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♦ Barbara Davis
"Community” is the theme of this issue—but what does this word mean? Fifty years ago, sociologist George Hillery listed 94 elucidations of the term in his article “Definitions of Community: Areas of Agreement.” A similar listing in 5771 would be even longer and would arguably find fewer areas of agreement, as a search of the web turns up definitions as disparate as “community begins, but does not end, in our face to face relationships with the persons who are closest to us” and “a community is a group of two or more people who have been able to accept and transcend their differences regardless of the diversity of their backgrounds (social, spiritual, educational, ethnic, economic, political, etc.).”
♦ Arnee Winshall
Shalom Chaverim, As we enter the High Holiday period—ימים נוראים—what better topic for RAVSAK, The Jewish COMMUNITY Day School Network, than that of “strengthening community.” Many of us will spend hours and days together in our synagogues, spiritual communities, and homes reflecting, praying, learning, catching up with friends and being with family. This is one of the times when we most appreciate being part of a community, a Jewish community, and when, if we are not connected to one, we most miss it.
♦ Shira Hammerman
As Jewish educators, we often talk about community. We establish community day schools, partner with community organizations, and reach out to members of our local Jewish community for leadership and support. We may join communities of practice to improve our skills, plan programs to enrich the communities of learners that we are educating, and work to build school-community partnerships. We are certainly concerned about the future of the American Jewish community and our work is likely driven by an interest in its continuity.
♦ interview with Alex Pomson
With his Melton colleague Howard Deitcher, Alex Pomson is the editor of the recent volume Jewish Schools, Jewish Communities: A Reconsideration. We asked him to reflect upon the anthology’s formation and significance.
♦ Allen Selis
The notion of “community” is among the most important but least well grounded ideas that many Jewish day schools invoke. While we often suggest that the “community” character of a school implies inclusivity or pluralism, this notion is murky as well. Over the last few years, researchers and school leaders like Susan Shevitz and Michael Kay have helped us move towards a clearer understanding of what we mean by pluralism (see HaYidion Winter 2009). For Jewish day schools both within and beyond the RAVSAK network to be most successful, we will need a similar update to our understanding of “community.”
♦ Jerry Isaak-Shapiro
After seven years (and more to the point, seven winters) in Northeast Ohio, I’ve finally stopped kvetching about frozen pipes and ice-skidding (walking, driving). Like every other city and region, Cleveland has its share of peaks and valleys and everything in between, and I’ve learned to adapt and live with—if not entirely embrace—those forces of nature that once made me long for the pretend winters of the West Coast.
♦ Erica Brown
Few people would have the chutzpah to speak of ethical ambivalence when it comes to the Jewish tradition. We are, after all, a people Isaiah called “a light unto the nations.” Even Hebrew National told us that we answer to a Higher Authority. And yet, the recent spate of Jews involved in high-profile crimes ranging from agri-processing to money laundering and Ponzi scheming has challenged our integrity as a community. For the first time in the history of our people, a former prime minister and a former president of Israel have been indicted on criminal charges. This troubling state of affairs has made educators, among others, pause and ask if we are doing enough to teach ethics.
♦ Susan L. Shevitz
Schools that are strong, educational communities are associated with excellence. Their teachers, students, administrators, staff, and families are united by a shared set of values and aspirations; participants share a common history and sense of destiny. Pluralistic schools face a special challenge in terms of being communities. They must simultaneously support forces that help the different subgroups thrive while also ensuring that the subgroups unite around this sense of history and destiny. This means being part on a macro level of the Jewish people, while on a micro level, of the school community. To return to the ornithological metaphor: what does it mean to share a culture and be in community when people sing different songs? Can participants be faithful to their own melodies while respecting others’, and will they work together for their common benefit?
♦ Jason Kimelman-Block
Three years ago, I piloted a two-week program that brought Jewish teens to do intensive service projects on the Navajo reservation in the Arizona desert. This experience took participants far outside their comfort zone in a number of ways: they had to sleep in tents and cook their own meals, they were doing rigorous physical labor in the Arizona heat, and they were serving alongside Navajo teens, who not only had different economic and religious backgrounds, but communication styles that were different from those of the Jewish teens.
♦ Hila Zeira-Weinstein
When I recently tried to enroll my daughter for gan in Jerusalem, the computer registration system replied, “Did Not Compute.” I had to enter at least two options, and my top two choices were from two separate tracks, one religious and the other secular. The system literally would not accept such an entry. In our district, as in most of Israel, when choosing a school you must identify yourself and your child as a member of either the religious community or the secular community. This has direct implications on the education your child will receive. Only recently has a third alternative emerged, one that acknowledges a more complex Jewish identity. I have the privilege of working in one of these forward-thinking communities.
♦ Renee Rubin Ross
All schools dream of having a tight-knit parent community. Jewish day schools tend to be places where parents play a far greater role in decision-making than other parochial and independent schools, a situation that brings opportunities but also must be managed carefully. How might Jewish day schools incorporate input from the parents in a way that builds community?
♦ Susan Cook
New school, new faculty, opening meeting. One of those first impression opportunities. “How many of you have ever been bitten by an elephant?” I ask. A quick check around the room—no one raises a hand. “How many of you have ever been bitten by a mosquito?” No checking necessary—all hands are up. How do I convey to these “been there-done that” veteran teachers that I care about their professional lives in the building? That I will try to clear away the obstacles so that they can do their best work? And that I will listen to the challenges they face to meet the needs of their students in the “hurry up and learn” environment of a Jewish day school?
♦ Carol K. Ingall
When I was in charge of the day school teacher preparation program at the Davidson School of the Jewish Theological Seminary, I often steered our pre-service and newly hired teachers away from the teachers’ lounges in certain schools. Over the years I found them to be petri dishes of discontent and divisiveness, where teachers badmouthed administrators and disparaged those who didn’t share their content or linguistic expertise.
♦ Shaul Kelner
Chadesh yameinu kekedem. “Renew our days like those of yore.” Sung plaintively as the Torah scrolls are returned to the ark, this appeal captures one particular Jewish orientation to time. We venerate ancient days and hold forth their image as a model for a messianic era yet to come. From this perspective the present seems of little significance in its own right. It is simply a mile marker on the road from the past we lost to the future we strive to reach.
♦ Claire Smrekar and Lydia Bentley
This article is designed to provide a roadmap for school leaders in Jewish community day schools who are contemplating new parental roles meshing with the realities of family lives, and who are interested in establishing a new set of engaged community partners in the larger quest for academic excellence and organizational effectiveness. Following a brief overview of three models of school-community relations (co-optation, management, and engagement), a fourth model—coalition—is explored in greater detail because it represents the most robust and potentially rewarding set of relationships between families and schools.
♦ David Prashker
Karen Bloom (the name’s made up but the story’s real) gave up going to synagogue the day after her brother’s bar mitzvah—she was eleven at the time. Mom and dad had done their duty by their son, a girl doesn’t need a bat mitzvah, and in the retail trade in a predominantly non-Jewish neighborhood, who can afford to close the store on Shabbat or High Holy days?
♦ Gale Osborne
It has been twelve years since Charlotte Jewish Day School became a community school servicing children in grades K-5. This was the result of a herculean effort on the part of the community and a very successful Chabad Day School. After an exhaustive study by the Federation, which included a demographic study, the Chabad school transitioned to become a “community school.” The new school was to operate under a community board of directors, receive Federation funds and relocate to a new facility on the JCC campus. (It had previously served children from all Jewish denominations but received no community funding.) One of the first challenges was to build a “community board” to direct the school and help foster acceptance in the community.
♦ Bob Greenberg
"Necessity is the mother of invention,” the adage says. An equally strong case can be made that “necessity is the mother of collaboration.” But just as transformative invention depends on the cultural characteristics of an historical time period, in which individuals and society are prepared to accept change and embrace something new, collaboration requires an institutional culture that is open to the opportunities and risks of partnership.
♦ Allison B. Oakes
The Eleanor Kolitz Academy (EKA) is the only Jewish day school in San Antonio. As such, our mission is to serve the entire Jewish community; for the benefit of the school and the community, we cannot afford to do anything less. However, carrying out this mission is not easy, nor has the school always been wholly successful. Like many schools in small Jewish communities, our large mandate has bumped against the realities of denominational politics and school culture. Working closely with all of the local rabbis, we have developed a new strategy designed to meet the needs of the different factions in our community. Our hope is that the new regime will strike the right balance between advancing the religious pathways of our diverse student body while preserving the sense of unity, of klal Yisrael, so central to our mission.
♦ Stefanie Zelkind
Jewish teen philanthropy takes many forms, from dropping coins in a tzedakah box to schoolwide mitzvah days, from bnei mitzvah service projects to youth group dance-a-thons, and from individual giving accounts to giving circles. Yet all have something in common—they all are built upon a traditional Jewish mandate to give and a desire by young people to help others. Most philanthropy programs focus on fundraising; this article will focus on Jewish teen foundations, a relatively new programmatic model that focuses on grantmaking, or giving away funds in an intentional and strategic manner.
♦ Barbie Prince
As Jews, we have a long history of taking care of others. What we don’t have is a mechanism to teach our students how to be philanthropists in order to sustain the culture of giving. Students need to learn how to choose which organizations to support, how to ask others to join them in supporting organizations and how to raise money effectively. Project ROPE (Roots of Philanthropic Education) is an excellent educational vehicle through which our students can grow in philanthropic knowledge and implementation.
♦ RAVSAK Staff
This column features books, articles and websites, recommended by our authors and people from the RAVSAK network, pertaining to the theme of the current issue of HaYidion for readers who want to investigate the topic in greater depth.