Thursday, December 30, 2010

An Open Special Education Contract

I have recently been invited to join a committee that is exploring how to make access to Jewish education a priority in congregational schools for learners with the whole array of disabilities. While I have always cared about the full spectrum of special needs in Jewish Education, I have to tip my kipah to my friend and teacher Rabbi Fred Greene of Temple Beth Tikvah in Roswell Georgia.Fred came to my congregation in CT straight out of rabbinic school and he really held my toes to the fire on this issue. It is so easy to concentrate on the needs of the many, but we are only as good as how we treat the few. And the lesson is not lost on anyone. I came across the blog Special Education {Tech} courtesy of someone I follow on twitter (I apologize for not giving credit).

This is from a blog entry by Chris Vacek, an educator whose bio follows the article. I think he presents an interesting and important challenge to us as educators. I am not yet certain his list is comprehensive or completely applicable in our settings, but I think it is the beginning point for an important conversation.

An Open Special Education Contract

Recently, I came across a classroom blog that struck a profound chord in me. It contained a teacher’s “manifesto”, with the promises the teacher made to his students. I love this idea, and thought about special education. I have never seen a Special Education Contract of that sort, and immediately started jotting down ideas. Then it occurred to me that this really needed to be an “open” project, and that I should seek the input of the special education world at large. If you are a special education professional, service provider, teacher or administrator, or a parent or advocate or a person with special needs, please contribute to this project. The items below are a beginning, and presented in no particular order, and I welcome your feedback and additions. I would love to see this grow and saturate the online special education community – so please share this with your friends, colleagues and contacts. Thanks!

  1. I promise to do no harm.

  2. I promise to individualize your education to the best of my abilities and resources.

  3. I promise to focus on your outcomes, and to be able to explain what difference the current education program makes to your functional independence later in life.

  4. I promise to listen to your parents, and work towards their goals, and yours.

  5. I promise to champion your success, and value your failures.

  6. I promise to promote your opportunity, and to seek opportunities for you to succeed.

  7. I promise to educate myself, to help educate you.

  8. I promise to use technology, and to help you use technology, so we can both succeed.

  9. I promise to strengthen your skills, and use your strengths to further strengthen your weaknesses.

  10. I promise to put your outcomes and needs first, and keep them close and centered, in your heart and mine.

  11. I promise to gather data on all your outcomes, and to only use data-informed, peer-reviewed, scientifically established interventions that document measurable progress.

  12. I promise to respect you and your wishes, always.

  13. I promise to involve you in decisions about your future, as best I can and as you are able.

  14. I promise to center your education around your needs today and your needs in the future.

  15. I promise to help generalize your skills in the classroom, and the home, and the community.

  16. I promise to use the most appropriate tools available for us to learn.

  17. I promise to remember daily that you are a wonderful human being, and that data and statistics rarely tell the whole story of YOU.

  18. I promise to help you fill your life with rich experiences in art, music, science, social studies, physical activity, etc… because reading and math are not more important than everything else. Everyone deserves to find his/her own passion.

  19. I promise to introduce you to, and teach you how to interact with, your peers. You will need both friends like you and friends that are different from you, and you’ll need to know how to interact with them.

  20. I promise not to think of you as data or outcomes, but to think of you as feelings and desires and wants and needs.

  21. I promise to advocate for you, always, everywhere, even when my boss disagrees, or the community disagrees, or the world disagrees. I will advocate for you.

  22. I promise to teach you how to help yourself, how to advocate for yourself, and how to become the most independent person you can be.

  23. I promise to love you as my student and as a person, even when my life is tough, your life is tough, and our work together is tough.

  24. I promise to value function over form.

  25. I promise to continually work towards your independence.

  26. I promise to educate others about how extraordinary you are.

  27. I promise to say something nice or positive to you daily.

  28. I promise to never try to make you fit into the world’s view of “perfect.” I will value you as “perfect” just the way you are.

  29. I promise to help you speak for yourself.

  30. I promise to help you stand tall.

  31. I promise to remember that you are whole, just the way you are.|

  32. I promise to do my best not to say or do anything unkind.

  33. I promise to listen to your eyes.

  34. I promise to laugh with you.

  35. I promise to ensure that you get to take your rightful place in the world.

  36. I promise to experience and celebrate you and your joy.

  37. I promise to do more than see. I promise to be a keen observer.

  38. I promise to not just say ” I hear you,” but to mean it with all my heart.

  39. I promise to learn from you and use what I’ve learned to help you grow.

  40. I promise that as hard as it may be to watch you fail, I know that “there is dignity in risk” and realize that sometimes you will fail before you succeed.

  41. I promise to facilitate your independence needs, and seek transparency and clarity for all in this process.
What promises would you make to your particular, and every other, special education student?

The original posting may be found at which is part of a very interesting blog called Special Education {Tech}.

About the author

Chris Vacek is the Chief Innovation Officer for Heartspring and the parent of a child with both Williams Syndrome and Autism. Heartspring, located in Wichita, Kansas, is a world wide center for children with disabilities, and a leader in technology based functional independence outcomes.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Imperative of Israel Education

This was published today, December 29, 2010 in eJewish Philanthropy. I post it because it is worthy of wider conversation and because it is a response to Stuart Zweiter's piece I posted two weeks ago. It was written by Matthew Ackerman, Middle East analyst with The David Project.

A fascinating discussion on Israel education recently concluded on Lookjed, an online forum hosted by The Lookstein Center at Bar-Ilan University.

The discussion was prompted by Stuart Zweiter, the Center’s director, in response to a challenge put to him by Natan Sharansky over how well American Jews are prepared to defend Israel against defamatory charges, as well as a couple of incidents (a Jewish day school whose students “love Israelis but not Israel,” the recently failed attempt to boycott Israeli hummus at Princeton) that raised for him questions about how Israel is being taught in Jewish schools.

The first person to respond complained about the course on Zionism he had taken at a “Modern Orthodox Yeshiva high school” where religious Zionism was the only version taught, and that in a fairly aggressive manner. He concluded, “A balanced curriculum is needed, where a voice is given to opposing actors, and even anti-Zionists. This is because certainty is a fragile thing: an untested Zionism is like a toddler with an ice cream.” 

Yitzchak Mansdorf from Midreshet Lindenbaum later wrote, “I am still amazed at the phenomenal lack of basic knowledge some students have regarding Israel after high school… They have little to no preparation related to the notion of Israel as ‘Jewish’ state. And they inevitably have an awakening when they begin to realize that many of the social and political dilemmas that find expression in the media and on campus are issues that we Israelis deal with all the time.” 

And the discussion was off from there.

Perhaps most notably, the one thing everyone seemed to agree on was that Israel is currently taught in a largely superficial and perfunctory manner in American Jewish schools. (This was probably best summarized by Alex Pomson, who quoted from studies he helped compile for the Melton Center at Hebrew University, “Israel education in day schools lacks clear educational purpose… and is bombarded by a confusion of initiatives that purport to solve the disconnect between American Jewish youth and the State of Israel.”) 

For some, like Michael Berkowitz, this isn’t a problem. He wrote that “anything more than a cursory knowledge of Israel” is unnecessary since everyone knows the “basic facts” and these are sufficient to know who the “Good Guys” and the “Bad Guys” are. If there is something preventing students from speaking out in defense of Israel, it has therefore to do with something other than ignorance.
On similar lines, Jay Goldmintz, Headmaster of the Ramaz Upper School in Manhattan, wondered about “priorities,” noting that schools have many other things to teach (Gemara, halakha, Tanakh) to students who will face moral challenges in high school and their lives beyond that in many ways cut deeper than the political issues swirling around Israel.

Most, however, seemed to agree that there is a problem in the current manner Israel is taught, with Wally Greene opening a side-issue on the problem of American gap year students in Israel who live largely in a bubble, without any substantive exposure to Tel Aviv and the wider, daily life of the Jewish state. Everyone who agreed on the problem also agreed that its solution included education in Israel and Zionism that was broader than usually considered, including different perspectives on the meaning of the Jewish state. 

This was summarized well by Zweiter, who acknowledged “that serious and systematic Israel education” in high school will be, like education in any topic, mostly an introduction to hopefully a lifetime of further learning, but that does not absolve schools from their responsibility of approaching the issue thoroughly and with a host of resources, as school’s choices about what they teach at a minimum tells students “what is most important to know.”

This much agreement on anything by this broad a range of thoughtful and experienced voices deserves serious consideration. It also, of course, is part of a broader trend of a deepening recognition of the seriousness of the issues surrounding the way Jews in America talk about Israel, a front-line of which it should be understood by all is our Jewish day schools.

Clearly, we at The David Project believe that Israel education needs to be handled much more systematically and with a broader range of perspectives than it is usually treated, and we’ve worked hard to develop curricula toward that end. In everything we do, we also try to present issues in as much complexity as different forums allows, giving the people we work with the opportunity to wrestle with the fascinating topic that Zionism is.

But I think it’s important to have in mind a direction for this kind of education, and to be clear and unapologetic about that goal. We need to teach Israel better not because, as some who are better left unnamed have inexpertly argued, we can no longer cover up the many ways in which modern Israel allegedly tramples on liberal ideals, but because we show how much we truly care about something in the focus we put on having our children understand it. Imperfect just as any other state, there is nevertheless no fact about Zionism or Israel that we need fear. We should teach our young people all of it as well as we can, first and foremost, because that kind of education is in itself an act of love.

The end, however, should be clear. A moral education that does not aim to ultimately help its charges become moral individuals is really nothing of the sort. An Israel education that doesn’t seek to impart pride and a sense of connection to Israel, along with equipping students with the tools to defend the Jewish state against the legion of unjust charges regularly hurled at it, is similarly lacking. On this point, we need to be clear. Otherwise our students won’t be.

Of course, none of this, done as it should be done, will be easy. It means more investment of school resources at a time when tuition affordability (and even that of a Jewish life) is increasingly in crisis. It means doing more than occasional school assemblies or mentioning Israel during school events. It might mean, even, teaching a bit less religious coursework in favor of teaching more about the secular ideas of Israel’s founders, or giving less time to SAT prep and more to Zionist history. If we want to be secure in the knowledge that this time we did all we could to combat a political scourge afflicting the Jewish people, they are the tradeoffs we’ll have to make.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

"Super..." and "Amazing..." Curricular Projects

This is cross-posted from Caren Levine's blog  jlearn2.0. Caren is one of those people who is always thinking about the intersection of Jewish education and technology. Her digital and analog lenses work in stereo, kind of a unified field theory of Jewish education. She cross-posted it to YU 2.0, an wonderful membership site maintained by my friend and fellow JJF Fellow, Dr. Eliezer Jones.

A question I am often asked is, "Yes, but what are some examples of how these resources are integrated into the curriculum? By real live educators with real live learners!"

Presenting two free ebooks to whet your appetites and tickle your imaginations:

The Super Book of Web Tools for Educators: A comprehensive guide to technology in all k-12 classrooms. Articles include perspectives from administrators and teachers, as well as elementary school, middle school, and high school projects, and projects centered around particular subject matter or tools (ESL, Skype, blogging). Contributors include notable education bloggers Steve Anderson, Richard Byrne, George Couros, Larry Ferlazzo, Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano, and others. Check it out!

But wait, there's more! Be sure to read through Terry Freedman's The Amazing Web 2.0 Projects Book, a compilation that is chock full of practical ideas for the classroom. The many contributors include an international cast of educators such as Terry Freedman, Jackie Gerstein, Julie Lindsay, Sharon Peters, Shelley Terrell, Silvia Tolisana, Jen Wagner, and Reuven Werber, to name drop just a few.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Seeing through the eyes of another.
The "Nalaga’at" Center.

Dr. Eliezer Jones is a friend of one of my colleagues on the Jim Joseph Foundation Fellowship at the Lookstein Institute at Bar Ilan university. He has been blogging daily about the Israel trip we just completed this morning. I want to share his posting about our dinner this past Monday because I think the experience and his posting raise the issue of experiential learning. We all do it. Do we do it well? Could we do it better? What are we missing? You can see the rest of his posts on Eliezer Jones's blog. The restaurant/theater is called Na Laga'at which means please touch, because people who are deaf and blind (as their actors are) need to use touch to communicate.)

Another amazing day on the JJF Fellowship Israel retreat. In fact, I feel a bit guilty that I have not been blogging about every aspect of the different days as there have been so many memorable experiences. For example, today we began with a presentation from Rabbi Seth Farber, Ph.D. Rabbi Farber is the founder and director of ITIM, The Jewish Life Information Center which is “dedicated to making Jewish life accessible to all” by fighting for social justice. Then we spent three hours learning together at ALMA Home for Hebrew Culture. ALMA “seeks to acquaint Israelis with the wealth of Jewish heritage” and is a secular Beit Medresh. However, although they are experiences I will never forget, it was how we spent dinner that changed forever the way I view an aspect of the human experience. We had dinner at The "Nalaga’at" Center.

According to their site, “The "Nalaga’at" Center, located at the Jaffa port in Tel Aviv, was founded by the "Nalaga’at" non-profit organization and opened its gates to the public in December 2007. The Center is comprised of the "Nalaga’at" Theater, home to the Deaf-blind Acting Ensemble; CafĂ© Kapish, with its deaf waiters and BlackOut, the pitch-black restaurant with its staff of blind waiters. The "Nalaga’at" Center currently employs some 70 people, most of whom are deaf, blind or deaf-blind.”

The JJF Fellows ate at BlackOut, the pitch-black restaurant served by blind waiters. To describe the level of darkness that exists there is to only to describe it as imagine you were blind, which for most of us is impossible to describe. I have never experienced such darkness. There was no adjusting to the darkness, being able to see edges or small rays of light. It was pitch black and my body was reacting in a way I did not prepare for.

As soon as we were escorted to our table conga line style and, yes, we did make choo choo sounds, I began to get anxious. This is not something I generally get. I was fidgety and talking more than I generally do, which is a lot. I began to notice perfumes, cigarette smoke (there is no smoking in the restaurant) and the aromas of the food as my other senses began searching to connect to something. I began to hear noises that overwhelmed my ability to hear the person across the table from me. My senses were frantic.

When are food came, things calmed down a bit. I ate delicious fish with my hands (although I had a fork and knife I kept bringing an empty fork to my mouth) that was warm but not hot lest I burn myself. There was no coffee or soup for that same reason. We had to pass each other water by touching each others hands. Someone spilled, but neither of us knew who it was. We shared bread. My friend kept putting half eaten bread back in the basket. Not cool. The waitresses had bells around their wrists so that we heard them coming and that they would not bump into each other.

This dinner, in such an intense manner, allowed me to “see” through the eyes of another that I would have never experienced unless I too, G-d forbid, were blind. It was only an hour and a half in the darkness, but I not sure I will see things the same way again. I am grateful for the experience and it enhanced my already strong support for experiential learning. I would recommend any school trip to Israel to incorporate The Nalaga’at Center. For those who do not make it here, there are many ways to learn about differences in others in the classroom through temporary experience (i.e. use a wheel chair in school for a day) that can make a significant impact on the perspectives of the students. Technology can also be of great assistance. Click here for a post about using virtual reality used to assist users in experiencing the positive symptoms of schizophrenia.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

3rd Century Disruptive Innovation
for Our Time

The photo shows the fellows and Lookstein staff in the theater 
at Zippori. (l to r: Front row: Dr. Eliezer Jones, Shalom 
Burger, Elana RIvel; 2nd row: Barry Gruber, Lillian Howard, 
Lisa Micley, Ellen Dietrick, Esther Feldman, Robyn Faintich, 
Ira Wise, Sid Singer, Jonathan Fass; 3rd row: Guide and 
Archaeologist Amit Dagan, Joy Wasserman, evaluator 
Elizabeth Bachrach, Zvi Grumet, Rachel Meytin, Nechemia 
Ichilov and 4th row: Howard Blas.)
I am currently in Israel, nearing the end of the final meeting of the Jim Joseph Foundation Fellows at the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora at Bar Ilan University in Ramat Gan. For the past 8 days, we have been exploring the idea of innovation in Jewish Education. We have learned from teachers of text, venture capitalists and disruptive change consultants. Today we explored the city of Zippori, not far from Haifa. It was the birthplace of the Mishnah. I shared this D'var Torah at the end of our time there.

Zippori is the site of one of the biggest innovations of the Tannaitic period. L’havdel: Kerry Olitzky suggests that the true miracle of Chanukah was not the jar of oil (never mind issues of historical accuracy) but the fact that in the rabbinic story, they chose to light the menorah anyway, even though there was not enough oil. Judah’s vision was to take the leap and rededicate immediately. Similarly, while the redaction of the Mishnah – which took place here at Zippori – was absolutely a disruptive innovation, I think the actual miracle was the decision to write it – it was the product of incredible vision as well.

History is riddled with examples of leaders who led their own generation well, but lacked or simply didn’t use the imagination to visualize the long-term future of their people. In hindsight, it is easy for us to say it must have been obvious to Yehuda Hanasi that the Jewish people would soon become even more dispersed. But was it really?

Zippori shows us a city that was vibrant. Jews and Romans lived among one another. The place was alive with culture and learning. Coexistence ruled the day. Hadrian’s persecutions were generations in the past. The city had avoided the fate that befell so many others in the previous 130 years. The Sanhedrin was there. The new month was declared there. Cultural egotism suggests that just as in Spain in the late 15th century, Germany in the 20’s and early 30’s and America today – life in Zippori was good, perhaps the Beverly Hills of its time. Why would they have anticipated leaving?

It took real vision – chazon – for Yehuda Hanasi to look beyond the good life of his day and see the coming storm clouds. He saw the need to put the Oral Law into writing, making it portable as the Jews went into galut or diaspora (depending on your perspective). Clearly those of us who came after appreciate his foresight.

In the Talmud Yehuda Hanasi is simply call “Rabbi.” Like David Hamelekh, he becomes the exemplar of his field. After him, the rabbis of Bavel are called Rav, not rabbi. His vision is like Jeremiah’s who also worked to adapt Judaism to survive a lengthy road trip. He was also the MacGuyver of his day. He took the tools at hand: students, teachers, Torah and 400 years of Oral Law and used the division tool (in Systemic Inventive Thinking terms) to reorganize and arrange it in a way that would work and travel.

So my question is: “How do we understand the disruptions to come?” We have a good sense of the digital/analog divide and the need to help learners encounter Jewish life through both lenses. And many of us have begun to speak about how the expression of people’s spiritual and learning needs are changing. Many talk about needing to jettison existing structures for “something new.” I think a real challenge is going to be to figure out what to keep.

The rabbis of the Gemara often found the need to bring a teaching from the Mishnaic period that did not make it into the Mishnah itself. Fortunately for us, they and their students had the memory to have brought the baraitot – teachings from the rabbis of the Mishnah that were left on the editing room floor – with them.

I am concerned that as we restructure Jewish education – and I think we must – we might also lose some of the ideas we will need further down the road of innovation. The tension over not losing things of value (I confess to being a bit of a pack rat myself) should not hold us back from initiating change, yet we need to make sure we have some kind of backup hard drive. Rabbi had his students, who became the next generation of teachers. We should look to our students as well.

Finally, in The Networked Nonprofit*, Allison Fine and Beth Kantor suggest that when we talk about “social media,” the more important word in that smichut is “social,” not “media.” Our learners are seeing through a digital lens, and we need to speak to that viewpoint. We must remember that the point is to bring people together to learn, to pray and to be a part of a community.

* Darim is hosting a Book Group Discussion on this book on Facebook in January.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

How Do We Talk About Israel in Our Schools?

I am currently in Tel Aviv at the final meeting of the Jim Joseph Foundation Fellows at the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora at Bar Ilan University. Stuart Zweiter is the director of the Lookstein Center and coincidentally (to our being here) posted this observation to the Lookjed listServ (an e-mailed forum for Jewish Educators facilitated by Shalom Burger, director of the JJF Fellowship) on December 7. I think he asks some vital questions that I hope you will join me in discussing in the coming weeks. The original posting is archived here. You can reply there or here. I will copy comments here to the Lookjed list. If you would like to subscribe to Lookjed - and I recommend that you do, go to the on-line form at

This past Friday night Natan Scharansky told a few of us sitting  around the Shabbat table with him that he had found in his travels to  North American college campuses that Jewish students were uninformed  as well as scared to speak up for Israel, scared that if they were to  actively defend or speak positively about Israel it would impact  negatively on their academic career as well as their future professional career.

This morning in a discussion I had with the head of a major Jewish Foundation I was told that during a visit she recently had at a very  large Jewish high school, she found the students preparing for an  internal school debate on the topic, Israel: Is it an apartheid state? In an informal discussion she had with several students at the same  school, she was told by them that they love Israelis but do not like Israel.   

This evening I read a piece in the JTA concerning the vote taking  place this week at Princeton University on whether to ask the  university's dining services to provide an alternative brand of  hummus. Why? Because the current brand being offered is Sabra, which  is half-owned by The Strauss Group, which has publicly supported the  IDF and provides care packages and sports equipment to Israeli  soldiers.   

We all know of many similar examples. I am mentioning these because  they all occurred in just the past few days.   

This post is not an invitation to debate political issues related to  Israel. Rather, we are very interested in learning how Jewish high  schools and junior high schools of all stripes are educating their  students regarding Israel. It seems particularly important during this  period in which there is increasing de-legitimization of Israel. How  much time do schools invest in this critical issue that all of their  graduates will face on college campuses? Is it dealt with in a serious and systematic way through formal and informal educational  programs? Where does it fit into your school program? 

What does your  school do? We are hoping that through the Lookjed list the Center can  raise consciousness of and attentiveness to this issue and that the  thousands of subscribers to the Lookjed list can learn about the  different efforts and programs that are being implemented in schools.   

This question, of course, touches on how we prioritize what is  included in our school programs and how schools allocate and divide up  the time that is available. That itself is an important question for  reflection and deliberation by school principals and teachers. All  schools make choices regarding what is in and what is out? Where does  this issue fit in?   

Stuart Zweiter  
Director, the Lookstein Center

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

This fire is still burning: Racism is spreading

Observing the fires on the Carmel.

As I prepare to join my Jim Joseph Foundation Fellowship colleagues in Israel, I was dismayed, then heartened then dismayed again by the news. Dismayed by the wildfire that raged near Haifa. Heartened by the outpouring of support and aid from all over the world, including three firetrucks that crossed the Green Line from the Palestinian Authority to fight the blaze. And then dismayed by the odious declaration of 50 "rabbis" who banned the rental or sale of property to non-Jews. Then I came across this article published in the Jerusalem Post (thank you Facebook Wall) from my teacher
Rabbi Michael Marmur. Now davka,
that's a rabbi!

This fire is still burning: Racism is spreading

Rabbis' ban on the rental or sale of property to non-Jews demonstrates lack of understanding for the basic currency of life in a liberal democracy.

Fifty Orthodox rabbis, most of them recipients of state funding, have just declared a ban on the rental or sale of property to non-Jews. They cite a number of halachic precedents, including the fear of intermarriage which apparently will ensue if such property deals are concluded. They also note that prices will fall if such transactions take place. It’s the Aramaic version of “there goes the neighborhood.”

If we allow these declarations to pass with no comment, there goes Judaism. If the true voice of Judaism is one which provides a mandate for bigotry and a license for racism, then our crisis is of epic proportions.

There are precedents for the position adopted by the 50 saintly rabbis. The Bible itself does not read like an advertisement for intergroup dialogue.

The questions then become: How do you understand the essence of Judaism, and how long are you prepared to stay silent as the soul of Judaism is kidnapped? The declaration by these rabbis is shameful, harmful and wrong. Its argumentation may be sound, but its core is putrid. It demonstrates a breathtaking lack of understanding for the basic currency of life in a liberal democracy.

I just heard a very moving interview on the radio with Yona Yahav, the mayor of Haifa. He is no Jewish scholar, nor does he pretend to be. But as mayor of a city in which Jews and Arabs try to live together, he pointed out the obscenity of the rabbinic ruling and contrasted it with the displays of solidarity and good citizenship which characterized the past few days in the North. Jews and Arabs (and others too) fought the fire together, and often demonstrated great heroism and humanity in the process.

Last week, before the fire in the Carmel, evidence of the smouldering embers of bigotry was provided by a major survey conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute. It found that 53% of the Jewish public believes that the state is entitled to encourage Arabs to emigrate from Israel. I wonder if the 53% are prepared to think through the implications of this kind of ‘encouragement,’ and if the remaining 47% are ready and able to dampen these flames before all control is lost.

I am a bleeding-heart liberal. My heart is indeed bleeding, but not perhaps for the reason commonly attributed. It is true that the victims of this kind of intolerance deserve our sympathy.

My heart goes out to every non-Jewish citizen of this country whenever they are the victims of inequity. But it is for Judaism that my heart bleeds; if it cannot show the kind of moral focus and conceptual suppleness needed to face up to the challenges of the day. Bigotry makes us stupid, and it puts the success of our enterprise at risk. A Judaism which enjoins me to deny the civil rights and human dignity of any person does not deserve the monopoly on the brand name, nor is it worthy of state funding.

Judaism should never add fuel to our basest prejudices and lowest emotions. It is meant to give form to our highest aspirations and deepest yearnings.

WE ARE coming to the end of Chanukah, our fire festival. Some see it as a mandate for intolerance.

After all, Mattathias lashed out against the Hellenizing assimilators. Here again, the question at stake is how you understand Judaism. Are the candles symbols of bigotry or of boundary maintenance, of hatred or of hope? The fire in the Carmel is finally out. The fire of racism and intolerance is still burning. Indeed, it is spreading. If you are a Jew who cares about Judaism and Israel, regardless of your denominational affiliation, you need to stand up and say: This rabbinic ruling is wrong. Those within the four ells of halachic discourse will conduct the struggle from their vantage point. Those outside will use the tools available to them.

This fire threatens all. We have to douse the flames of bigotry with the life-giving waters which flow within a Judaism of humanity. Why don’t all those who strive for such a Judaism get our act together? We learned in this last crisis that when the situation is urgent, rivals and even enemies can cooperate. This fire is still burning. It is time to sound the alarm.

The writer is vice president for academic affairs of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.