We invest so much in our kids, and therefore rational thought often/usually eludes us when it comes to the JEWISH IDENTITY conundrum. We can’t figure out exactly what we want to be, much less what we want our kids to be, much less how to get there, much less how to apportion responsibility among us, our kids, their schools, teachers, social settings, synagogue, etc. So my explicit/implicit critique of Schechter in no way ignores the much fuzzier reality that is much larger than the school and what it can and should be doing. Having said that, what should these schools be doing and why?
1. Clarify the nomenclature: what are they exactly? Independent schools, parochial schools, movement schools? That’s just another way of figuring out what the worldview is…
2. Think more like summer camp. Camp’s organic, removed, fun. None of those apply to school, at least not all the time. But try to have the Jewish equivalent of Phil Spectre’s “Wall of Sound” where everything reinforces everything else: teachers talking Jewish “have a good shabbos” to kids on Fridays, music on the intercom, dancing, art, the works.
3. Try to work more closely with synagogues and rabbis again to reinforce messages/content. Lots of wasted energy that falls through the cracks.
4. WHAT ARE THE STANDARDS FOR JEWISH STUDIES? Hebrew? Bible? Rabbinics? Halakha? Israel? What do we want these kids to know and why? Is there a logical sequence to the curriculum?
5. THINK NOT JUST FORMALLY AND CRITICALLY ABOUT DEVELOPING SKILLS BUT AFFECTIVELY: WHAT DO WE WANT THESE KIDS TO FEEL CALLED TO DO, AS JEWS? AND HOW ARE WE AS A SCHOOL, AS TEACHERS, CREATING RELATIONSHIPS THAT MODEL THIS AND MAKE A KID FEEL LOVED AND CARED FOR AND WANT TO BE MORE/BETTER/DIFFERENT SORTS OF JEWS.
The last one is the rub for me: I can’t help feeling that we try so hard to be inclusive and non-judgmental that we end up shortchanging families in terms of taking them seriously re. saying “you’re here…we want you to be here + 35% when you’re done at SSDS.” If you’re not willing to push, to critique, to make claims about what constitutes Jewish excellence, which yes does include making our best claims and value judgements, then how is growth possible? We do that for math, science, english, are we doing that for growing the Jewish person?
I once heard a rabbi say to students: “why would you do any of this stuff if you didn’t believe that it was true?” We need to have the courage to ask that of ourselves? what is our truth? What are we willing to do for it? To teach it to others?