Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Year of Jewish Music

Although it is arguably the entirely wrong time of year to be publishing retrospectives of the year in Jewish music (wouldn't Elul be more appropriate?), both Jewish Week and Jewschool came out this week with lists of their favorites of 2006.

Interestingly, the only album that was honored on both lists was the Klezmatics' mining of the Woodie Guthrie archive, Wonder Wheel. Pretty cool that there are enough good new albums to fill two different top-ten lists - it wasn't so long ago that we might as well have called it the "only ten" list.

Even more interestingly, neither list honored any popular Israeli artists (unless you count the "Rough Guide to the Music of Israel," which received honorable mention from JW). I can't claim to be an expert, but I know there's an Israeli radio station that ONLY plays religious music the entire time, so I've gotta believe there must be one album from Israel worthy of making a list of Jewish music. And in any case, Jewish content was hardly a requirement on either list (one of which includes Bob Dylan's latest album).

An early indicator that the top lists for 2007 might be different appeared in the December Bikkurim briefing, which reported that JDub Records plans to "launch a new Israeli artist initiative 'The Port" that will introduce rising Israeli talents to American audiences."

My favorite Israeli album of the year (although it was actually released in 2005) is the second from Shutei Hanevuah (The Fools Of Prophecy), Mechapsim Et Dorot. We saw them in concert on the night before Erev Rosh Hashana with an audience that was evenly divided between Israelis, Americans, and Brits, mostly in their late teens and early twenties, and before concluding the show the band told the audience, in English, to call home and wish their parents a happy new year. And my favorite music video is this one from the Festigal, although apparently this link doesn't always work from the USA.

UPDATE [Jan 5]: Shutei Hanevuah was the featured performer at birthrightisrael/Taglit's "mega-events" this past week, which should help increase their exposure to an international audience.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Coolest Prize for a Jewish Contest Ever?

The BabagaNewz Capture the Dream Contest asks students to design an original logo for a plane carrying passengers making aliyah. The Grand Prize winner's design will be reproduced on a Nefesh B'Nefesh plane to Israel next summer, and the winner will receive a free trip for two to Israel.

Detailed rules and an entry form are available on the BabagaNewz website. The contest is open to students in Grades 4 – 7 in the U.S. and Canada, and entries must be received by Monday, January 29, 2007.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

...and in the news this week...

Brooklyn has more upmarket preschoolers than it can handle, reports New York Magazine in "The Preschooler Glut:"

The brownstone-Brooklyn baby boom is causing a sort of educational crisis in the once easygoing borough, leading parents to wonder: When did this turn into Manhattan? A flood of would-be students has forced the area’s premier preschools (where tuition is five figures) to close their application season as much as three months early.

The Conservative movement's Solomon Schechter day schools are considering changing their bylaws to admit the children of non-Jewish mothers, reports this JTA article. More detailed analysis is offered by the Baltimore Jewish Times. Sue Fishkoff asks in her a follow-up article:

If Solomon Schechter day schools begin to admit children of non-Jewish mothers, will that draw students away from Reform or community day schools? [...] Zena Sulkes, day school specialist for the Union of Reform Judaism, said she does not anticipate an exodus from the 19 schools affiliated with the Progressive Association of Reform Day Schools. Since Schechter schools already quietly admit non-halachically Jewish children, those families looking for a Schechter education are already going there, she suggested. Others won’t be tempted.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Israeli textbooks, the Green Line, and Yuli Tamir

It is well known that many textbooks in use in the Middle East fail to show Israel on their maps, as for example in this map from a 4th grade Syrian civics textbook. Or Kashti reports in today's Ha'aretz that:

...on the Web site of the Israel Defense Forces intelligence division, in a section dubbed "the hatred industry," the site analyzes the textbooks distributed by the Palestinian Authority. The writers point out that the maps do not mention Israel's name. They complain that when the Green Line is marked, Israel and the territories are shown in the same color. That is one of the "sophisticated methods of bypassing the problem," the site says [link to the report that Kashti cites, by Dan Meridor].
What you may not know, however, is how the state of Israel is presented in maps in Israeli textbooks. In the same article, Kashti reports on a two-year old study by Dr. Nurit Peled-Elhanan of the Hebrew University's School of Education:
Peled-Elhanan examined six textbooks published after the Oslo Accords, including some that were officially sanctioned by the Education Ministry. Other books were adopted by many teachers even though they were not officially approved. Among the salient findings were the blurring of the Green Line, the ignoring of Arab towns in Israel, and the presentation of sites and settlements in "Judea and Samaria" (not the "West Bank") as an integral part of the State of Israel.

[editor's note: the map to the left is not, of course, from an Israeli textbook, but from YeshaHomestead, a site devoted to building settlements on land purchased from Arabs. If you should happen to be Haredi, rich, and willing to gamble on the future of settlements on the West Bank, you might be interested in purchasing a "big house" or a mansion in the mountaintop community of Givat Yakov. But I digress...].

This week, Minister of Education Yuli Tamir propsed that all maps in new editions of Israeli textbooks show the Green Line, and she wants the next budget to support private publishing companies in making the change. Akiva Eldar reports in Ha'aretz:

Tamir said Israel could not demand of its Arab neighbors to mark the June 4, 1967 borders, while the Israeli education system erased them from its textbooks and from children's awareness. "This is not a political issue, but rather an educational one," Tamir said Tuesday. "We teach, for instance, about United Nations Resolution 242, but we don't show students the Green Line. We cannot deny that there used to be a border that is still being debated today." Tamir defended the decision as the only way to teach students the basis of the region's politics.

Meanwhile, an organization of right-wing rabbis on Tuesday issued a Halakhic decree forbidding students from using schoolbooks featuring maps of Israel which include the pre-1967 Green Line border, Israel Radio reported.

Tamir's decision may indeed be partially political, but Or Kashti reports in another article that there is a pedagogic basis for the change: An improvement in the teaching of geography in Israel:

Education Ministry officials in charge of the subject are convinced the only way to make geography relevant and strengthen the subject's standing is to add current issues to the lessons - for instance, by marking the Green Line in school textbooks and on maps.

A new curriculum for 10-12th graders, which addresses the Green Line much more extensively, is set to be introduced in the next school year. In the new curriculum, students will discuss "the factors in the delineation of Israel's borders," including the 1967 Six-Day War, as well as "different approaches for delineating final borders."

The curriculum will present three primary approaches: a return to the 1967 boundaries, preservation of "Greater Israel" and various proposals for border adjustments and compromise. The students will be expected to recognize and understand the "different approaches for defining the borders of the Land of Israel and the State of Israel."

"The question of borders will become an issue that is debated in the classroom," said [Education Ministry's supervisor-coordinator for geography studies, Dalia] Panig. "The education system should not bury its head in the sand. There is a constant debate in Israeli society regarding the different approaches to determining the borders, and there is no reason it shouldn't take place in the classroom. It is unacceptable that a student should hear terms like 'the Green Line' and not recognize them.

As in Israel, many of the maps and textbooks that are in wide use in liberal Jewish settings in the United States don't demarcate the West Bank, Gaza Strip, or Golan Heights in any way. For example, take a look at this map from Behrman House's 4th-6th grade textbook "Welcome to Israel".

The chapter from which the map is taken addresses the diverse population of the State of Israel. It notes that Israel is home to one million Arabs and to a variety of religions that consider it a holy land. It asks readers to ponder questions of the nature of a "Jewish state," such as whether non-Jews should be able to hold Israeli citizenship and whether the prime minister should be a rabbi. It even includes a photo of Rana Raslan, the first Arab Israeli to be crowned Miss Israel [a kindergarten teacher, incidentally], and quotes her as saying " does not matter if I am Jewish or Arab, I will represent Israel as best I can." In short, the chapter does a fine job of depicting the pluralistic nature of the State of Israel and the questions such diversity raises. Yet, in the map accompanying the chapter, it is clearly "greater Israel" that is shown.

How does your school or educational program handle the question of maps of Israel? Do the textbooks you use or the maps you hang on the wall show the Green Line? Do you "problematize" the question of borders, as the Israeli Education Ministry now intends to do with its High School students? If you aren't clear on the answers to these questions - may I suggest that this is a good opportunity to take a second look at your materials, and to enter the same debate that Yuli Tamir has raised here in Israel.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Simon Maccabee: A Chanukah Story

My friends,

As Chanukah approaches, I'd like to share with you an original story that I wrote two years ago while Director of Education at Central Synagogue. I told this story at Friday night services as a lead in to the students in the 4th and 5th grades singing Debbie Friedman's "Not By Might." It is the story of Simon Maccabee, a lesser-known Maccabee sibling. Here is an excerpt:
I think most of us here know about Judah Maccabee . . . but not so many people have heard about his brother, Simon Maccabee. We don’t know a whole lot about him, but I think I remember hearing somewhere that Simon was a 4th or 5th grade teacher.

Simon wasn’t a great fighter, but he loved to cook. Each morning he would fry up some mighty tasty latkes. When his brothers would come home in the evening, they always had new people with them who had decided to join in the fight against the Syrians

. . . Soon, Simon was getting up earlier and earlier to peel the potatoes and fry up the onions, and long lines of soldiers would wait for the mighty tasty latkes. Simon started to arrive later for work and his students would all wait impatiently for him to begin his lessons.
The entire text is after the jump. Please feel free to pass it along and to retell it in your own words.

Happy Chanukah!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Proudly educating at JTSA

With the Conservative movement poised to make a decision about the ordination of gay and lesbian rabbis in the first week of December, I am pleased to share with you a program run by the Davidson School of Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTSA).

In Spring 2006, Elliot Glassenberg (a student in the Davidson School) approached several faculty members about organizing programming at JTS that would explore issues related to "Sexual Diversity in Jewish Education." Elliot worked with several students and faculty members to shape two programs that were open to the entire JTS community, and were sponsored by the Davidson School, Rabbinical School, Cantorial School, DSO, RSSO, and CSO.

The primary goal of this program series was to help participants think through how attention to the sexual diversity in our schools, congregations, and other Jewish institutions might enable an expanded inclusion of students, families, congregants, colleagues, etc. The guiding questions for each activity and discussion were framed to support participants in reflection upon the possibilities (and challenges) of changing a school/congregational culture, especially when there is a presumption in these institutions of a heterosexual norm.

With thanks to Dr. Steven Brown, Dean of the Davidson School, for permission to host this here, and to Dr. Shira Epstein for writing it up, New Jewish Education is proud to provide Elliot Glassenberg's program Engaging with Sexual Diversity as a Microsoft Word file. You have permission to use or repost this program as long as you credit your sources.

UPDATE Dec 6, 2006: Earlier today, the Conservative movement's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards moved to allow same-sex commitment ceremonies and the ordination of gay and lesbian rabbis. The JTA has the full story here.