Re/Presenting the Jewish Past
Re/Presenting the Jewish Past is a program run jointly between New York University's Steinhardt School of Human Development, Education and Culture and RAVSAK: The Jewish Community Day School Network. This innovative program is focused on improving how students encounter the Jewish past in their high school education. Emerging out of a need to address several challenges facing those teaching history in Jewish high schools, Re/Presenting the Jewish Past partners with your school to craft and implement a vision of Jewish history education that supports your school's mission.
Our goal is to work with a team of teachers (three-four per school) over the course of a school year to critically reexamine how Jewish history is currently presented to your students across the curriculum and craft a vision of a stronger program. We work with teachers from all departments (Social Studies and Jewish Studies classes) and encourage cross-departmental collaboration. Ultimately, our goal is to bring the teaching of Jewish history into alignment with the mission of your school and ensure that it is both intellectually robust and personally meaningful to students.
The program is fully-funded and is offered at no financial cost to schools.
What kind of support will participating schools receive?
As you examine the objectives and goals of teaching Jewish history in your school, you will receive custom-tailored support from doctoral students in Education & Jewish Studies, as well as from leading scholars in the fields of Jewish history and Jewish education. Benefits include:
- Monthly facilitated conference calls supporting the team's vision and its implementation
- Participation in a five-day workshop held at New York University in July 2010
- Participation in a two-day follow-up meeting at New York University in March 2011
- Two on-site visits from our liaison staff
- Access to an broadening network of educators at over 20 North American Jewish high schools committed to change in Jewish history education
Past Participating Schools have included:
- Gann Academy, Waltham, MA
- Tanenbaum CHAT, Toronto, ON
- Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, Rockville, MD
- Chicagoland Jewish High School, Deerfield, IL
- Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, Baltimore, MD
- Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy, Overland park, KS
- The Weber School, Atlanta, GA
- The Abraham Joshua Heschel High School, New York, NY
- SAR Academy, New York, NY
- The Jewish Community High School of the Bay, San Francisco, CA
- Shalhevet, Los Angeles, CA
- The Yeshivah of Flatbush, Brooklyn, NY
- Frankel Jewish Academy, West Bloomfield, MI
- Hillel/Rabin School of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON
- Barrack Academy (formerly Akiba), Bryn Mawr, PA
- Ida Crown Jewish Academy, Chicago, IL
Ten General Challenges of Jewish History Education
Students enter high school with lack of "even-playing field" vis-à-vis Jewish studies background. There are major variations in students’ knowledge depending on feeder schooling.
- Students lack understanding of the basic arc of Jewish history, of series and sequence of events.
- Time in school schedule is not appropriately allocated to the teaching of Jewish history as its own subject.
- Teachers with little if any background in teaching Jewish history, be it in Jewish studies or general history, are often expected to teach the subject, forced to "incorporate" it into their classes with little training or support.
- There is little if any collaboration between teachers of Jewish studies and/or general history with those teachers who are teaching Jewish history.
- Teachers have little access to resources that would help shape their teaching, either primary or secondary historical sources that are age-appropriate, or centralized access to digitized resources that could alleviate the burden of uncoordinated curricular materials.
- To integrate or not, and how? Teachers and schools more broadly, face the choice of whether or not to "integrate" Jewish history into the teaching of general history (or into Jewish studies). Often when done, it is not done thoughtfully and is "inserted" as an afterthought. For those who teach Jewish history as a separate course of study, these teachers wrestle with how to appropriately coordinate with teachers of Jewish studies subjects to ensure relevant points of contact are addressed and highlighted to students.
- Often, there is little, if any thought given to articulating an approach toward and set of objectives for the teaching of Jewish history in schools. Teachers are reinventing the wheel and often unconsciously doing so. There is no central document that outlines core objectives and benchmarks for the teaching of Jewish history.
- Teachers have little time or opportunity to be exposed to thinking about issues of historiography or history education, let alone to consider how these may impact their pedagogies. As such, the teaching of Jewish history can often be rote, not rigorous, and in many cases, seem irrelevant to students.
- Students are on the receiving end of a silo-ed Jewish studies program that is not holistic in its approach to ensure students’ studies are appropriately contextualized. Thus students may learn of the French Revolution without ever learning what was happening for the Jews of the time or may study Rashi’s commentaries without ever knowing the social and political context (let alone time period) from which he emerged.
If these challenges resonate for your teachers, please be in touch. There is a growing network of professional educators committed to thinking through these issues and crafting interventions to transform the teaching of Jewish history in high schools. We believe that with their collective wisdom, as well as the support of an exceptional group of doctoral students and leading scholars in Jewish history and Jewish education, important changes can be made.
Please contact Yona Shem-Tov, Director of Education and Outreach, for more information about how to apply: Mkramer@ravsak.org.