Monday, April 19, 2010

Emerging Voices in Jewish Education

Ever since Abraham and his father Terach, children have learned to overthrow the idols of their parents, to question their values, to challenge their operating assumptions and to recreate their institutions.Through this intergenerational process Judaism has evolved and devolved, it has reviewed and renewed itself and above all it has continued to live. Even though the story about Abraham destroying his father’s idol shop is legendary, it proffers a timeless truth, a truth unto which this issue of Torah at the Center attests.

Rabbi Tali Zelkowicz, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Jewish Education at HUC-JIR’s Rhea Hirsch School of Education, initiated a correspondence and made a symbiotic proposal. In a course she teaches entitled “Sociology of Jewish Education” students are required to write an article for a publication to which reflective practitioners of Jewish education are invited to contribute. Each article strives to meet three criteria:
  1. Address a dilemma, concern or problem facing Jewish education
  2. Provide some social scientific context for the issue
  3. Offer a creative, refreshing, compelling analysis of the issue and propose a course of action and/or vision for change
Intrigued by the prospect of providing the students with a targil ratuv, a live simulation, so to speak, editor Wendy Grinberg engaged Tali in correspondence and conversation, perhaps a contemporary Pirkei Imahot, and as collegial partners they arrived at terms of agreement. We are grateful for Tali and Wendy’s inspired partnership and for the bikurim, the first authorial fruits of aspiring Jewish educational leaders. The students’ voices are included in Torah at the Center as new members of the educational choir. Accompanying them in the same issue are experienced and insightful mentors, educational practitioners with expertise in the areas the students are seeking to influence for the better.

The result is a harmony that leaves the integrity of each voice. Out of this conversation emerges a masechet, a type of web, a web that links dor holech to dor hemshech, the current generation of Jewish educators to the next generation of Jewish educators. The web intended to catch you, the reader, in it. Indeed, if the web stops within the pages of Torah at the Center, we will have
failed to accomplish a major aim. The web of Jewish learning should include you, your teachers, your colleagues and your students. At stake are not only our livelihoods as Jewish educators but also our lives as Jews.

When Abraham proverbially overthrew his father’s idols, he “created” Judaism. When the next generation of the Jewish people follows Abraham’s lead, they too will be [re]creating Judaism in their image. The process is sometimes painful and radical. It is always predicated on a measure of faith and trust. Terach could not control Abraham and we cannot control our children or our students. Instead, we have endeavored to keep the intergenerational conversation alive, to pursue a dialogue that is as respectful of our differences as it is of our commonalities (if not more so). We are truly children of Abraham when we question the wisdom of our predecessors, when we dare to think differently from them.

When our children and students do the same to us, may we have the ability to enjoy the process and love them for it. Eventually Abraham learned to engage in respectful dialogue, even when his partner was divine. When he had his own scion, Abraham learned to love and to realize that love and sacrifice are always intertwined. May the spirit of intergenerational correspondence in this issue prove to be worthy, not only for the sake of our students but also for the sake of heaven. As we approach Sinai once again on Shavuot and celebrate our students that confirm their Jewish identity, let us affirm the hope we have that the next generation will not only succeed us, but also exceed us.

Ken y’hi ratzoneinu! Ken y’hi ratzon Eloheinu! Kayitz naim! 
Have a lovely summer!

Rabbi Jan Katzew, Ph.D., RJE

Please click here to load the pdf of this issue of Torah at the Center.

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