Howdy Neighbor!

Two brief interconnected anecdotes that will ultimately relate to Jewish Ed:

1) Last night I, and 30 other people in my neighborhood, attended our annual Home Owner’s Association meeting. “Annual” though it was the first such meeting held since I moved into our small subdivision in 2009. Looking around I was struck by how many faces I’d never seen. While I know most of the people who live immediately next door to me, there are folks just across the cul-de-sac that I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen. In essence, I was sitting with a group of strangers who share a small piece of planet earth and are collectively responsible for caring for and watching over it. While last night was hopeful, it was also sad. Clearly people care. But caring isn’t enough. There needs to be trust, communication, mutual respect, and motivation in order to tend to the few minor details that our HOA needs to address. This morning I woke up with the words of Rabbi Joachim Prinz in my mind, “Neighbor isn’t a geographic term, it’s a moral term.” If one of my neighbors breaks their leg, I should care. If there’s a new baby on the block, I should care. If there’s an ice storm and an elderly lady living alone, someone should check in on her to make sure she’s okay. The fact that we live on the same street doesn’t make us neighbors. Our neighborliness is linked to our having an ethic of care and to our feeling morally obligated to the people who we want to call us if a tree falls on our house.

2) Over the weekend I was part of a conversation about Thomas Friedman’s book “That Used to Be Us.” The presenter expressed Friedman’s point that we live in an interconnected world where, ‘Boston, Bangalore, and Sirsi’ are all neighbors. Again, Joachim Prinz’s suggestion that ‘neighbor’ is a moral term came to mind. But in this context I found myself asking, ‘How can Boston, Bangalore, and Sirsi’ be neighbors when my subdivision can’t?

In terms of Jewish Ed I’d simply suggest something that most of us already know, believe, and aspire toward: integration. The challenge with integration is that it’s an abstract noun. Others have suggested that we activate the noun by focusing not on an integrated curriculum but on cultivating integrating students– critical thinkers who draw connections between different aspects of their learning, both in school and in life. I agree with this idea of cultivating integrating students.

I believe that Jewish Ed requires our schools to be neighborhoods where an ethic of care pervades. The rabbi should care about the athletic program and want to know how students bodies are being nourished. The gym coach should care about the guidance curriculum. 7th grade should care about 6th grade and so on. Practicing an ethic of care, being good neighbors, is something that all Jewish educators should hold as a value, aspiration, and expectation. We should expect this of ourselves and our students. Being a caring and ethical neighbor should be part of our profile of the ideal Jewish Ed grad. While care is important, it’s not sufficient– we need to get better at communicating, trusting, sharing, and inspiring one another!

The good news is that, in spite of the many factors that can detract from the neighborliness of our neighborhoods, schools, and ultimately, our world, every person longs to be cared for and to care for others. This basic human need, fulfilled on the basis of meaningful relationships with ‘neighbors’ near and far, can animate us to create more integrated Jewish ed communities within our schools, among our schools, and in all of our choods. 

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