Teaching Jewish History

This is something of a rant. But it’s not truly a rant because I do try to arrive at some resolution by the end. Still, I need your help.

Jewish History.

mosaic Yishay
Tzipori Mosaic, photograph courtesy of Yishay Shavit.

Hertzl Cut Out

Israel Museum, photograph courtesy of Yishay Shavit.
Israel Museum, photograph courtesy of Yishay Shavit.

Part I: The Challenge

Teaching it is MUCH more complicated than I ever imagined. And yet those of us who care deeply about Jewish education need to figure out how to teach it. Do we teach it through TANAKH? Do we teach it in our general studies curriculum? Is it a strand in our Jewish Studies curriculum or a stand alone class? Do we put character cartoon timelines above our whiteboards and hope that they do or don’t ask us when Noah actually lived and whether he has any connection to other Ancient Near Eastern flood based heroes? Do we teach it through the Jewish holidays (which by the way, often have multiple historical resonances)? How do we teach Jewish history???

And in particular, how do we teach Jewish history to elementary and middle school aged children? As one of my Davis Academy colleagues pointed out, her kindergarten students think she’s 50 years old. She’s definitely not 50. Is it realistic to expect a young child or even an early adolescent to be able to fully appreciate a subject as vast and complicated as the history of the Jewish people? Do they have the synapses to put it all together? Is there a cognitive developmental theorist in the house who can advise?

And here are some more complicating factors. My milieu (and probably your milieu) is distinctively American. There’s NOTHING old in America. Nothing ANCIENT. Everything is NEW here. At least in Israel you can take kids to Canaanite and Roman ruins and show them something that is clearly much older than the house they live in. America’s lack of ANCIENT has implications for the teaching of Jewish history I think.

And now for the subject itself. Jewish history. When does it actually start? Is the TANAKH a purely historical document? I’m guessing most of us would say not, and yet it tells us important things about what came before us. Here’s a micro-example: This week our 5th graders chanted Shlach L’cha. There’s a reference to Hebron in one of the passukim. It says that Hebrew was built 7 years before the Egyptian city of Zoar. What on earth do we expect a 5th grader to do with a piece of information like that? How does it impact the narrative of the Scouts? What is it doing there and do any of the Jewish Studies teachers out there relish teaching Shlach L’cha so they can point out this passuk to the students?  Is that how we teach what Hebron was and is? It seems to me that you could teach an entire college level course on the history of Hebron and end up with more questions than answers. And Hebrew is only 1 of the 4 holy cities of Eretz Yisrael!

So remind me, when did Abraham live exactly? How long were the Israelites in Egypt? How many Israelites crossed the Red Sea? Obviously things come into greater focus based on archaeology and as Jewish history progresses, but there are still scholars of Jewish history that question whether there’s even such a thing. Yerushalmi comes to mind. Are we teaching Jewish history or Jewish memory?

Let’s be modest and say that there are at least 3,000 years of solid Jewish backstory for us to think about when it comes to teaching our kids where they came from. Then let’s layer in the fact that much of this backstory happens synchronously all over the globe. And then let’s at least acknowledge that there are both Jewish and non-Jewish sources that weigh in on the subject (sometimes with competing narratives). And then let’s celebrate the fact that we are blessed to have a tremendous amount of primary source material due to the efforts of those that came before us. And then let’s state unequivocally that much of this backstory is hard for elementary and middle school aged kids to relate to and/or incredibly painful and difficult to teach. Again, there are entire college majors and more than a few libraries worth of material on the Shoah, or is it the Holocaust? What do we even call that chapter of our history (and how, if at all, does it integrate with the history of Israel and American Jewish history)? And can you find me two museums that teach the Shoah in the exact same way? And don’t even get me started on the complexities of teaching the history of Israel with the insane amount of revisionism and the unavoidable politicization. Does the state of Israel even have a history is it all just one complex and unending present?

So yes, I think teaching Jewish history is harder than it seems.

Part II: One Idea.

The phrase, L’dor V’dor, is a powerful one in the minds of the children at The Davis Academy. L’dor V’dor directs the mind of the child first and foremost to the immediate past– the generations that they know and that helped create the world they live in. But L’dor V’dor can and probably should extend much further into the past (and the future– a different subject). Rather than lament the fact that many of our students think that Abraham, Moses, Esther, and Hertzl were contemporaries, maybe we can elevate and honor one of the reasons that they might seem so confused on the topic. Maybe, from a Jewish perspective, those 4 luminaries were, always have been, and always will be contemporaries insofar as they remain living, generative, paradigmatic, archetypal, and didactic figures L’dor V’dor, from generation to generation. Did Moses ever sail from Mt. Nebo across the Atlantic to the USA (thank you Book of Mormon for prodding me to ask such a question!)? Obviously not, but plenty of people understood Abraham Lincoln as the American Moses.  So maybe he did.

Here’s how I’m thinking about L’dor V’dor now– Abraham lived (or didn’t) at some specified point in time. From generation to generation Jews have viewed our life experience and historical circumstances in the light of Avraham (AVINU– really???). For that reason Abraham and all the rest have not only survived, but have had additional layers of meaning heaped upon them to the point where they’re almost metaphysical. At the very least they’re more than flesh and blood, more than a set of dates on a historical record.

L’dor V’dor typically means “from generation to generation.” Maybe it is a way to break through some of the potentially paralyzing complexity of teaching kids just how unlikely, miraculous, and truly astounding the fact of our existence here and now actually is.

What do you think?

Thou Shalt Create

This week I’ve been making the case to 5th graders that creativity is the one of (if not THE) most important characteristic of the Jewish people. Were it not for remarkable and visionary creativity I truly believe that the Jewish people would’ve ceased to exist long ago. What’s been most inspiring is their response. They have responded to this idea with tremendous enthusiasm and creativity.

Rather than simply lecturing on the creative spark within Judaism, we’ve been working collaboratively to think creatively about challenges and opportunities facing the Jewish world today. In the course of a 50 minute class period they have demonstrated, consistently, the radical creativity necessary to ensure a vibrant Jewish future.

Working in teams, the students have followed a protocol very loosely based on design thinking. They’ve come up with initiatives, organizations, projects, and websites designed to address challenges and opportunities that exist in the Jewish world today. And their ideas have been truly inspiring. So inspiring that I’ll leave you guessing and encourage you to undertake a similar thought experiment with the young people in your community.

I told the 5th graders that there are many individuals in the Jewish community today that have tremendous capacity and desire to support creative projects that will strengthen the Jewish future. I believe it’s only a matter of time before such an individual finds their appetite whetted by one of the creative ideas my students quickly identified today.

The Great Migration: Back to School 2015-2016

The month of August ushers in one of the greatest of all human migrations: the migration back to school. It’s a migration not only for students but for parents, teachers, administrators, and the countless other people that make schools come to life each year. As we collectively gear up for this annual journey I want to share a few thoughts that might inspire us to pause and reflect on what this migration is all about. Though I write from a very particular context, that of The Davis Academy, Atlanta’s Reform Jewish Day School, I believe most of these thoughts are relevant for anyone embarking on the great migration back to school.

 

Davis Tree

 

 

1. Old School. Formal education is one of the most ancient of human institutions. There have been societies that didn’t have the wheel or know how to kindle fire, but there has never been nor could there ever be a society without a structure for ensuring that the young learn from the “less young.” Though the aims, content, and structure, necessarily vary, education is one of the roots of human experience. It’s something we do out of biological necessity. Knowing that we are participating in this great and timeless undertaking should be a source of pride, and more importantly, a source of meaning. There is truly no calling more noble than that of teaching and learning.

2. Covenant. Too often we think of the relationship between student and teacher, between teacher and parent, between family and school, as a contractual or worse a transactional one. If we dig a little deeper we’ll discover that these relationships are actually covenants. A covenant is a relationship between equals. It is a relationship that places mutual obligation and mutual promise at its core. It’s a relationship that, by its very nature, cannot be broken (though it can be damaged). It’s a relationship of deep accountability and respect. It’s a relationship built on honesty and dialogue. A relationship where both parties are responsible for teaching and learning.

3. Whole child. We talk about educating the whole child, but too often talk isn’t translated into action. The whole child is mind, heart, body, and spirit. Would any of us really assert that American schooling as it exists today is educating the whole child? From where I sit, the answer is no. One particular area where we could and must do better is nurturing spirituality. The separation of church and state doesn’t mean that we can’t and shouldn’t be helping students cultivate a sense of connectedness, awe, and wonder. The sciences and the humanities provide endless opportunities for awakening and engaging the human spirit.

4. The classroom. The classroom is an undeniably important learning site, but it’s not the only one. Learning doesn’t start and and end in the classroom. When our students come back to school, they are coming from somewhere. When the bell rings they are headed to somewhere. We are all learning all of the time. Students don’t come to class ready to learn, they come to class in the midst of learning. If what we teach them is operative only within the classroom then our students won’t carry their learning with them. If we ask them to disconnect from the natural learning that they’re doing when they enter our classroom then we are inadvertently stunting their learning. We all have the chance to view our classrooms as spaces wherein we can acquire certain skills and knowledge that will help us thrive in the ultimate classroom of human experience: the world.

5. Poetry. There are times in life when prose is insufficient. Wherever we are, whatever we teach, however we fit into the back to school migration, let us find ways to bring poetry into our lives and into the world. Read a poem, write a poem, be a poem. Let us show our students the poetry of the world and let them show us the same.

6. Relationships. Relationships are the core of our humanity. Our existence is meaningful only to the extent that we are connected to one another. That we value other people and are valued by them, that we take an interest in other people and are of interest to them, that we care… This is what gives our life purpose. The relationships between teachers and students, children and parents, teachers and fellow teachers, teachers and administrators– these and other relationships are what make schools work. Good relationships are built on trust. They take time to cultivate. They are simultaneously strong and fragile, dynamic and stable. Growing and sustaining meaningful relationships may be the most important thing to focus on as we head back to school.

7. Optimism. There’s a great debate out there. Sometimes it takes the form of an obscure argument about whether human nature is good or evil. Sometimes it focuses on whether human beings will eventually destroy or save the planet. It’s basically a debate between people who think things inevitably (if sometimes slowly) get better and people who think things inevitably (and sometimes rapidly) go down the toilet. If you’re headed back to school then you are, by definition, an optimist. Even if you don’t think so. If you’re headed back to school and you’re not an optimist then you should consider taking an eternal summer or reconsider your self-assessment. Optimism, a belief in progress and human potential, is a non-negotiable for education. If we believe in the human capacity to learn and grow then we inherently also believe in the human capacity to become more compassionate, thoughtful, loving, gentle, and interested in advancing not only our own betterment but the betterment of all.

As we flock to gather our school supplies and migrate back to school I want to wish all of my fellow teachers and learners a meaningful and memorable school year.

Asking a child to do a grown up’s job

A recent JEDLAB discussion on Passover got me thinking. Are Jewish educators asking children to do the job of grown ups when it comes to Jewish life and living? And if so, are we inadvertently infantilizing grown ups in the process? Here’s what I mean…

When it comes to Passover, Jewish tradition is pretty clear that it’s the job of the grown ups to find ways of engaging children in the seder. As a Jewish educator I know that I have limited capacity (time, influence, and otherwise) to equip grown ups with the skills to do this if they don’t already have them. So I focus on the kids. I make sure that they’re conversant in the liturgy of the seder and also that they’re equipped to bring something creative, provocative, engaging, and different to their seder so that they might be the ones who engage the grown ups. A complete reversal of the traditional Jewish view that places this onus on the grown ups.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the grown ups are very appreciative that their children come to seder ready to engage them in a meaningful experience. But this comes with a potential (and I do mean potential) shadow side– we empower the children but infantilize the grown ups and the seder experience more generally.

While children are more than capable of bringing something cute and interesting to their seder table, they’re not capable of facilitating and participating in the kind of adult conversation that really honors the complex themes and social critique embedded in the Passover story. Seder, when focused only on the children and built around their engaging contributions, may be memorable, enjoyable, rewarding, celebratory and many other things, but it is likely not deep,  challenging, transformational, or significant. Of course a well-timed query from a child can propel a seder table to new depths, but this isn’t a guarantee. As grown ups wait for and depend upon the energy and creativity of the children at the seder table the really important questions may go unanswered.

More than likely seder is actually a blend of child generated joy and adult conversation. But as Jewish educators we have to ask whether our focus on the child runs the risk of letting grown ups off the hook a little too easily.

Jewish Education is Dangerous

Today I realized something— it’s dangerous to be a Jewish educator. It’s dangerous because if a Jewish educator is not thoughtful, caring, creative, passionate, visionary, authentic, wise, loving, and so much more he or she can inadvertently do more harm than good.

You could say the same about any educator teaching any topic, but I think it’s especially true for Jewish educators and religious educators generally. Because of the complexity and emotional energy of the topics we teach, if we don’t have an entire constellation of character traits we can run the risk of undermining the very aims to which we aspire.

The implications of this are significant. Training programs, professional development, opportunities for reflective practice– all of these things need to be in place for Jewish educators. The Jewish community has come a long way in this respect, but have we come far enough? Are we aware of the danger inherent in being a Jewish educator and have we done enough to hedge against it?

The top 11 reasons why EVERY rabbi should consider a career in Jewish day school

NB: It’s been pointed out by a number of colleagues, quite accurately, that virtually everything in this post applies not only to rabbis to all Jewish professionals, particularly Jewish educators. Feel free to read it in that spirit as the focus on rabbis is simply meant to highlight the potential to increase rabbinic presence in the day school environment. 

 

I’m writing this post because I’m something of an anomaly– I’m a rabbi that works at a Jewish day school. Most rabbis, especially Reform and Conservative rabbis, don’t work at Jewish day schools. They work primarily at synagogues– which is great. If they don’t work at synagogues they work at a host of different worthy organizations– also great. But rabbis are radically underrepresented in Jewish day schools. I have some thoughts about why that’s the case (compensation, perceptions, seminary training– to name a few), but this post is dedicated to a different topic: why EVERY rabbi should consider a career in Jewish day school.

1. Rabbi means Teacher. While day school rabbis have an array of duties and varied portfolios one thing that is consistent is that our primary focus is on teaching and learning. As a day school rabbi I get to do what I thought it was that rabbis are supposed to do: teach Torah. There’s a lot of stuff that comes along with teaching Torah at a Jewish day school but none of it is so cumbersome that it detracts from this fundamental goal.

2. A Rabbi and a Jew. One of the unresolvable tensions of the American rabbinate is that rabbis work when Jews are supposed to rest. Shabbat is the best example of this. When the rest of the Jewish world is invited to stop what they’re doing and try to taste the holiness and shalom of Shabbat, rabbis are on the bimah officiating, presiding, and preaching. As a day school rabbi I get to be a Jew on Shabbat. I get to do what Jewish people are supposed to do. I get to rest. For me, the ability to live the rhythms of Judaism is important for the authenticity of my rabbinate.

3. 180 days. Day school rabbis see their congregants 5 days a week for at least 8 hours a day. Think about the depth and breadth of relationships that day school rabbis can nurture and sustain with this literally unparalleled access to our people. All the buzz in the Jewish world today is about engagement and meeting people where they’re at. It’s easy to meet people where they’re at if you work at a Jewish day school.

4. Lots of colleagues. Most Jewish organizations have very limited full time professional staff. Consequently, many rabbis are lonely, especially if they’re in smaller communities. I work with more than 100 professionals every day. These passionate professionals have diverse interests and talents, different needs and personalities, and so much more. A day school rabbi is never lonely.

5. Hebrew. Many of my colleagues, across denominational lines, report that their Hebrew language skills have dropped off the planet. Part of my portfolio as a day school rabbi is supervising our Hebrew program. That means sending and receiving emails in Hebrew every day. That means having coaching and mentoring meetings in Hebrew. That means department meetings in Hebrew. All this means that my Hebrew has actually gotten better since I left seminary. It’s sababa.

6. Impact. Judaism has long understood that our children are our most precious resource. Working directly with students and helping them find their place in Judaism and in the world is truly a joy and a blessing. For young children it means that their formative Jewish experiences happen under our roof. For older children and adolescents it means that we help them transition from the Judaism of childhood to a more mature and nuanced engagement with our tradition. This isn’t unique to the day school setting but the fact that our work is so child/adolescent focused is unique.

7. Authentic community. Jews are meant to do more than worship together. We’re meant to study together, to eat together, to play together, to travel the world together, to mourn together, to celebrate together, and much more. The Jewish day school environment allows all of these things to happen without the pressure of limited time. Colleagues in supplementary schools and synagogues often report that they struggle to reconcile their many goals and aspirations with the strict time constraints of their programs. As such many synagogues focus primarily on religious training and preparation at the expense of some of the other things that Jews are supposed to do. Summer camps are able to build authentic community from May-August but struggle to extend that programming into rest of the year. Sometimes the most important thing I do on a given day is hang out at recess and play football with 2nd graders.

8. L’shem chinuch. Many of us are familiar with the longstanding principle of “L’shem chinuch” (“for the sake of education”). The essence of this principle is that we are allowed to bend some of the rules and think outside the box when it comes to matters of Jewish ritual and practice when our goal is to teach these concepts in the most compelling ways. Because day school rabbis work in environments that exist for the sake of education we are empowered to bring an extremely creative and liberal lens to Jewish ritual and practice. Tefillah is a great example. Tefillah in the Jewish day school differs from tefillah in synagogue because the congregants typically aren’t obligated to recite prayers (since many aren’t b’nai mitzvah age). This opens the possibility of making tefillah incredibly dynamic. At The Davis Academy our middle school tefillot are a great example. You might find us having a traditional shaharit service (with abbreviated liturgy) or you might find us having iPod tefillah, yoga tefillah, or a hundred other types of tefillot. Because we are trying to cultivate a sense of prayerfulness and teach concepts like keva and kavanah rather than fulfill the obligation to pray, we are able (and obligated) to be creative, experiment, and innovate. The full power of “L’shem chinuch” can be realized in the context of the Jewish day school because it is the essence of why Jewish day schools exist.

9. Summer. One of the unknown delights of working as a rabbi at a Jewish day school is summer. I work year round but there’s no doubt that when summer comes the cadences of my weekly schedule shift dramatically. There’s plenty of work to be done over the summer, but a lot of this work is strategic and reflective in nature. At its best summer can actually feel like an annual sabbatical– a time to explore areas of interest and passion, to do some continuing education, to reflect on what’s working and what can be improved. The rhythms of Jewish day school life can be as intense as the rhythms of any congregational rabbinate. Summer is an amazing gift for day school rabbis. And, if you’re not a year round employee, it’s an opportunity to complement your day school work with time spent at Jewish camp, in Israel, or wherever else your rabbinate may take you.

10. Rabbis needed. There is currently and there will continue to be a need for rabbis in Jewish day schools. Jewish day schools need passionate, knowledgeable, professionally trained Jewish educators in a host of areas.

11. Jewish day schools work. Lastly, for now, there’s the simple fact that Jewish day schools work. Day school alumni are disproportionately represented in almost all areas of leadership in Jewish institutional life. Jewish day schools are helping to insure that subsequent generations of Jewish adults are engaged, empowered, informed, and passionate about carrying on the story of the Jewish people.

So these are my top 11 reasons for why EVERY rabbi should at least consider a career in Jewish day school. I hope other colleagues from the field will chime in!

 

A Missing Priority in Jewish Day Schools

Perhaps it’s because we take it for granted.

Perhaps it’s because we don’t know what it is and therefore can’t work it into the curriculum.

Perhaps it’s because we’re focused on the letter and not the spirit.

Perhaps it’s because we’re focused on the content and not the vessel.

I’m not sure.

But I’ve spoken with colleagues from dozens of Jewish day schools and there’s a common theme: in spite of our deeply religious missions many of us are failing to make spiritual growth and exploration a priority for our students, our families, and our faculties.

And it’s a shame. It’s a shame because failing to educate for spirituality means our students will enter the world with a deficit. They’ll be less happy and they’ll be less whole.

Here are a few assertions that I’d love to discuss, debate, and reflect upon. I’d love to do so online and at the upcoming North American Jewish Day School Conference at the DSLTI-hosted session, “Holding the Unspoken Conversation.”

1) Spiritual development (I know, “development” is a loaded term) is no less important than intellectual, emotional, moral, and physical development. Our schools tend to the intellectual, emotional, moral, and even the physical development of children with great care and concern. Too often we relegate spiritual development to venues like tefilah and the Jewish studies classroom.

2) That’s because many Jewish day schools and faith based schools in general conflate religion and spirituality instead of treating them as interconnected but distinct phenomena.

3) We conflate them because many of our most cherished teachers and administrators aren’t really comfortable owning either the religious or the spiritual mandate that is at the heart of the Jewish day school. That’s in part because we are unsure how our own religiosity and spirituality fit into our professional roles or because we’re afraid to cross the threshold into this terrain.

4) That’s because the schooling that we received likely failed to prioritize our spiritual development. And now we’re paying it forward.

Here are some things that I’ve witnessed that help bring spiritual development into our schools:

5) Promoting spiritual growth and development among our faculty and administration. We can do this during time allotted for professional development. I’ve seen and felt the shift in energy that emerges when faculty and administration address the topic of spirituality– both our own and that of our students.

6) Distributing responsibility for spiritual growth and exploration across the curriculum. When we liberate tefilah and Jewish Studies from the unrealistic burden of owning the entirety of spiritual education it’s good for Jewish Studies and General Studies alike. Lifting spirituality from the “Procrustean Bed” invites teachers across disciplines to embrace the spiritual potential in their curricula.

7) Gathering our most forward thinking and thoughtful people around the table for conversations about the means and ends of Judaic programs like tefilah. When we do this we tap into the deep wisdom and varied perspectives of our diverse communities.

8) Educating parents about the importance of spiritual growth and development and enlisting them in our efforts. They’re favorably disposed, but often equally at a loss for how to bring spirituality into the home. They love discussing  how they and their school community can partner in helping cultivate this naturally occurring phenomenon that we all see in our children and adolescents.

9) Remember that we’re just spiritual beings having a physical experience!

If you’re at the NAJDS and want to share struggles, opportunities, successes, wisdom, and wonder about this topic I hope we can come together and “Holding the Unspoken Conversation.”

Thoughts and a Blessing for Jewish Educators

 

  • As Jewish educators we are concerned not only with the mind, but also the heart, the hands, and the spirit.

 

  • As Jewish educators we are concerned with stories—the stories we inherit, the stories we tell, the stories we live, and the stories we hope to dream into existence.

 

  • As Jewish educators we are concerned with finding and using our voices and those of our students for the betterment of the world. Just as God spoke and the world came into being, just as Jewish tradition has spoken across the generations, so too must we speak to the concerns and challenges of our day. Only by finding our voices can our relationships become mutual and dialogic. Only by finding our voices can we become active inheritors of tradition and shapers of tomorrow.

 

  • As Jewish educators we care deeply about relationships. The relationships between self and God, between self and other, between experience and wisdom, past, present, and future. And also the relationship between teacher and student. These relationships are the living Torah through which all learning is nurtured.

 

  • As Jewish educators we are dedicated to critical thinking and critique. We refuse to accept that this is the best of all possible worlds. We educate toward freedom—the freedom to replace the broken with the whole and the fractured with the holy.

 

  • As Jewish educators we are committed to the notion that every individual is created in the image of God. The uniqueness we find within ourselves exists within every soul. As Jewish educators we aspire to create opportunities for each person to flourish in their unique way. In so doing we affirm the value of humanity and ensure a more creative and compassionate world.

 

As we embark upon a new school year may all Jewish educators be blessed with health and well-being. May our lives be enriched by the lives we help to create through our teaching and may our wisdom ever deepen. May our dedication bring us to greater spiritual awareness and our greater spiritual awareness make us more whole and loving people. And may our students leave our hallways committed to the betterment of all creation. Amen.

DSLTI Rules

It’s early morning and I’m watching New York City come to life outside the window of my dorm room at 121st and Broadway. Why? DSLTI Rules.

Last night I had dinner at a kosher burger joint with 2 members of my DSLTI cohort who have become close friends. Our table looked like the premise of a really bad rabbi joke– a Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox rabbi are out to dinner… But instead it was a celebration of friendship founded on mutual respect, shared experience, and dedication to the field of Jewish Day School education. Why? DSLTI Rules.

This year I went through the experience of having a 360 review. I got candid feedback from my Head of School, administrative colleagues, people in my department, as well as other members of the faculty. I tried to honor their feedback by embracing it and using it to make a plan for professional growth. Spoiler alert: I’m still in progress! Why? DSLTI Rules.

Jewish Day Schools are complicated entities. We each have our own culture, our own community, our own strengths and challenges. Previously I had deep concerns about the state of the Jewish Day School field– do we have the leadership, the dedication, the resources, and the vision to carry forward our collective work? Now I know. DSLTI Rules.

The best teachers are the best learners. Were DSLTI to be based solely on the premise that our “mentors” were the teachers and “fellows” the students then the program would collapse. Instead, DSLTI creates a community where voices with varied backgrounds and levels of experience share generously, listen attentively, and argue freely with one another. DSLTI Rules.

One of life’s challenges is that as we get older it can be more difficult to establish lifelong friendships. Our professional roles, the demands of our primary responsibilities– these things rightfully require the fullness of our being. That DSLTI is an 18 month fellowship that places relationships at the center means that I “graduate” with 20 new friends. What makes someone a friend? The fact that their heart breaks if my heart breaks. The fact that if I need them, they’ll be there. The fact that I can turn to them to celebrate successes and learn from failures. The fact that their happiness contributes to my happiness. The fact that we can be real with one another even though we might, one day, compete for the same professional position. Why do I have this group of amazing new friends? DSLTI Rules.

Jewish Day Schools need to be, without exception, transformational institutions in the life of our individual communities and the larger landscape of Jewish education and Jewish life. In order to get there we need to guarantee that our individual schools meet the highest standards of professionalism and excellence. Together we need to address certain critical issues like the cost of tuition and the fact that many Jewish families cannot afford or have no interest in Jewish Day Schools. DSLTI’s clear focus on Day School leadership speaks to the heart of the matter. Empowering the next (and the next) generation of Jewish Day School leaders is a high impact way of advancing the causes of excellence and professionalism within individual schools as well as raising the profile of the Day School movement in North America. DSLTI Rules.

I’m a different person now than I was when I first entered DSLTI. There are plenty of reasons for this, many of which aren’t directly connected to DSLTI. But the fact that DSLTI has been a consistent presence during this period of personal and professional growth means that I have a framework for reflecting on how I’ve changed. Bi-weekly calls with my mentor, summer institutes and mid-year meetings, phone calls and emails with other DSLTI fellows– these touch points have helped me to see myself more clearly. If only because of these opportunities for self-reflection and to assess my own learning I’d have to say, “DSLTI Rules.”

This post is meant to serve as a personal testimonial for DSLTI. Could I say more about how DSLTI Rules? Absolutely. But if anyone wants to learn more about the specifics of the program I’m happy to chat. DSLTI Rules.

“MLK: Letter from a Birmingham City Jail” Beit Midrash

Regrettably I did not have time to correctly identify the images I used in this PowToon.

The following “text sheet” contains more expanded versions of some of the quotes/commentaries from the PowToon. I am grateful to Rabbi Peter Berg, Rabbi Brad Levenberg, Rabbi Jan Katzew, and Rabbi Michael Shire for their contributions. Rabbi Katzew and Rabbi Shire’s quotes aren’t in the PowToon because they were a bit beyond what I thought our Middle School students could tackle in the short time we had for this lesson!

I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

–      Martin Luther King Jr. Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Rabbi Peter Berg from The Temple in Atlanta writes:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere…The Torah teaches lo tuchal l’hitaleim – you shall not remain indifferent.  Literally translated it means do not hide yourself.  Our Jewish values teach us to face the world head on, to engage in study and moral debate, to raise questions about the world and about ourselves, to enhance life, and to struggle to repair that which is broken an incomplete.

 

Rabbi Levenberg from Temple Sinai in Atlanta writes:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere… Jewish tradition compels us to protect the poorest, weakest and most vulnerable among us.  Among us… among us.  That’s the challenge, is it not?  There are those who firmly believe that we must care for the Jews first and, if we have time and resources, to care for others.  I disagree.  As long as anyone is homeless, we can be homeless.  As long as anyone is hungry, we can go hungry.  And as long as anyone is subject to another’s ill treatment, we need only look at our tragic history to realize that, in fact, Jewish tradition compels us to protect the poor, the weak and the vulnerable.  Everywhere.

Rabbi Michael Shire from Hebrew College writes:

I just watched the movie ‘Mandela; Long Walk to Freedom’ and was struck that Nelson Mandela was in prison throughout the time that Martin Luther King was also fighting for civil rights. I don’t know if they corresponded or knew about each other but how fascinating to compare the situations of the two men. One, starting an epic struggle of a black majority violently fighting against an apartheid Government and military that was increasingly vulnerable to world wide condemnation. The other, bringing to an end 100 years of a process of Black emancipation in a society built on the values of equality and universal suffrage. It is definitely the case that there was ‘a network of mutuality’ where the nature of just being of a black colour demanded a new perception by others and by blacks. People of colour had been considered inferior, infantile, slovenly, ignorant and lazy. In South Africa, it took the nobility of men like Nelson Mandela and Steve Biko (murdered in prison) to demonstrate that blackness was nothing to do with character. In fact they had also to prove it to their own people that had so long been downtrodden. Steve Biko’s work on ‘black consciousness’ echoed a similar attempt by Theodore Herzl to do the same thing for the Jewish People. In his writings about early Zionism, Herzl declared that the Jews were proper and fit to have their own land like any other people. At the time, this was considered inconceivable by most people including Jews themselves. Jews were  considered inferior, miserly, dirty and shifty. What does it take for a people to learn not only that they can be free but that all deserve to be free? At Pesach we say, if not all are free, then none are free’. Do we have responsibility for the freedom of other peoples? And for their self-worth as well?

Rabbi Jan Katzew from Hebrew Union College- Jewish Institute of Religion writes:

“I cannot sit idly by” – ‘לא תעמוד על דם רעיך אני ה
– Leviticus 19:16 – You shall not stand by the blood of your neighbor; I am Adonai. Martin Luther King’s words echoed a מצוה, and not just any מצוה, but one embedded in the very heart of Torah, the Holiness Code. Standing idly by would be a sin, and not just in the eyes of Martin, but also in the eyes of God. Elie Wiesel noted that rather than use the word אחיך – your brothers, Torah teaches רעיך – your neighbors, thereby making the מצוה apply to humanity as
a whole rather than to a particular family or people. Finally, the words אני ה – make it clear that this מצוה to confront the oppression of any person or people not only involves human dignity and compassion but also divine dignity and compassion.

Rabbi Micah Lapidus from The Davis Academy writes:”It’s not enough for a Jewish person to be smart. It’s not enough to be talented or successful. It’s not enough to be HAPPY. A Jew needs to be righteous. We need to do the RIGHT thing, the HARD thing, the JUST thing.”

Drew Frank from The Davis Academy shared the following quote from Haim Ginott: “I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no person should witness. Gas chambers built by learned engineers. Children poisoned by educated physicians. Infants killed by trained nurses. Women and babies shot and burned by high school and college graduates.

So I am suspicious of education. My request is: help your students become more human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths, or educated Eichmanns. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more human.”