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.
HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal
What do we mean when we call our schools a “community”? How does the Jewish diversity that typifies community day schools coalesce into its own community? What happens when the various communities that exist both outside and within the school come into conflict? Discover ways of understanding and strengthening the community of your school and its position within the larger surrounding communities.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
"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.).”
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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