HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal

Pushing Students Beyond Their Comfort Zones

by Wayne L. Firestone Issue: Nurturing Leadership

Over the past several years I have had the good fortune of working for Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, combining the two perspectives of the Shema (“You shall teach your children diligently”) and of the Talmud by engaging our young people in experiential education under the assumption that they are truly the builders of our people and of the world. In Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of our Fathers, our organization’s namesake Hillel the Elder stated, “A shy person cannot learn” (Mishnah Avot 2:6). Today, our organization encourages Jewish students to leave their comfort zones, to push their personal boundaries and to take an active part in enriching the Jewish people and the world.

Our new engagement methodologies are based upon peer-to-peer relationships; we help identify student social networks as a means to engage their peers and help them connect to the Jewish community. In record numbers, Jewish university students are actualizing this role in a very real way—for example, taking hammers and power tools in their hands to help rebuild the Gulf Coast. This is not a comfortable experience. It is growth through discomfort as students push themselves to the limit and labor to better the world around them. Elsewhere, students are taking part in building themselves and their communities through active, experiential learning. They are discussing, debating, arguing, and agonizing over our ancient texts in an effort to answer very modern and often personal questions. We must challenge them to challenge themselves, to embrace the uncomfortable and to engage the world in active dialogue. ♦

Wayne L. Firestone is President of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. He can be reached at wfirestone@hillel.org.

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Nurturing Leadership

Leadership is not a job title; it’s a character trait that day schools seek to cultivate in each student and extend to all stakeholders. Starting with Jewish perspectives on leadership, this issue investigates ways to support the leadership of the head of school, recommends leadership qualities to develop among students, and gives guidance for developing leadership in faculty and board members.