Monday, April 01, 2013

Jewish Education: An Intrinsically Optimistic Endeavor

I wrote the cover story for the April 2013 Temple Emanu-El Bulletin, Volume 85, No. 8. Here is the text of my article:
Jewish education is an intrinsically optimistic endeavor. Our work as Jewish educators is predicated on the faith that we can inspire our students to personal growth. Further, we believe that by studying the past we can successfully prepare our students for an unknown future. Therefore, we act as translators, of a sort: we strive to make the ancient wisdom of our people relevant to contemporary sensibilities.

I believe the most compelling questions of value and meaning have remained largely the same since the days of the Bible. We look to our people’s history for direction as we ask ourselves the same questions that confronted our ancestors, like “What kind of person do I want to become?” and “What kind of world do I hope for myself and for future generations to inhabit?” Our people have struggled with these questions over the centuries, providing us with a legacy of their responses under varying circumstances.

The role of the Reform Jewish educator is not to pass along definitive answers to these questions, but rather to engage our learners in striving together to make meaning of our Jewish inheritance in all of its complexity. Our religious school is a “laboratory” for the Jewish future, providing experiences and opportunities our students cannot find elsewhere in their lives. The classroom is a center for Jewish life, where our students encounter one another’s ways of being Jewish. In accepting one another for who they are and what they believe, our students empower one another to say “I can be myself here and I can figure out who I might want to be.”