adult concerns.I want to share with you the guidance I gave our faculty, which holds for parents as well:
- If the children bring up the topic, don’t shut it down. Listen attentively to what they have to say -- their concerns and their questions, their thoughts and feelings -- and let that drive the conversation.
- Try to answer questions factually without adding unnecessary details. Don’t assume that your questions and concerns are theirs.
- Reassure the children that Temple Emanu-El is a safe place; we are a sanctuary for all people seeking comfort and support. Here at Emanu-El, there are many adults who are looking out for them and who know exactly what to do to prevent emergencies of all types from happening. A good example is that when there is a fire drill, we all are trained to respond quickly and safely. There are other things that the kids don’t know about that we, the adults, are doing to keep them safe.
- Let them know that an important part of what it means to be Jewish is that when we hear about tragedy, we want to respond. That is why Emanu-El is participating in city-wide vigils (both to express our emotions and to demonstrate our solidarity) and why our Philanthropic Committee and Student Council are already talking about what we can do to help the people of the Tree of Life Community.
- Remind them that there are always many more people trying to be good than to do harm, of all religions, backgrounds, and nationalities. Unfortunately, it is so much easier to be destructive than to build, and bad news always gets the headlines – but remember, although there are some dangerous people in the world, nearly everyone you meet is a kind, generous, loving person like yourself.
The challenges of Jewish education are largely the same as they were more than a century ago, when the first generations of American Jews began attending supplementary schools. Forced by these challenges to be inventive and resourceful, the best educators integrated innovative approaches and cutting-edge practices. And yet, because we are in an era of unprecedented collaboration, I believe we are now in a “Golden Age” for religious schools.
Each year the challenge seems to grow. Jewish educators are frantically searching for qualified teachers to fill open positions in their religious schools. Research for many years has indicated that there is a shortage of well-trained teachers in Jewish settings, exacerbated by the challenge of retaining strong teachers for these part-time positions. (Westheimer, 2007). This past summer, though, the problem was particularly striking: I received more requests than ever for graduate students to fill multiple empty positions in the New York metropolitan area. Is this problem intractable, or can something be done?
Last winter, a group of seasoned NYC educators that form a peer network group hosted by the Jewish Education Project in Manhattan began to explore this very issue. They discussed how they might collaborate to offer high level professional learning to encourage current religious school teachers to become teacher leaders. One of the educators, Saul Kaiserman, teaches our “Laboratory in Teaching in Learning” course to rabbinic, cantorial and Masters in Religious Education students at HUC-JIR New York School of Education. What would happen if these educators could offer their faculty members such a course for graduate credit at a highly subsidized tuition fee? What if the congregations themselves paid for the course and then offered the teachers a salary bonus upon the completion of the course? Might avocational teachers begin to consider a career in Jewish education? There was significant back and forth as the group hammered out what they would want in such a course, whether their teachers would realistically attend such a course, how many transferable credits it would be, and ultimately if the finances would be feasible.
And behold a strategy for change was born. HUC-JIR made the bold decision to offer students enrollment at an incredibly subsidized rate, similar in cost to the introductory course for the Executive Master’s Program. The professor offered to teach the course gratis, Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York agreed to host the course, and all of the congregations were willing to provide the funding for the tuition. At the time of writing, teachers representing congregations across NYC have applied for a spot in this course
This is a story of community collaboration and the desire to address the challenges of the teacher shortage and retention. We as leaders in the field of Jewish education must continue to find ways to recognize and validate the fact that our teachers need to continue their own growth and learning to keep them from leaving the field. We know from the data, that teachers who do not participate in ongoing professional development are less effective in the classroom and less likely to meet the emerging needs of students, administrators, and the field of Jewish education. Our hope is that this course may be the catalyst for teachers to seek a graduate degree and ultimately a full time career in Jewish education. We also need to think about the future of Jewish education leadership.
If you are interested in learning more about the course please follow this link or contact Dr. Evie Rotstein at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more reading on this topic, I recommend the op-ed by Emily Bazelon in today's New York Times, Bullying in the Age of Trump. And here is a great set of resources from Border Crossers.Dear School Faculty,Several of you have spoken this week with either Jackie or me about the outcome of our presidential election. You have expressed a particular challenge it poses to us as Jewish educators. The question I’m hearing is something along the lines of, “how can we teach our children what it means to be a good and morally righteous leader, if I think the president-elect is a terrible role model?”Clearly, that is not how all of our congregants, or faculty, or even a great many of those who voted in this election feel. Yet, we do know that throughout his campaign, Donald Trump used hurtful language in an unprecedented fashion, with rhetoric that was explicitly racist, misogynistic, and just plan mean-spirited. How do we explain to our students that it is unacceptable for them to use such language, if our president does?As Jews, we believe the Torah can be a guide for our behavior. When we study the stories of our ancestors, we see how their actions serve as examples for us today. And yet, even our greatest leaders were imperfect. Side by-side with their hospitality, compassion, and righteousness we find selfishness, arrogance, and even cruelty. In truth, from their stories we not only learn what to do, but also what NOT to do.It is our responsibility to help our students (and their parents) decide for themselves which values lead to a loving, just and peaceful world and then together build a community in which they can act upon those values -- even when they are in opposition to those values espoused by our leaders. We need to be able to stand up to oppression wherever we encounter it. And most importantly, we need our school to be a place of sanctuary for all of our students and families, in which all feel safe to be wholly themselves.While we always encourage those who have made mistakes to seek forgiveness and improve upon their past actions, we should not excuse or minimize bad behavior, no matter how prestigious the person engaging in it.As always, both Jackie and I make it our top priority to help you think about your teaching and your individual students. Please don’t be shy about reaching out to us to think an issue through – on this topic, or for any other reason.We are strong, getting stronger, getting strength from each other.
When Rabbi Mordechai died, his son, Rabbi Noah, took his place as leader. Many of his followers found that in several matters he did not act as his father had, and they asked him about it. “I act,” he said, “Exactly as my father did. He never imitated others, and neither do I!” — Martin Buber, Tales of the HasidimAt Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York, we employ two complementary approaches to engage our students in their cultural heritage: instruction and enculturation. While we often emphasize instruction — deliberate and systematic skill building, training and sharing of knowledge — equally important is enculturation — providing our students with a sense of belonging within our community. Our program must show our students what it means to behave as a member of our synagogue and of our people. These values are not only taught explicitly; they also are embodied in our architecture, our music, how we dress, how we treat one another and many other subtle ways.