Sunday, August 22, 2010

What Are Jewish First-Year Students Thinking?

McDonalds Bagel.

eJewish, run by Danny Brown is one of the blog e-mails I read first every day. He finds the most interesting postings from throughout the Jewish world (not just philanthopy) and shares it with everyone. This posting from the Hillel blog made me smile. And think. you?

Hillel is constantly changing to keep pace with college students. With the advent of the annual Beloit College Mindset List, Hillel offers the following unscientific survey of Jewish cultural influences that have helped shape the identities of this year’s freshman class.

Born largely in 1992, today’s freshmen will delight – if not surprise – their parents by becoming the graduating class of 2014 in four years. Here, then, are the Jewish ideas that are kicking around in the minds of today’s first-year students.

1. Oreos have always been kosher.

2. McDonalds has always served bagels.

3. Women have always been rabbis.

4. Soviet Union? What Soviet Union? Jews have always been free to come and go from something once quaintly called “The Soviet Bloc.” Some have even been in their towns and classrooms!

5. iPhones and Blackberrys have always included Jewish holidays.

6. Half of their parents have always been non-Jewish.

7. September 11th is a distant childhood memory.

8. They don’t remember the debut of Schindler’s List but the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has always been open.

9. They don’t remember the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin or the death of the Rebbe.

10. They barely remember the bombings of the Second Intifada.

11. Israel has always had relations with Egypt, Jordan and the PLO.

12. Trips to Israel have always been free thanks to Taglit-Birthright Israel.

13. Israel has always been known for its high-tech wonders and not its kibbutzim.

14. Israel has always had first-run movies and TV shows.

15. They have more stamps in their passports than they have ever put on an envelope in their lives.

16. Community service is a requirement for high school graduation.

17. News from Israel has always been instantly available -- 24 hours a day, seven days a week -- on the Web. And Google has always translated Hebrew to English (and vice versa).

18. Calls to Israel or elsewhere overseas have always cost less than $0.10 per minute – and have always been free via Skype.

19. They learned the concept of Bar/Bat Mitzvah from Krusty the Clown.

20. They LOVE to laugh at anti-Semites like Borat – especially when he is speaking Hebrew.

21. The Real World has always been on television and nearly every season has included a Jewish cast-member.

22. “Dylan” is Jakob, not Bob.

23. Adam Sandler is the guy from the movies, not from Saturday Night Live (and they learned his “Chanukah Song” along with “Dreidle, Dreidle, Dreidle”).

24. Jon Stewart has always been a late night host. Who is Johnny Carson?

25. Willy Wonka is Johnny Depp, not Gene Wilder.

26. Elliot Gould is known as the father of Monica and Ross Geller, not as Trapper John McIntyre.

27. Judd Apatow is the new Steven Spielberg.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Inclusion By Design, Not By Default

This is turning into a week of daily posts by people who make me think. I hope they make you think as well - and react. I have known Fran Pearlman longer than she would like me to say. She is an educator's educator, and whenever we are together I learn something new. When she came to the Detroit area in the early 90's she demonstrated a mastery of special needs education that I could only hope to achieve - and this was back when most of us were just bemoaning doctors who over-prescribed Ritalin, rather than redesigning our Religious Schools to be responsive to the needs of nearly all learners. This was published today in the The Jewish Educator, Summer 2010/5770, the journal of NewCAJE. A conversation about NewCAJE is for the future. For now, I thank them for creating a new forum for Fran's learning and teaching to be shared more widely. And I cannot agree enough that we need to get much better at inclusion and meeting all learners where they are. I am very proud of the work of my congregation. We have done a lot, but we still have far to go. I would love to hear how you are addressing these needs in your setting.   -- Ira

Fran Pearlman
In 1981 I began my administrative career in Jewish education in a part-time position. The responsibilities were described as hiring, training, and supervising staff; creating programs; and writing curriculum. Nothing was shared about the students in terms of learning styles or preferences, and certainly the words “inclusion” or “special needs” were never mentioned. At that time, special education was a separate entity in the secular world and certainly in the Jewish education world. There were separate classrooms with specifically trained and experienced faculty who, theoretically, met the needs of those students who were classified as “special edu.”

Almost thirty years later, Jewish education across denominational lines finds itself facing the challenge of inclusion, modification, adaptation, and a vast, new lexicon of educational terms. To date, Jewish education has advanced only baby steps toward the inclusion of all students. The time has come to confront this need and move from being Jewish educational institutions of inclusion by default to ones of inclusion by design. The time has arrived to formally address the challenge of inclusion by providing our educational leadership with the proper training and knowledge in order to welcome all students into their schools. Jewish educational leaders need to be both educated and welcoming; to be both cognitively aware of the needs of all students and able to expend the emotional investment to invite all students into a warm and inclusive community.

Where does the transformation need to take place? The first place is in the formal training of our educational leaders. Just as innovative and up-to-the-minute pedagogy, with its strategies and philosophies, are a necessary and integral part of the education of these future leaders, special education experience and training also is an essential component. Providing the terminology, definitions, strategies, and approaches of special education and how it can be adapted to Jewish educational settings is critical. Tools and practice in communicating with parents of special needs students also is essential for the development of a successful inclusionary school. Educating these leaders about the difference between a self-contained classroom and inclusion, the benefits of each, and when each is necessary or preferred are other aspects of this education.

The second level of education needs to be directed towards the entire faculty. Statistically, 4-5% of every classroom consists of students with some special needs, diagnosed or undiagnosed. Sometimes we know who these students are and sometimes we do not, however, teaching to reach all students and to the multiple skills and intelligences in the average classroom is a charge to each and every Jewish teacher. It is up to the Jewish school and its educational leader to provide appropriate and regular guidance and education in how teaching to all can maximize the learning of all.

The demand for successful inclusion is not new to Judaism. The mandate for inclusion is steeped in Jewish tradition. Within the bounds of Jewish law, rulings specifically are articulated regarding the disabled in Jewish ritual law. Leviticus 19:14 specifically prohibits cursing the deaf or putting a stumbling block before the blind. Rather than ignoring those with disabilities, the body of Jewish law specifically addresses those who are blind, deaf and/or mute. While these categories of disabilities certainly are not exhaustive and do not address the scope of the disabilities found in our society today, it is a beginning, based on what was known then.

We are well past the beginning of fulfilling the mitzvah of inclusion. It is time that we are proactive and assertive in both our philosophy and in our actions as we move towards Jewish educational institutions of inclusion by design.

Fran Pearlman is the Director of Education at Oceanside Jewish Center, NY, and serves as a consultant for MatanKids, which provides consultation and direct service in the area of special education in Jewish educational settings.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Constructive Criticism vs. Destructive Criticism of Israel

This article was published in the New York Times this past Sunday and on their on-line edition on Saturday. I posted a link on Facebook as did a gozillion others and it has gone a little viral. In cased you missed it here it is. My friends who lean a little or a lot in one political direction or another may disagree about many of Friedman's opinions, particularly about Israel. Let's agree to disagree on that if we must. My friend Fred Greene says (and I agree) that "Friedman writes a brilliant article on constructive criticism vs. destructive criticism of Israel." And my old camp friend Rick Teplitz said "Want Israelis to listen to you? Start by reading this" referring to this article. So I invite your comments, not on Friedman's general political leanings, but on what he has to say in this article. As educators I think we can learn something about how to teach the reality of Israel and have real conversations about really hard topics - and help our students and ourselves come out the other end still loving Israel and being hopeful for its future. Maybe I'm a cockeyed optimist, but I think it has more to do with believing that Israel is more than a dream and more than some bitter realities.

One other point. In Hebrew, the name of the film is Chaim Yekarim. It is a literal translation. My midrash is on the fact that grammar requires the word for life - Chaim - be in the plural, and that the adjective, precious be in agreement. More than one life is precious...
- Ira

The New York Times
Op-Ed Columnist
Steal This Movie

Published: August 7, 2010

I just saw a remarkable new documentary directed by Shlomi Eldar, the Gaza reporter for Israel’s Channel 10 news. Titled “Precious Life,” the film tracks the story of Mohammed Abu Mustafa, a 4-month-old Palestinian baby suffering from a rare immune deficiency. Moved by the baby’s plight, Eldar helps the infant and mother go from Gaza to Israel’s Tel Hashomer hospital for lifesaving bone-marrow treatment. The operation costs $55,000. Eldar puts out an appeal on Israel TV and within hours an Israeli Jew whose own son was killed during military service donates all the money.

The documentary takes a dramatic turn, though, when the infant’s Palestinian mother, Raida, who is being disparaged by fellow Gazans for having her son treated in Israel, blurts out that she hopes he’ll grow up to be a suicide bomber to help recover Jerusalem. Raida tells Eldar: “From the smallest infant, even smaller than Mohammed, to the oldest person, we will all sacrifice ourselves for the sake of Jerusalem. We feel we have the right to it. You’re free to be angry, so be angry.”

Eldar is devastated by her declaration and stops making the film. But this is no Israeli propaganda movie. The drama of the Palestinian boy’s rescue at an Israeli hospital is juxtaposed against Israeli retaliations for shelling from Gaza, which kill whole Palestinian families. Dr. Raz Somech, the specialist who treats Mohammed as if he were his own child, is summoned for reserve duty in Gaza in the middle of the film. The race by Israelis and Palestinians to save one life is embedded in the larger routine of the two communities grinding each other up.

“It’s clear to me that the war in Gaza was justified — no country can allow itself to be fired at with Qassam rockets — but I did not see many people pained by the loss of life on the Palestinian side,” Eldar told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. “Because we were so angry at Hamas, all the Israeli public wanted was to [expletive] Gaza. ... It wasn’t until after the incident of Dr. Abu al-Aish — the Gaza physician I spoke with on live TV immediately after a shell struck his house and caused the death of his daughters and he was shouting with grief and fear — that I discovered the [Israeli] silent majority that has compassion for people, including Palestinians. I found that many Israeli viewers shared my feelings.” So Eldar finished the documentary about how Mohammed’s life was saved in Israel.

His raw film reflects the Middle East I know — one full of amazing compassion, even among enemies, and breathtaking cruelty, even among neighbors.

I write about this now because there is something foul in the air. It is a trend, both deliberate and inadvertent, to delegitimize Israel — to turn it into a pariah state, particularly in the wake of the Gaza war. You hear the director Oliver Stone saying crazy things about how Hitler killed more Russians than Jews, but the Jews got all the attention because they dominate the news media and their lobby controls Washington. You hear Britain’s prime minister describing Gaza as a big Israeli “prison camp” and Turkey’s prime minister telling Israel’s president, “When it comes to killing, you know very well how to kill.” You see singers canceling concerts in Tel Aviv. If you just landed from Mars, you might think that Israel is the only country that has killed civilians in war — never Hamas, never Hezbollah, never Turkey, never Iran, never Syria, never America.

I’m not here to defend Israel’s bad behavior. Just the opposite. I’ve long argued that Israel’s colonial settlements in the West Bank are suicidal for Israel as a Jewish democracy. I don’t think Israel’s friends can make that point often enough or loud enough.

But there are two kinds of criticism. Constructive criticism starts by making clear: “I know what world you are living in.” I know the Middle East is a place where Sunnis massacre Shiites in Iraq, Iran kills its own voters, Syria allegedly kills the prime minister next door, Turkey hammers the Kurds, and Hamas engages in indiscriminate shelling and refuses to recognize Israel. I know all of that. But Israel’s behavior, at times, only makes matters worse — for Palestinians and Israelis. If you convey to Israelis that you understand the world they’re living in, and then criticize, they’ll listen.

Destructive criticism closes Israeli ears. It says to Israelis: There is no context
Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
that could explain your behavior, and your wrongs are so uniquely wrong that they overshadow all others. Destructive critics dismiss Gaza as an Israeli prison, without ever mentioning that had Hamas decided — after Israel unilaterally left Gaza — to turn it into Dubai rather than Tehran, Israel would have behaved differently, too. Destructive criticism only empowers the most destructive elements in Israel to argue that nothing Israel does matters, so why change?

How about everybody take a deep breath, pop a copy of “Precious Life” into your DVD players, watch this documentary about the real Middle East, and if you still want to be a critic (as I do), be a constructive one. A lot more Israelis and Palestinians will listen to you.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Prepent 5771: Intro to the Days of Awesome

I just received this from Storahtelling's Amichai Lau-Lavie's link to Jewcy which is hosting his PREPENT 5771: a 40 day virtual journey in preparation for the High and Holy Days. I had to share it. Amichai, for those of you who have not met him yet (is there anyone left? He has really been out there get to know lot's of people!), is a unique individual who has given an altneu-spin to interpreting Torah.  I think he is on to something here and I wanted to pass on his invitation to join the journey.

"How happy are you, on a scale of 1-10?"

Inevitably, this quiz pops up during check-in phone calls with my mother, thousands of miles away. You can't lie to mothers, it just doesn't work, so I often go for a safe six, which seems to be just good enough.
But is it? Yesterday I self-scored seven, but after we hung up I paused to ponder what would really help me score high enough that I not only make my mother smile, but honestly mean it.

I came up with a plan: PREPENT 5771, a 40-day self-reflection project, a journey/crash course/blog/conversation, off and online. PREPENT intends to give focus to those of us so easily distracted, to give those Days of Awe the biggest possibility of being Awesome.

This 40-day ‘self help' process is based on traditional Jewish methods for the annual period of repentance, but with my personal unorthodox twist: minus the guilt, and with belief in a Deity completely optional and open for discussion. It's great that this sacred system exists for us each year; an annual internal review board, the ultimate check-in call with Mom and Creator alike, and complete with a real deadline: The Day of Judgment, Yom Kippur. [This year on September 18th, 2010, the tenth day of the Tishrei , the first month of the new year, 5771.]

I like that it takes 40 days to travel within, towards the Day of At-one-ment, into this ritualized simulation of the trial for our lives. In some traditions this day is a dress rehearsal for our death - imagine this is the last day of your life - how would you live it? Some men wear white shroud-like garments as they fast, dead-like, determined to live more fully starting the next day. In some traditions, Shofars-- primal and piercing, begin to blow 40 days before Yom Kippur, wake up calls for the soul. Special songs are sung during these days, cooking begins for the holiday banquets, and rabbis write sermons. It's a time of reckoning, of lists and resolutions, of getting ready for feasting and fasting on the road to more happiness - and change.

This year, when the final blast is heard at the end of Yom Kippur, I want to know, and know deeply, that I pushed through to a higher happiness score. Ten on the Tenth Day. I want to begin this brave new year with more focus, more muscle, and less distraction. This year I will again be joined by friends, old and new, to co-lead the rituals that usher in the New Year in Downtown New York. Shofars will be blown, songs and prayers will be chanted, stories shared, tears shed, connections made. I want to be there; more grounded, more open, able to lead and be led, give and receive, fully present. It's going to take some work. I'm ready.

And I invite you to join the journey.

The PREPENT 5771 journey: 40 ways in 40 days to tip the scales toward happiness. Each day at Jewcy, I'll write short daily blog entries, complete with tasks and open questions, occasional songs and links, step by step into 5771. I want to think about what's lost, and what I pay attention to the least, and make lists of all sorts. We'll hit the (spiritual) gym together, check in with people, and take time out to focus, and to get inspired.

And you? Want to make your own lists, schedule check in time with someone (or with yourself?), or just journey along with me as we move towards the day of self-reckoning. We need friends for this sort of work. We can be each other's travel companion and witness - reminding each other why we do this work: to be happy, more helpful to each other, better human beings

"We are all a little wild here with numberless projects of social reform. Not a reading man but has a draft of a new community is his waistcoat pocket. I am gently mad myself, and am restored to live cleanly. "

To live cleanly: This is my intention.

Amichai Lau-Lavie is the founder and executive director of Storahtelling, Inc. a NYC based production company promoting Judaic literacy and engagement through original performances and educational programs for multi-generational audiences. He is hailed by Time Out NY as 'Super Star of David' and 'iconoclastic mystic,' and as 'one of the most interesting thinkers in the Jewish world' by the NY Jewish Week. Join him for alternative High Holiday Services at City Winery in Downtown NY.