Thursday, June 28, 2007

Facebook and MySpace may mirror social and class differences among teens

Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing reported earlier this week on a working draft of a (non-academic) paper by danah boyd [yes, really in lowercase - very e. e. cummings], "Viewing American class divisions through Facebook and MySpace." This intriguing piece "posits that well-to-do, stable American teens with 'good prospects' end up on Facebook, while poor, queer, marginal and non-white teens end up on MySpace." He quotes the paper:

"The goodie two shoes, jocks, athletes, or other "good" kids are now going to Facebook. These kids tend to come from families who emphasize education and going to college. They are part of what we'd call hegemonic society. They are primarily white, but not exclusively. They are in honors classes, looking forward to the prom, and live in a world dictated by after school activities.

"MySpace is still home for Latino/Hispanic teens, immigrant teens, 'burnouts,' 'alternative kids,' 'art fags,' punks, emos, goths, gangstas, queer kids, and other kids who didn't play into the dominant high school popularity paradigm. These are kids whose parents didn't go to college, who are expected to get a job when they finish high school. Teens who are really into music or in a band are on MySpace. MySpace has most of the kids who are socially ostracized at school because they are geeks, freaks, or queers."

danah points to the aesthetic differences between the two sites and how they characterize the differences between their user bases:

"Most teens who exclusively use Facebook are familiar with and have an opinion about MySpace. These teens are very aware of MySpace and they often have a negative opinion about it. They see it as gaudy, immature, and 'so middle school.' They prefer the 'clean' look of Facebook, noting that it is more mature and that MySpace is 'so lame.'

"What hegemonic teens call gaudy can also be labeled as 'glitzy' or 'bling' or 'fly' (or what my generation would call 'phat') by subaltern teens. Terms like 'bling' come out of hip-hop culture where showy, sparkly, brash visual displays are acceptable and valued. The look and feel of MySpace resonates far better with subaltern communities than it does with the upwardly mobile hegemonic teens. This is even clear in the blogosphere where people talk about how gauche MySpace is while commending Facebook on its aesthetics.

"I'm sure that a visual analyst would be able to explain how classed aesthetics are, but aesthetics are more than simply the 'eye of the beholder' - they are culturally narrated and replicated. That 'clean' or 'modern' look of Facebook is akin to West Elm or Pottery Barn or any poshy Scandinavian design house (that I admit I'm drawn to) while the more flashy look of MySpace resembles the Las Vegas imagery that attracts millions every year. I suspect that lifestyles have aesthetic values and that these are being reproduced on MySpace and Facebook."

The full text of the essay is well worth the read and there is on-line discussion of the paper at her blog, apophenia -- which also provides an interesting and insightful look at how the media coverage (and in particular, web reporting) on this paper - only posted on-line on June 24th - has quickly spun out of control.

A piece entitled "Digital white flight”? Facebook, class and social networking" posted (on June 22nd) on nmrg, the "New Media Research Group Blog" arrived at parallel conclusions (even referencing similar aesthetic associations):

"...let’s try a hypothesis: as MySpace fills up with 'late adopters' (the older crowd, who may have learned about myspace from other media vectors; 'desperate singles'; anyone whose fingers are some distance from the pulse), and as house-trashing horror-stories circulate, younger, educated, linked in social networkers are gravitating towards the places where 'people like us' gather. As the teens head for Xanga or linger on MySpace, a well-heeled college crowd (and grads or even acas like me) head for the 'nice neighbourhood' that is Facebook, in a way that constitutes a kind of 'digital white flight' (which may or may not have much to do with race) from MySpace, now the mass market SNS.

"The aesthetics of Facebook help here. No gaudy personalisation (none of the “teenage bedroom walls” of many MySpace profiles), no noisy pop-ups or tracks, no intrusive ads. Facebook’s blues and whites and clean backgrounds are reminiscent of an OSX application, or even the Wordpress edit window I am now using. It’s IKEA minimalism - not avant-garde, just neat and functional..."

In a related story about teens and online social networking, CNet News reported yesterday on a Pew study that found that one third of all teens are victims of "cyberbullying:"

"The most common form of bullying reported by teens online involves another person publicizing a private e-mail, instant message or text message, according to a study released Wednesday from the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Fifteen percent of teens surveyed said that they had experienced the embarrassment of having a private communication posted publicly online or forwarded to a third party.

"Other types of harassment include someone spreading a rumor or posting an embarrassing photo on the Web, as well as someone sending a threatening or aggressive e-mail, IM or text message, the report found...

"Pew also found that girls are more likely to be bullied online than boys. Thirty-eight percent of girls reported that they had been harassed online vs. 26 percent of boys. The number of incidents rose, however, among older girls and teens who regularly use social networks like Facebook or Nearly 40 percent of teens on social networks say that they've been bullied."

NFTY (the youth movement of US Reform Judaism) has been promoting ethical on-line blogging through the OurSpace initiative. Further information about cyberbullying (and resources for dealing with it) can be found at cyberbullying (from which the above artwork was taken),, and probably dozens of other websites about which I am unaware (although if you know of one, please post a comment). Also, Wiredkids has an online quiz to help you determine if you have been the victim of cyberbullying.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

My favorite quotes: Jerome Bruner

This is from In Search of Mind: Essays in Autobiography (1983):

“If indeed it is the mark of our species that we create our own environments in very considerable measure, then surely education is one of the most crucial aspects of that creation. But I think the lesson of the curriculum reform movement is that you cannot accomplish the deeper ends of education by altering only the content and spirit of the courses you teach. Schools as now constituted are not so much the solution to the problem of education as they are part of the problem.

“If I had it all to do over again, and if I knew how, I would put my energies into reexamining how the schools express the agenda of the society and how that agenda is formulated, and how translated by the schools. That, it seems to me, would be the properly subversive way to proceed.”

Monday, June 18, 2007

For your Israeli music curriculum: New Lyrics to Hatikvah?

[Note: Sing along to this blog posting with Al Jolson or Barbara Streisand!]

In Today's NY Times (June 18, 2007), Adam LeBor argues that the Israeli national anthem needs a facelift:

"As Israel prepares to celebrate its 60th birthday next year, it’s time to update its national anthem, 'Hatikvah' ('The Hope'). Only a single phrase needs to be changed: 'nefesh Yehudi,' which means a Jewish soul, should be replaced with 'nefesh Israeli,' an Israeli soul. Why tamper with a beautiful, stirring hymn? To solve what we might call the 'Hatikvah' contradiction.

"Israel strives to be both a Jewish state and a democracy, yet about a fifth of its population of 7.1 million people are not Jewish, but Arab Muslims, Christians and Druse...

"Prime Minister Ehud Olmert recently appointed Raleb Majadele as Israel’s first Muslim Arab cabinet minister, in charge of science, culture and sports. But the disconnect between the Jewish state and its Arab minority endures. Mr. Majadele caused outrage among the political right in March when he told the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth that he stands up for 'Hatikvah,' but will not sing it [see this March 17 article from Ynet].

"Yet why should he? He is Israeli, but he is not Jewish. And he is not alone. A growing number of Israelis of all faiths are calling for an inclusive national anthem...

"What Israel needs in the 21st century is an anthem that can be sung by all its citizens, of whatever faith..." [full text]

Of course, as Mr. LeBor rightly observes further on the article, this is hardly the only problematic lyric in Hatikvah. Jews from North Africa, Yemen, India, and other non-Ashkenazim might not find much that resonates in the image of a heart that looks "to the east." Non-Jewish Israelis certainly would dispute that a Jewish state in the Holy Land has been their "2000-year hope."

Actually, Hatikvah only "officially" became the national anthem in 2004 (although I that tidbit from Wikipedia, not exactly the most reliable source). You may also know that back in 1948, religious zionists preferred "Shir Ha-Ma'alot" (Psalm 126) for the anthem. Rav Kook was also critical of this text, and composed his own text ("Ha'Emunah," "the faith"). Back in April, the publisher of Ha'aretz, Amos Schocken, wrote in an editorial that "if by its 60th Independence Day Israel were to adopt a new national anthem, it will have taken an important symbolic step for the future of relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel."

More recently, Israeli professor Shlomo Avineri has written in support of maintaining the anthem, observing that:

"...a serious look at national anthems around the world . . . finds the large majority to be problematic. It is enough to cite as examples two strictly democratic countries - Britain and France.

"The British national anthem entreats the Lord to watch over the country's monarch, who is also the head of the Anglican Church. Millions of Catholics, non-Anglican Protestants, Muslims and Jews, among others, live in Britain today . . . The French national anthem, 'La Marseillaise,' is a revolutionary song full of violence and threats against those who oppose the Republic...

"For better or for worse, a national anthem symbolizes the dominant historical trend - which sometimes (as in France) was born of blood and fire. I understand the difficulty of Israeli Arabs, just like that of Jews or Muslims in Britain, or royalists or Muslims in France - but the latter are not suggesting their national anthems be changed. Citizens may decline to sing the anthem, but they should be expected to respect the symbols of the majority . . . In Israel, the Arab proposal to change 'Hatikva' stems not from the difficulty of singing the words of the anthem, but rather from the desire to question the State of Israel as the national state of the Jews..."

I hope it is not too much to assume that most Jewish schools around the world teach their students the Israeli national anthem. May I suggest that teaching the controversy surrounding the text might be a meaningful and interesting way to raise key issues about the nature of the State of Israel?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Young Judea's "Olami" Year Course track selling out!

Perhaps inspired by Kivunim, Young Judea is offering two specialized versions of their Year Course program featuring international travel. Alongside their other "gap year" programs in Israel for recent High School grads, the two "Olami" tracks include visits with Jewish communities around the world. Olami 1 is already sold out; as of June 14, there are 14 spots left for Olami 2, "Lost Jewish Communities ,which includes visits to Portugal, Uganda, India and South Africa. According to the educational rationale (can you believe a website that actually posts an educational rationale? Go Young Judea!):

"The four communities of Jews that Olami Two will encounter in their worldwide travels represent four major groups of people that are currently not fully accepted as Jews. The Marranos [of Portugal] were Jewish their forced conversion and secret practice of Judaism led to their gradual assimilation. The Lemba [in South Africa] were also Jews but left Israel and normative Judaism so long ago that they forgot much of the tradition. The B’nai Menashe [India] did not descend from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin as did the mainstream Jewish community of today. However, the “lost” tribes of Israel were never truly lost but rather spread throughout the world slowly loosing contact with the remainder of the Jewish people and “normative” Judaism. Finally, the Abayudaya [Uganda, of course] represent third-world communities interested in Judaism as the moral-ethical paradigm by which they wish to lead their lives."

Spaces are also still available for the Year Course Athletic program, but another new track, Shevet, "for students who want to explore their Jewish beliefs in an open Orthodox framework" is already sold out.

Vision Driven Institutions: The Heschel Center

I'd like to believe this will be a regular feature for New Jewish Education, but let's be honest: Once I start working full-time again in July, the frequency with which ANYTHING will be updated on this blog is an open question. So let me start this entry but putting out, once again, an open call to readers to join me on the writing staff.

In any case, let me tell you a little about one of my favorite Israeli organizations. The Heschel Center for Environmental Learning and Leadership promotes a vision of a sustainable society in Israel through leadership training, educational initiatives, and dissemination of information and resources.

The institution was founded in the 1990s and has undergone several key transformations during its lifespan. Impacted by developments in the environmental movement internationally, the growth of other environmental organizations in Israel, changes in its funding sources, and increasing clarity about its vision, the Heschel Center has shifted its focus from the development of curricular materials primarily for use with tourists to training and supporting “effective environmentalists” working in education, government, and industry in Israel.

The vision of the Heschel Center is based largely upon a critique of two mainstream paradigms of environmentalism in Israel. In the first, the Zionist ideology of a “return to the land” led to a model of appreciation of nature. However, this model largely benefits the upper and middle classes who can demand the preservation of natural spaces for primarily recreational purposes. A second paradigm examines the impact of human activity upon the environment, focusing largely on issues of public health (such as pollution) and prosperity (such as conservation of resources). The utilitarian approach of this model tends to benefit those with the political clout to demand governmental regulations protecting their interests.

The Heschel Center attempts to chart a “third model” for Israeli environmentalism, in which the question of how humans interact with the natural world reflects a values-driven vision of what it means to be human. This approach of “spiritual sustainability” demands that issues of economic development, social justice, and quality of life be an intrinsic part of the environmental agenda. Interestingly, in expounding this vision the staff of the Heschel Center discovered that the use of “Jewish” language and metaphors, which had infused their earlier work, was not well received by their Israeli audience. Secular Israelis ("chilonim") didn’t want to hear a “Jewish” message, and religiously observant didn’t want to hear it from them.

An Israeli awareness of the need for a values-driven environmental approach integrating economic development with spirituality can arise from the experience of parenting. Parents can become disenfranchised with the mainstream consumer culture as they come to the realization that it can conflict with their attempts to raise conscientious, healthy children (for example, in massive amount of advertising promoting junk food). Israelis may also develop an environmental consciousness while visiting other countries in which recycling, bicycling, and sustainable use are more commonplace than in Israel.

The approach of the Heschel Center attempts to pay particular attention to those who are normally disenfranchised by the rhetoric of environmental activism – which tends to mean Israeli and Palestinian Arabs and the urban poor. Inequality in access to and distribution of resources and the negative effects of environmental degradation tend to hit these groups the hardest. Further, the location of national parks and the desire for the preservation of natural spaces can come in conflict with the need for increased living space. The “third model” of the Heschel Center insists that issues of economic development be based upon both a social and an environmental accountability.

For more information: Eilon Schwartz, “Changing Paradigms in Israeli Environmental Education,” which used to be available on the Heschel Center website but seems to currently be unavailable as they update the site.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Reflections on the Hazon/Arava Ride, One Month Later

It has been just over a month since I completed the Hazon/Arava Institute Bike Ride from Jerusalem to Eilat. I wanted to share with you a few impressions that have stayed with me and a few reflections.

First, thanks to the generous support of our donors, Team Liz raised $8,224, impressively exceeding our goal of $7500. Truthfully, we are even more proud of the fact that this amount represents 99 separate donations, from individuals and families, friends and colleagues, Jews and non-Jews, from high school students to grandparents. This diversity among our supporters mirrored the diversity of the ride itself; in particular, I was astonished and delighted by the number of parents riding with children – and not only teenagers with their adult dads, but also adults who came along with their mom or dad (or both!).

The ride was, as expected, the greatest physical challenge of my life: 350 miles over the course of five days of riding, from Jerusalem to Eilat. It is indeed as beautiful as it sounds.

The ascents ranged from difficult to nearly impossible, but I am proud to say that somehow I managed. One moment stands out in my memory: At the base of the Makhtesh Gadol (the “Big Crater” - which I learned on the ride is not technically a “crater,” as it is usually translated, but the image should still work for you), at the end of our 2nd day of riding – a day that consisted almost exclusively of riding uphill (we started at the Dead Sea) – my friend and future colleague Rabbi Leon Morris and I looked up to the heights, at the extreme limits of our energy, and did what any good rabbi (him) and Jewish educator (me) would do: Started singing psalms: “Esa einai el heharim, me-ayin yavo ezri?” “I lift my eyes to the mountains – where shall my help come from? My help shall come from God, who created heaven and earth, he will not let your legs fail!” We couldn’t remember exactly which psalm this was, but in any case – we both made it up to the top. Well, I walked most of the way – but I made it nonetheless. Here is a photo of Leon and me at morning services at the beginning of the fourth day of riding.

The downhills made all the climbing worthwhile and I can say without hesitation that over the five days of riding I experienced the most exhilarating bicycling of my life, screaming down the hills of the Negev and finally down through the mountains of Eilat. Incredible! You can actually view a video of this final downhill, shot by rider David Eisenberg, – it doesn’t get interesting until several minutes in, so you might want to skip forward. And, kudos to David for calling out while passing riders! There’s other videos, photos, and so on, for those interested, at the Hazon website.

On Friday night, I led the “alternative” worship service for 60 or 70 people, on guitar, accompanied by three drummers. The group included kids and adults, people who normally prayed at Reform congregations and Orthodox congregations and everything else you could imagine, and a smattering of people who’d never been to services before, some because they weren’t Jewish. We sang and prayed for peace and for unity and for strength, and I think we all walked away feeling hopeful.

Nevertheless, the most inspirational part of the ride was not the scenery, nor even the participants, but hearing from the primary beneficiaries of our fundraising at the Arava Institute at a panel on Shabbat afternoon. These 20somethings who come together from Israel, the Palestinian Territories, and Jordan to study environmental science shared stories of skeptical families and unsupportive friends, and detailed with great honesty the prejudices they had to overcome in order to share rooms, meals, and classes with students from “the other side.” That they succeed year after year in building real friendships and working towards a healthier ecology in the Middle East is a tremendous achievement.

And so, Liz and I express our deep and heartfelt thanks to all of you who sponsored us for the ride. And don’t worry about whether you’ll be hearing from us, you know we’ll be hitting you up again soon!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Some thoughts on Family Education

In my opinion, family education is not simply about bringing the parents in to learn side-by-side with their children: It is about rethinking the relationship between the institution and the home.

For our learners, the home – not the school, synagogue, or summer camp – is the principal arena for the construction of personal meaning. In The Jew Within, Cohen and Eisen wrote that the immediate family exerts the greatest influence on Jewish observance, and parents are the primary agents of their children’s Jewish development. By the choices they make and the kinds of rituals that they incorporate into their homes, they model for their children what is meaningful and significant in Judaism.

Yet, this influence flows in both directions: Parents and children mutually reinforce each other’s Jewish observances and beliefs. In Linking the Silos: How to Accelerate the Momentum in Jewish Education Today, Historian Jack Wertheimer (the Joseph and Martha Mendelson Professor of American Jewish History at JTS) observed that parents can be “spurred on to further their own Jewish education and upgrade their own Jewish knowledge” and to introduce Jewish rituals into their lives as a result of their child’s Jewish involvement. For this reason, Jo Kay, Director of the New York School of Education of Hebrew Union College, suggests that we should look at the individual and the family as an inseparable unit: “Looking at the learner through the lens of the family impacts our perception of who we are teaching. The learner is no longer an individual without a context, but rather a member of a family and the family is ultimately the “student” we are trying to reach” (in her article “Family Education” in the Ultimate Jewish Teachers Handbook).

Our education programs, therefore, must be designed to have clear tie-ins to home observance and family life, providing resources that enable our participants to engage in the content they are learning. For example, giving them the opportunity to explore how they might make their own Passover seders more meaningful or relevant (or hold one in the first place), provides them with the chance to directly impact on their family’s practice.

By the same token, we must provide volunteer opportunities for parents not simply to hand out Chanukah candles and serve latkes, but to play a critical role in setting the agenda for our family education programs. For example, parents ought to be represented in decisions about whether a Religious School’s Hebrew curriculum will place greater emphasis on learning to speak contemporary Israeli Hebrew or on acquiring the skills to participate in a prayer service.

In this way, parents will be empowered to take responsibility for the Jewish upbringing of their own children, students will be empowered to take part in shaping the Jewish life of their families, and the educational program will be a partner in the process rather than the provider of Jewish identity.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Thank You, Mr. Mandel

Yesterday evening, I had the honor of speaking on behalf of the Mandel Jerusalem Fellows at the graduation ceremony for the Mandel Leadership Institute:

"Mandel Jerusalem Fellows is a professional development program. Nevertheless, it has much in common with a Sabbatical, and I’d like to speak to that comparison. One doesn’t need to be a great Hebrew scholar – and I’m not – to notice that the word 'Sabbatical' is related to the word 'Sabbath' ('Shabbaton' and 'Shabbat'). Shabbat is, of course, a day of rest, and certainly one of the main characteristics of a Shabbaton is the opportunity to be rejuvenated.

"I’d like to suggest three ways in which this experience as Mandel Jerusalem Fellows has been comparable to Shabbat: As a remembrance of the work of creation (zecher l’ma’asei b’reishit), as a remembrance of the liberation from Egypt (zecher letziat mitzrayim), and as a taste of the world yet to come (m’ain olam haba)..."

With the permission of the Mandel Leadership Institute, here is the Hebrew text of the speech I gave (and here is the English translation). Three minutes long.

Mandel Jerusalem Fellows will be taking a one-year hiatus from 2007-08 to retool the program. If you are interested in learning more about the program and considering applying for the 2008 cohort, contact Daniel Barnett at the Mandel Leadership Institute.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Reclaiming the phrase "Tikkun Olam"

Rabbi Jill Jacobs of Jewish FundS for Justice writes in the June 2007 issue of Zeek magazine:

"There may be no other term that is simultaneously as beloved and as reviled in Jewish progressive circles as the phrase 'tikkun olam.' For some people, this concept, generally translated as “repairing the world,” offers the motivation for involvement in social justice work; for others, the term has become so overused and so little understood as to be meaningless...

"...As the meaning of the term tikkun olam has expanded to apply to virtually any action or belief that the user thinks is beneficial to the world, some Jewish social justice activists and thinkers have moved away from using the term at all.

"...Rather than throw out the term tikkun olam altogether, or putting it on a twenty-year hiatus as others have suggested, I propose weaving together the four primary definitions of tikkun olam present in Jewish history: the anticipation of the divine kingdom in the Aleynu prayer; the midrashic call to preserve the physical world; the rabbinic desire to sustain the social order; and the Lurianic belief in our power to restore divine perfection. This definition will occupy a space between a limited definition of 'tikkun olam' as relating only to a specific theology or legal process and an expansive definition that equates 'tikkun olam' with any type of social action or social justice work."

Read her article, "The History of Tikkun Olam," for her complete program for rejuvinating the use of this overused phrase. The image to the right is from Temple Judea of Tarzana, California.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Job Posting: Director of Development, Beit Rabban (NYC)

Beit Rabban is a day school that weaves together exemplary and creative practices of academic and Jewish education. The school's diverse learning community brings together families from across the Jewish denominational spectrum. The school is committed to intellectual openness regarding the diversity of belief and practice found within Judaism. In an environment that is progressive in orientation, yet serious about engaging children in the Jewish textual tradition, students learn in an open spirit and in a way that fosters a love of learning. Find out more about our unique vision-led school at:

Beit Rabban seeks a highly organized individual to serve as Director of Development. This new position is an exciting opportunity for a motivated professional to join a dynamic, stimulating work environment and play a crucial role in the strategic growth of the school. The Director of Development will plan and implement comprehensive fundraising strategies for both the annual and capital campaigns. Reporting to the Executive Director, s/he will:
  • Work effectively with lay leaders to cultivate volunteer teams and campaign organizers, and identify and cultivate prospective donors
  • Institute new strategies for moving donors along the continuum of giving
  • Plan and implement major donor recognition and cultivation events
  • Design and implement mail, phone, online campaigns and other income streams targeted to current and alumni parents, grandparents, alumni and community donors
  • Conceptualize and execute brochures and communications pieces related to development projects and events.
  • Oversee gift administration processes relating to annual giving, pledge reminders and reporting
Qualifications: The ideal candidate will have a minimum of five years experience as a development professional where s/he has demonstrated success in:
  • Designing and implementing major donor solicitation efforts, including capital campaigns
  • Team-building and stewardship
  • Appeals such as direct mail, dial-a-thons and e-philanthropy
  • Defining, articulating and writing the case for giving and other campaign materials
  • Special events and volunteer management and mobilization
The successful candidate will also have excellent interpersonal and managerial skills, as well as the ability to work well independently; capacity to assume leadership roles and take initiative in start-up enterprises; Bachelor’s degree required, Master’s is preferred.

To apply: Please send a resume and cover letter with salary requirements to: Lisa Sacks, Executive Director, Beit Rabban Day School, 8 W. 70th Street, New York, NY 10023; Candidates meeting some but not all of the qualifications are also encouraged to apply.