To teach civics today, educators must contend with forces outside the classroom, forces that threaten the viability of American democracy. We all know the troubling statistics: Only 20% of Americans trust the government, 40% of Americans believe that the other party is a threat to the nation’s wellbeing, and a growing number of Americans believe that a “strong leader” who does not have to contend with elections might be better than our current democracy. We live in a country designed for self-governance, and yet less than half the population consistently votes.
HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal
In These Times
This issue shows how Jewish day schools help students engage with serious social issues in ways that cast more light than heat. Whether the issues concern race or feminism, gun violence or identity, day schools of all kinds foster conversations and create programs that build understanding and give voice to opposing, often passionately held positions, while finding paths to achieve communal unity amidst divisiveness. They do so by adhering to the school's mission and to those values that unite us.
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Asking Race Questions
“Where are the Jews of color?” I asked myself as I sat in an auditorium full of Jewish educators. The daylong conference was focused on civics education in Jewish educational settings and drew hundreds of Jewish educators from throughout the New York area. And as I looked around, I noticed we were mostly, almost entirely, white.
Like many other Jewish schools, ours sometimes finds itself challenged by the conflict between the competing imperatives. On the one hand, we never want a family to have to consider our school’s perceived political positions when deciding whether or not to enroll their children. Nor would we want students to feel uncomfortable by the school imposing a particular view or activity on them that goes against their own values and beliefs. Those are considered red lines, yehareg ve‘al ya‘avor (let oneself be killed rather than violate) at our school.
The issue of female leadership, or lack of female leadership, in Jewish day schools is complex. Often the hurdles placed before women, or the doors closed to them, aren’t clearly visible. But empowering the women in our institutions is not only about fairness and equality; it’s about modeling for both male and female students, during their most formative years, that women are valued, have a place at the table, and can and should be leaders. Modeling this lesson through purposeful actions speaks volumes.
Adam is a peacock. He struts through the halls showing his feathers whenever he can. When I walk into a classroom where Adam is, his back is noticeably straight; he sits with seeming attentiveness and some designation of self-worth. He is not tall, but his solid frame gives him the appearance of height. He is capable of having different kinds of conversations than you might from boys his age. He has a biting sense of humor, sees irony all around him and is willing to share his insights.
2018 marks the 25th anniversary of the NAIS Student Diversity Leadership Conference, a multiracial, multicultural gathering of upper school student leaders (grades 9-12) from across the US and abroad. SDLC focuses on self-reflecting, forming allies and building community. Led by a diverse team of trained adult and peer facilitators, participating students develop cross-cultural communication skills, design effective strategies for social justice practice through dialogue and the arts, and learn the foundations of allyship and networking principles.
All teachers desire to stretch their students’ thinking so they can imagine a world bigger than the one they occupy each day—so they can see the next horizon. The golden ring of teaching is the realization of those moments when you know you’ve changed your students, when you’ve created ripples in the ponds of their minds. Through the partnership Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community High School has with the Scheiber Szandor Gymnazium (SSG) in Budapest, Hungary, through SOS International, we have been blessed with just those types of experiences.
If we were to take masculinity to a doctor, she would likely diagnose it in need of significant social-emotional support. When we look at how men act publicly, be it politicians, soldiers, actors or athletes, we consistently see an aggressive masculinity, indifferent towards emotion, unempathetic, concerned with expressing their dominance over women and other men. This masculinity needs healing. It exhibits symptoms of great distress and pain.
As the director of technology at a premier Modern Orthodox high school for girls, I regularly interfaced with high school girls whose confidence in their use of technology was low. For a few years, we offered Visual Basic, Java, then Python, but no matter which computer programming language we offered, the interest was minimal. One day, a student shoved her laptop towards me in resignation, lamenting that she was simply “not good at this technology stuff.” Her frustration was palpable. At that moment, I determined to find a way to tackle this debilitating mindset towards technology.
At Golda Och Academy, we have made strides over the last 10 years to make our school community a more welcoming, safe and inclusive environment. Yet while students and faculty felt that they were open to all, regardless of sexual orientation, we had no students or faculty who were comfortable being out at school.
In this important declaration, Rabbi Mirvis lends his stature within the Jewish world to support the inclusion of LGBTQ+ students in Jewish schools and outline the religious foundations for such an approach. His statement offers guidance to school leaders in both the ways that they approach this population of students and how they choose to frame their approach in policies and communications, within and beyond the school walls.
On September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria hit the island of Puerto Rico, causing mass destruction and devastation to the island and its people. Almost all communication was cut off; electricity, running water and other amenities were not recovered for months. We know that there are areas of Puerto Rico even today that have not recovered, and some that may never be rebuilt. People did not have access to working hospitals, to clean water, to dialysis and oxygen machines. Federal aid was lagging.
Commemorating the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda set off a chain reaction in our school that systemically changed the way we inspire and empower our students to use their Jewish values and text study to become changemakers in the world.
Like many students around the country, we felt moved to action after the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School. Students just like us had been killed. A school just like ours had been turned into a battleground. As seventh graders at Portland Jewish Academy, we had been raised with the belief that we were being listened to, that our voices mattered. It was because of that sense of empowerment that we began to plan a school walkout to protest the lack of gun laws in this country that allowed for the shooting to happen.
It is difficult to imagine that the school shooting that took place in 1999 at Columbine High School, an event that seemed completely foreign and like something written out of a horror movie, has become almost commonplace today. We've seen shootings in schools, workplaces, malls, concerts, movie theaters and now in our most sacred of spaces: churches and synagogues.
May you live in interesting times. —apocryphal Chinese curse
In these times, this famous curse seems to be visited upon us. No matter where we live, the people we befriend or the shul we daven in (or not), we cannot help but be touched by the currents that have been running through our social and political worlds. The turbulence has swept over not only the United States but countries around the world as well. No one is an island, and no country or community is immune.