Gifts For Our Children

This scene might have been unusual in Minneapolis, but consider that it took place in downtown Jerusalem, just a few blocks from the Ben Yehudah Street mall. Certainly, this image runs counter to the view most of us have of Israel at the present moment. Despite media portrayals, the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are bustling with activity and a sense of vibrancy that we associate with earlier days.

As I contemplated this scene, I considered the gifts that these children, participants in a congregational Family Mission to Israel in June, had been given by their parents. By experiencing everyday life as well as historical sites, they were seeing Israel both as land whose rich past informs our identity and as a living, vibrant country in which they could play in parks, dash down streets, or swim in the Mediterranean Sea. In addition, they were discovering in a country half-way around the world, the global interconnectedness of our lives. There were familiar foods and new ones as well as access to options that are only kosher in Israel. There were recognizable signs in a land dominated by Hebrew. They could hear familiar popular tunes--and familiar Israeli folk tunes. In short, the students were making their first steps as citizens of the larger Jewish world.

Over the course of the next several days, my thoughts focused on the gifts we provide for our children. There are countless smaller ways to provide gifts that achieve the same goals as those just described and summertime offers us many such opportunities. Some children are offered the gift of camp to explore specialized interests. If the camp is away from home, the children gain the independence of living with groups of their peers. Perhaps, the summer offered an extended time for a family vacation to discover the close company of parents and siblings as well as share the adventures of exploring new terrain. Hopefully, this summer also offered children the gift of unscheduled time, time simply to be lazy, read a book, create one’s own entertainment, move at a self-determined pace.

Families enrolled in our schools have each made a determination to offer their child(ren) the gift of a Jewish day school education. That choice, certainly deeply appreciated by us, comes with a reciprocal responsibility to provide a quality experience for families. Given the significance of the opportunity parents have chosen what are some of the gifts we as educators should be offering?

As a Jewish day school educator, I feel a great responsibility to provide for and share quality experiences with families -- academically, socially, emotionally, religiously, spiritually and as members of a global society. Some of the many gifts that I believe a Jewish day school education offers include:

  • Helping children learn that they are valued members of a community by taking responsibility for one another and sharing core values.
  • Nurturing intellectual and spiritual curiosity through a curriculum that encourages depth of experience.
  • Developing pride in Jewish identity by teaching students to become active participants in Jewish rituals and customs.
  • Cherishing student voices by giving a variety of means to share what they know and understand; meeting individual learning styles and fostering imagination.
  • Offering a rigorous and integrated general studies and Hebrew/ Judaica program, in a nurturing environment of teachers committed to life long learning.
  • Exposing children to technology and its applications for research, presentation and connecting with the larger world.
  • Helping students become citizens of a multi-cultural world, and deepen their connections with Israel, through diversity education and hands on experiences with adults and children from other communities.
  • Fostering empathy and a sense of empowerment through community service and tzedekah.

As the longer, slower days of summer become the fast-paced, over-stimulating days of the start of a school year, it is my hope that each of us continues to find the time to consider the wide array of gifts - small and large - we do and can offer our students, families, schools, and communities.

Dr. Ray Levi is the Vice President for Planning of RAVSAK and Head of School at the Minneapolis Jewish Day School in Minneapolis, MN. He can be reached at
Dr. Ray Levi
Measuring the Success of a School's "Jewish Mission"
Knowledge Topics
Teaching and Learning
Published: Fall 2005