Event: Is Jewish Education Broken?

Image- Speakers Lab

Is Jewish Education Broken? debates new visions for liberal Jewish schools in the 21st century. Presented by Speakers' Lab, a new public programming initiative of the Posen Foundation, with Tablet Magazine and The New School for Public Engagement, Jewish Cultural Studies Program.

As enrollment declines in liberal Jewish schools, scholars and educators are asking critical questions about the relevance of Jewish education to today's students. Is Jewish Education Broken? will explore current models and challenges facing liberal Jewish education, and propose new curricula and educational models for teachers and administrators for the future. Concerns and topics will include:

  • The discrepancy between 20th century Jewish educational models and 21st century perspectives on Jewish life.
  • The teaching of Jewish culture as ahistorical and disconnected from contemporary life.
  • The role of Jewish schooling in Jewish continuity.
  • Concerns about using the American school model to teach Jewish culture.
  • The rise of new and informal Jewish educational models.
  • The challenges of teaching minority education in America.

Panelists:

  • Zvi Bekerman, Director of the Melton Centre for Jewish Education, Hebrew U.
  • Benjamin Jacobs, Assistant Professor of Social Studies, Education and Jewish Studies, NYU
  • Jonathan Krasner, Associate Professor of the American Jewish Experience, HUC-JIR
  • Tali Zelkowicz, Assistant Professor of Education, HUC-JIR.
  • Moderator: Bethamie Horowitz, Research Assistant Professor, NYU.

Free and open to the public. Seating is limited and pre-registration is encouraged. Sign-up at www.speakerslab.org or by calling 212-564-6711 x305.

Empowered Judaism, 1956 Edition

 This month's newsletter and Reader's Guide will feature religious denominations other than the big three. Among the authors featured in that guide will be Rabbi Elie Kaunfer, one of the founders of Mechon Hadar, an institution on the forefront of the independent minyan movement (I mean, emphatically non-movement!).

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Rabbi Kaunfer is also the author of Empowered Judaism: What Independent Minyanim Can Teach Us about Building Vibrant Jewish Communities. To his credit, Rabbi Kaunfer recognizes that the approach he advocates is not actually new. "[T]his book is about a vision of Jewish life in the twenty-first century and the opportunity we have of bringing that vision to fruition," he writes (page 1). "In this vision, the future of Jewish life is dependent on Jews--not just rabbis--taking hold of the rich, challenging, surprising, and inspiring heritage that makes up our texts and traditions. It is not about a new 'big idea' or innovation for its own sake, but a recognition that the big ideas in Judaism were laid out clearly by our ancestors thousands of years ago."

 In this installment of the J-Vault, we see that similar calls to renew Jewish lay empowerment, rethink synagogue institutions and communal prayer, and reconsider the nature of the rabbinate, can also be found in the world of the mid-20th-century Jewish institutional world--a milieu usually criticized for being stilted and thin in substance. But voices of dissent, of course, challenged the community to aspire to more.

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 From the J-Vault: The Jewish Community and the Synagogue in Perspective (1956)

 "I am less impressed by the thousands of students in the Sunday schools, the magnificence of the facilities, and the pageants," said Judah J. Shapiro, "than by the sterility of curricula and the limited time spent by the child at the school." Shapiro was speaking at the 1956 annual meeting of the National Conference of Jewish Communal Service. Excerpts:

The rabbi in eastern Europe existed in an informed, and frequently learned, Jewish community... in the eastern European Jewish community, the average Jew had learned sufficiently to know what was expected of him as a Jew and could answer most of his questions out of his own learning... because of his learning, the layman knew at what point to turn to the rabbi who then delved and pondered and was in turn, checked and perhaps corrected by the layman in defining a position. Compare this with our own situation!

Rabbi [Emanuel] Rackman adds weight to this description when he says: "Rabbis derive their authority as interpreters of the law from the people, but this authority can only be conferred by a public literate enough to recognize who is worthy of it. '' How many people affiliated with the synagogue are able to deal with the questions of practice and observance on their own, without the directive of the rabbi? How many know when to ask a question?...

[T]he synagogue has become the cover of ignorance, for once affiliated, the individual is no longer questioned on Jewish identification and no longer requires the thoughts and convictions that must be derived only out of understanding...

In Chelm, it is told, the inhabitants realized how difficult it was to search for something lost in the dark. Accustomed to deal with all problems that presented themselves, they finally decided to hang a large sign on the synagogue, boldly illuminated at night, on which was inscribed in big letters: "All searching done here." In this way, when anyone lost something in the dark at night, he found it much more comfortable to do his seeking by the light of the synagogue. I fear that our synagogues here are not assisting the individual members with the resources and tools to face the questions which arise in the home and in the office and on the street but rather call out, '' All searching done here, in the synagogue." There the rabbi sits with the answers. Our problem in this area is to give the Jew the Jewish resources and outlook which will permit him to function Jewishly wherever he finds himself and on whatever terms he has formulated his Jewishness...

My first point, therefore, is that there is an absence of knowledge and that the increase in enrollment in Jewish schools, in synagogue and temple affiliation, and in rabbinical direction has not, and is not a symbol of, increased Jewish knowledge...

[E]ven where the Jew knows little of Jewishness and even where he derives little learning from his synagogue affiliation, he nevertheless finds reassurance from the learning of the rabbi. The rabbi may be more or less successful in enlightening his congregants, but they associate themselves with his Jewish learning. Someone, it seems, must be actively Jewish, and if the member is not, or cannot be, he at least derives satisfaction from the paid employee who is, on his behalf...

If there is no Jewish context to any of our services, I hope that you will agree that they are not Jewish communal services. Jewish communal services are not identifiable by their service to Jews, for that makes the doctor, the psychiatrist, the barber, the theatre, the manicurist, and taxi driver a Jewish communal worker at the moment that these serve
Jewish clientele. Jewish communal services are what they are called, only when they serve the Jewish client in the context of his Jewishness and on behalf of a Jewish community...

Our present American Jewish community is increasingly the product of these public schools where subtly and painlessly we have been severed from the nourishment of a previous Jewish culture. Add to this the urge to be integrated in the total society, especially strong in an immigrant group, and we can see how far we have come from a pre-dominating Jewish cultural pattern. Today, therefore, any discussion of Jewish culture invariably suggests something of the past, something irrelevant, something unknown. To mention Jewish culture is to summon up a picture of Jewishness drawn out of another social and economic context...

From the wealth of what Jewish culture can mean, we have endless resources for living Jewishly and being integrated in the whole of the society in which we find ourselves... It is the successful search of a meaning in Jewish culture that can hopefully establish such goals and values which can govern Jewish communal services by re-establishing a cultural concept of community...

Shapiro, too, by the way, affirms that "I have said nothing new in this paper".

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For July 4th: Why Study American Jewish History?

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 Today, Bible, Hebrew, and holidays form the central themes of Jewish education; Jewish history and American Jewish history are neglected.

Historian Jonathan Sarna asks: Why Study American Jewish History?

American Jewish history contextualizes contemporary challenges facing American Jews...

American Jewish history deepens students' understanding of America and shows them how their ancestors fit into the larger picture of American society...

American Jewish history broadens students' horizons...

American Jewish history helps to deepen attachments to Judaism and the Jewish people...

American Jewish history communicates the enduring power of religion in America...

American Jewish history bridges the gap between collective experiences and personal stories...

American Jewish history encourages students to integrate Jewish and secular studies...

American Jewish history forms the basis for the shared Jewish memories that are basic to both Jewish identity and Jewish community....

 ...Deepening students' Jewish identity is, of course, a noble endeavor, but using American Jewish history as the vehicle to accomplish this aim raises significant problems. What do we do, for example, about unpleasant facts: criminality, slaveholding, intermarriage, or even (for those who teach in a Reform setting) the postwar resurgence of Orthodoxy? How, moreover, will students react later in life when they learn the more complex realities of the American Jewish experience? Will they feel that their religious educators betrayed them? Even now, are we providing students with a portrait of American Jewish history that is as multifaceted and self-critical as their curriculum in American history? And, if not, what message are we unintentionally conveying-not just about American Jewish history but about Jewish education in general?

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Language, Culture, & School

Two articles from the Spring 2011 issue of the Journal of Jewish Communal Service caught our attention recently, in light of our upcoming event this Monday (see flier below for details). The event will explore issues facing dual language public schools -- institutions which might be viewed by some as vehicles to preserve and transmit cultural identities, while others would seek to minimize or oppose this goal since public schools ought to serve society as a whole, rather than individual cultural sub-groups. (A viewpoint from the perspective of promoting multiculturalism might not view these two goals as being in tension.)

BJPA didn't have these articles in mind while planning the event, but they're worth excerpting in advance of it.

Leon Wieseltier: Language, Identity, and the Scandal of American Jewry

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The American Jewish community is the fi rst great community in the history of our people that believes that it can receive, develop, and perpetuate the Jewish tradition not in a Jewish language. By an overwhelming majority, American Jews cannot read or speak or write Hebrew or Yiddish. This is genuinely shocking. American Jewry is quite literally unlettered. The assumption of American Jewry that it can do without a Jewish language is an arrogance without precedent in Jewish history. And this illiteracy, I suggest, will leave American Judaism and American Jewishness forever crippled and scandalously thin... Without Hebrew, the Jewish tradition will not disappear entirely in America, but most of it will certainly disappear...

In America, the first evidence of Jewish illiteracy occurs as early as 1761 and 1766, when Isaac Pinto published his translations of the liturgy into English. He was acting out of a sense of crisis, out of his feeling that Hebrew, as he put it, needed to “be reestablished in Israel.” Of the American Jewish community of his time, Pinto recorded that Hebrew was “imperfectly understood by many; by some, not at all.” In 1784, Haym Solomon found it necessary to address an inquiry in the matter of a certain inheritance to Rabbi David Tevele Schiff of the Great Synagogue in London, but the renowned Jewish leader could not write the Hebrew epistle himself, and so he enlisted the help of a local Jew from Prague. In 1818, at the consecration in New York of a building for the Shearith Israel synagogue, Mordecai Emanuel Noah observed that “with the loss of the Hebrew language may be added the downfall of the house of Israel.”...

Of course, I do not mean to deny the validity or the utility of translation, which was also a primary activity of Jewish intellectuals throughout the centuries... Translation has always represented an admirable realism about the actual cultural situation of the Jews in exile. Whatever the linguistic delinquencies of the Jews, their books must not remain completely closed to them. Better partial access than no access at all, obviously.

Moreover, we are American Jews; that is to say, we believe in the reality of freedom, and we are prepared to pay its price... The requirement that a Jew know a Jewish language is not a requirement that a Jew know only a Jewish language, and it is certainly not a requirement that a Jew express only one belief in only one means of expression... My question to the Jewish writer in America is not, what language can you write? My question is, what language can you read?...

Illiteracy is nothing less than a variety of blindness, and the vast majority of American Jews are blind. The extent of this blindness—and it is a willed blindness, a blindness that can be corrected—can be illustrated anecdotally. Here is a tale. Some years ago, the exiled president of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was traveling around the United States in the hope of enlisting sympathy for his cause, and he went to New York for a meeting with the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. Now, in his youth Aristide had studied at a seminary in Jerusalem, and he happens to be fluent in Hebrew. It seemed entirely natural and right, in his view, to address the assembled representatives of the Jewish community in what he took to be their own tongue, or at least one of their tongues. And so he began to speak to our leaders in Hebrew. After a few minutes, the negidim rather sheepishly asked their distinguished non-Jewish guest if he could make his remarks in English, because they could not understand what he was saying...

All this is not justifiable. It represents a breathtaking communitywide irresponsibility. Between every generation, not only in circumstances of war but also in circumstances of peace, much is always lost. Only a small fraction of the works of the human spirit ever survives the war against time, but the quantity of the Jewish tradition that is slipping through our fingers in America is unprecedented in our history. And it is the illiteracy of American Jewry that makes it complicit in this oblivion.

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Adam R. Gaynor: Beyond the Melting Pot: Finding a Voice for Jewish Identity in Multicultural American Schools

For the better part of a century, integration has characterized the Jewish experience in America, but modern Jewish education struggles to reverse that trend by separating Jewish youth from their non-Jewish peers and herding them into the walls of our communal institutions. This model ignores a particularly acute demographic reality: most American Jews no longer affiliate with the communal institutions in which Jewish learning takes place. Consequently, this article posits that the key to providing high-quality Jewish education with the majority of Jewish students, who do not access Jewish learning or intensive Jewish experiences, is to reach them in the multicultural environments in which they live and learn daily. More specifically, I argue that we need to create, support, and replicate programs that are integrated elements of school communities, the places in which Jewish kids and young adults spend the majority of their time...

...It is worthwhile to note that although Jews are well represented and largely successful in universities and schools, Jewish content is generally absent. Often, when Jewish content is integrated into curricula, Jews and Jewish culture are portrayed as obsolete. Jewish content most often appears in courses about Bible, representing ancient Jewish history, or about the Holocaust, representing Jewish victimization. For Jewish and non-Jewish students alike, the implicit message conveyed through these choices (in the absence of other content) is that Jewish culture lacks contemporary relevance. When prominent Jews, such as Karl Marx, Franz Kafka, and Bella Abzug, are studied, the fact of their Jewishness and its impact on their work remain unexplored. On occasion, Jews emerge in elective courses about the Middle East, but are often portrayed as a monolithic and imperialist group. The diversity of Jewish opinions about the Middle East and the complex modern history of Jewish identities and communities that have affected this topic remain unexamined...

Historically, the problem of representation in educational institutions and curricula is not unique to Jews. For traditionally marginalized and disempowered groups such as communities of color, women, gays and lesbians, and all combinations thereof, the problems described above have existed to a greater or lesser degree for centuries. However, for several decades now, other historically disempowered communities have increasingly seen themselves reflected in the curricular and extracurricular programming of public and private schools on the primary, secondary, and university levels; there is no good reason why Jewish students cannot see themselves reflected in these spaces as well...

Multicultural education has had a profound impact on the contemporary educational landscape, particularly following periods of intense student activism in the late 1960s and early 1990s. In concert with feminist theory, it has brought significant attention to the histories and literature of people of color and women through curricular enrichment and the founding of specialized, interdisciplinary departments at colleges; it has led to the diversification of faculty and student bodies; it has forced schools and colleges to reconsider discriminatory policies; and it has increased faculty professional development on cross-cultural teaching that can lead to improved achievement (Tatum, 2003). However, except for the recent growth of Jewish Studies courses and departments, Jewish content is still nearly absent from curricula, and Jewish culture is largely ignored by student services offices...

Ironically, it is the Jewish community’s own resistance to multicultural education that has prevented our inclusion in educational curricula... Jewish immigrants in the early twentieth century were fierce proponents of public education; unlike Catholic immigrants who opted for parochial education in large numbers, Jews valued public schools as a route toward acculturation (Krasner, 2005). Jews have also been fierce defenders of the separation between church and state and have supported the exclusion of religion as a census category. Jews embraced the universalism of the Enlightenment, which was reinvented in the melting pot motif, as a ticket to achieve unprecedented success in America. For many Jews, multiculturalism theoretically threatened the universalism that facilitated this achievement...

The prevailing, isolationist model of Jewish education that pulls students out of their everyday lives and separates them from their peers has not inspired significant participation. Sometimes, separating and feeling grounded as a group are important, and we should honor those needs. However, if we are to inspire Jewish students to feel invested in their Jewishness, then Jewish learning has to imbue their everyday lives with meaning. The key to doing this is through high-quality Jewish education in the multicultural environments in which they live and learn daily. Our aim should be to create, support, and replicate programs that are integrated elements of students’ schools, the communities in which they spend most of their time. Multicultural education is the practical framework for this approach.

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And don't miss the event this Monday:

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A Census of Jewish College Students

BJPA's next newsletter (coming soon) will feature a BJPA Readers Guide on the topic of Jewish college students. In this installment of our J-Vault series, we share a special preview of one of the items to be featured in that Guide.

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From the J-Vault: The Jewish Student in America (1937)

This study, undertaken by the B'nai B'rith Hillel Foundations Commission, is divided into eight chapters:

  1. Jewish Students in the Past
  2. Method of the Present Study
  3. A Census of Jewish Students
  4. Special Aspects of the Census
  5. Jewish Student Organizations
  6. The Jew in Professional Studies
  7. Home Residence of Jewish Students
  8. Summary and Recommendations

The study provides many fascinating details. For example:

  • In 1935-6, there were 105,000 Jewish students in America and Canada, comprising 9.13% of the student population (2.5 times higher than the general Jewish population).
  • There were already 38 national Jewish student organizations with 555 local chapters.
  • Jews made up 16.5% of the medical student population, and were also overrepresented in engineering, architecture, and social work.

Read more...

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Why Do Jews Cluster in Certain Jobs?

...We know perfectly well, judging from experience in New York and other cities, that the Irish make very good policemen and firemen. The Scotch have more than their proportionate share of excellent engineers, the Norwegians predominate in navigation, and the Italians and Germans have had more than their share of musical leaders. Why may not the Jews make good lawyers? Why may not the Jews indulge in scientific research and do very good work in the field of medicine?

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This week, from the J-Vault: Jews in Commerce and the Professions (1934)

In 1934, a City College professor of philosophy named Morris R. Cohen addressed the National Conference of Jewish Communal Service in an erudite and wide-ranging discussion of American Jews' employment patterns, dwelling on the area he knew best: the professoriate.

I was once lecturing at one of the eastern universities, and was staying overnight with a friend, a dean of the university. The next morning, in the intimacy of the breakfast table, he turned to. me and said, "Why do you Jews crowd so much into the professions? Why don't you go into industry and agriculture?" Well, as a Jew, I naturally answered by asking him, "Is that what you think of my lecture last night?"...

...The conversation changed, the way it will, but a little later I asked my host: "By the way, what is your boy doing at Princeton? Has he decided whether he is going into the teaching of philosophy or into the ministry ?"My host replied: " No, he has decided to take up law. You see, his mother's father, and his uncles are in this law firm, and the family has been in that firm for quite a while. His mother thinks it would be a good thing for him to continue.in the family tradition." Whereupon I asked: "Well, have you ever thought of sending him into industry or agriculture?"...

...how can you ask a Jewish college graduate to become a stevedore or a truckman or to go into any of those occupations which non-Jewish college graduate do not enter? Why should you expect, that Jewish college graduates will enter into those occupations which non-Jewish- college graduates do not enter? It is absurd to expect it and it doesn't seem to me that we should urge it. It is true that in the old world you will find Jewish scholars who are also workingmen. I have known a tailor who was regarded as one of the most learned men in his town. That is undoubtedly frequent, in Europe and to a certain extent it may even be true in this country, until we become thoroughly Americanized. The delight in learning for its own sake enabled the Jews to bear their hard economic lot in the Ghetto without being degraded by losing their self-respect. And even in this country I have known a Jewish peddler who wrote a book on Spinoza in Hebrew—I don't know whether he ever had it published or not...

...Those things are much more common, I think, among Jews than among other people, although I think you will find similar situations among the Scotch and among the modern Greeks. I once met a modern Greek who was selling peanuts and also had a copy of Sophocles in the ancient Greek in his pocket, occasionally looking into it when he thought his customers wouldn't notice it...

...[S]o long as we have our present democratic system of politics, where the Jews have any considerable vote there will be no open discrimination against them and they will get some opportunity, and that I think is the fact today. With regard to college teaching it seems to me the situation is different because the traditions are different. The tradition of teaching in the public schools is the feminine tradition, that is to say, public schools were regarded as the place where the children were to be taught and generally the men were too busy with important things to do and the women had to teach the children. In the colleges the American tradition is somewhat different. The colleges were never run by women, but they were run by clergymen, the next best thing.

Few adequately realize the significance of that and I think it rather important to dwell on it for a moment or two... You see, the American colleges were founded as ancillary to the theological seminaries, and were originally intended to train ministers... Up to the year 1900, almost every professor of philosophy in an American college, outside of a few exceptionally enlightened institutions in the East, was a clergyman...

...What, now, has happened in recent years? Some years ago Mr. Carnegie, who was an old fashioned radical, believed that it was a good thing to separate religion from education, and he devised what he thought was a very shrewd scheme. He said that he would give certain moneys for pension funds for teachers in non-denominational colleges or universities. Whereupon a great many denominational colleges became overnight non-denominational.

But while you can change the denomination of a college, you cannot change its traditions overnight, and the result is that these colleges and universities are still largely dominated by the old traditions. I will not say that there is discrimination today against Jews as teachers in all colleges. Let us leave that out of the discussion. But it is quite obvious that all other things being equal a gentleman who belongs to the denomination which has fed the college from its beginning, which has supplied the college with all its distingushed professors and presidents, will get preference, and according to the prevailing mores quite rightly...

There is much more worth reading in this fascinating speech.

See other installments in our J-Vault series here.

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Sex Classes: 1926, 2011

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Yesterday, in the New York Times Magazine, Laurie Abraham profiled the graphic, frank and nonjudgmental Sexuality and Society class offered at Philadelphia's Friends' Central School. Abraham noted that "this sex-ed class may well be the only one of its kind in the United States."

Yet a look back at sex ed in earlier generations shows that some progress has occurred.

This week, from the J-Vault: The Status of Sex Education for Children (1926)

"In early days," explains Rachelle J. Yarros, "many of the ancient peopje worshipped sex as they did other mysterious forces which they did not understand."

In the more modern Christian world, the same fear has led to asceticism, the basis of which is a feeling that the sex impulse is essentially evil and must be suppressed.

Let us be honest with ourselves and frankly ask this question: How many of us received from our mothers or fathers intelligent explanations of sex or reproduction ? You all know what falsehoods we were told and what chaotic ignorance existed in our minds...

...The more intelligent are beginning to realize the danger of complete ignorance and to feel the need of giving sex information to the child sometime, somewhere, somehow, but they fear that this knowledge, if given not "exactly in the right way" may awaken excessive sex curiosity and lead to disastrous experimentation... I wonder whether this is not simply another manifestation of our own sex taboo...

...The real problem of sex behavior among human beings arises primarily from the fact that they are ready to mate and may have the impulse to do so long before they are psychologically and socially fit. With animals no such problem arises, because they mate strictly according to impulse and pay the penalty, nobody registering the consequences. The human animal has evolved so far from this stage that the primary impulse of sex is not a satisfactory guide to behavior...

...As to the institution of marriage, which has more or less fostered certain ideals of sex relationship and greater protection and care for progeny, it, too, becomes a very important matter for the consideration of those who are interested in all phases of social hygiene. Some radicals claim that the institution of marriage is a failure or that it has outlived its usefulness. I am a radical myself and admit that all is not well in marriage, but am inclined to believe that the institution is not wholly to blame for the problems that now confront us.

Click here for more.

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David Elcott on Faith in Academia

As part of our Office Hours series, Prof. David Elcott discusses the place of religion in an academic setting.

Podcast: Fields of Engagement

For those of you who missed our September 19th event, "Fields of Engagement: Debating Key Questions of Research and Jewish Education," the full podcast is now available here.

Fun in a Financial Funk

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Worldwide stocks tumbling... A showdown at the UN over a Middle East conflict that appears ever more impossible to solve... Heavy stuff. How about a little fun?

This week, from the J-Vault: Leisure Time Activity in the Depression Period (1932)

"Leisure," writes Samuel J. Rodman, "has been defined as 'the time-surplus remaining after the practical necessities of life have been attended to'":

One's leisure time are those periods in which one is free to do as he wishes or as his interests dictate, it is a period in which one plays. With the above definition as our guide it is quite obvious that it is entirely wrong to call the time liberated by unemployment as leisure time. Picture, if you will, the leisure time of the "true gentleman of leisure" on board the Europa on his way for an extended holiday to the Riviera, as compared to the supposed leisure time of the worker who by 3 P. M . has given up his futile attempt in search for a job—and you have two distinct varieties of leisure time.

The unemployed have special emotional needs which ideal leisure activities should address, Rodman notes. He quotes a report from the Welfare Council of New York City:

"As a result of the economic conditions of the past two years," the report continues, "the family affection has been sorely tried, conjugal and parental ties have been weakened, family groups have disintegrated, the source of income has shifted from the husband and father to the wife and children or to public, paternal authority has lost force, home discipline has suffered, personality difficulties and family problems have been precipitated, instability and insecurity have increased."

I present these excerpts in an attempt to picture the clients for whom leisure time activities are to be planned so that "he may drown his sorrows and divert his mind from his condition."

One of my colleagues in the Jewish center field recently referred to himself in discussing his work as "running a human repair shop." What busy mechanics we should be at this time in repairing the wreck by which we are confronted...

...To keep the Roman unemployed happy and amused, history records that the government presented free circuses and public displays of butchery.

(An aside: I can just see a new kind of government stimulus package: Roman-style gladiatorial games. It has the added advantage of killing off those who lose the games, so... fewer mouths to feed, with no need for a death panel, or a Texas prison, or a Ron Paul health care plan. But back to Rodman:)

Let us boast of a higher civilization, provide civilized outlets for our unemployed by offering public courses in economics, labor history, sociology and other social sciences...

Through tactful guidance and encouragement and influence on our part, we may actually turn this enforced idleness into a golden opportunity for an adult education program which will prepare for the leisure which is bound to come when our economic house is ultimately set in order...

...In Europe, adult education, cultural pursuits and even political study and activity are considered recreational use of leisure. A cultural program, therefore, for our working group, definitely falls within the realm of our program of activity. I am definitely of the opinion that our community centers ought to play an important role in the reconstruction of society. Will we fulfill our responsibility to our community in this national emergency?

So... all you unemployed folks out there: feel like sitting in a Jewish community center and learning socioeconomic theory all afternoon for no money or college credit?

Actually, if I were unemployed myself, I would be happy to spend some time taking social science courses for the sheer fun of it. But I am an inveterate nerd, so let's not make policy based on me.

Interested in the excerpts above? Download the entire publication.

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From the J-Vault: Jewish Education a Mile Wide and an Inch Deep

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As the 2011-2012 school year is begins, there's no better time to think about Jewish education. (Reminder: we're celebrating the publication of the International Handbook of Jewish Education with a symposium on September 19th.)

This week, from the J-Vault: The Study of Jewish Education in the United States (1960)

Summarizing a national study of Jewish education conducted in the late 1950s, the author applies a metaphor borrowed from Mark Twain: "a river that is a mile wide and an inch deep."

The article discusses access (the study found that 80% of Jewish children had Jewish schooling of some kind), teaching quality (poor job security and career prospects led to an ineffective pool of teachers), and curriculum (an ambitious range of topics crammed into not nearly enough time). The author also argues that denominational differences should not be a barrier to joint (cross-denominational) education programs, to maximize efficient use of education funds.

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September 19: Debating Key Questions of Research and Jewish Education

Symposium flier

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From the J-Vault: Diversity in Democracy (or, Jewish Difference and the Common Good)

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"[T]here are some among us," said Isaac B. Berkson, during an address in honor of a Columbia professor, "who hold that the retention of Jewish cultural characteristics is not consistent with the processes of democracy. These believe that only such differences as maybe termed religious should be retained by the Jews. It appears to me that such a view rests on an unfortunate misunderstanding of the nature of the democratic process."

This week, from the J-Vault: Education in a Democracy: Democracy and Jewish Culture (1937)

Do Jewish particularism and a commitment to Jewish culture detract from universalism and a commitment to the common good? To the contrary, said Isaac B. Berkson:

Far from running counter to democracy, the maintenance of such cultural elements is a mark of democracy. Among other things, this may act as one of the important barriers against mental regimentation... [A]djustment to American life does not mean utter conformity.

Sub-cultures, religions, and other sources of genuine difference and diversity make the whole society stronger for being different, Berkson argues, and even where they introduce conflicts of opinion, this enhances democracy:

[D]iversity of opinion is a fundamental characteristic of democratic society—really more than that, is a necessary attribute of democracy. Tolerance of divergent opinion is in itself a great advance in the history of thought, but the democratic habit of mind goes much further than benevolent toleration of differences. It has faith in the value of diverse opinion as a positive factor in government and civilization. It uses the dissenting opinion as a means of arriving at the truth, of properly emphasizing aspects of the situation otherwise neglected, of correcting weaknesses in dominant, current view.

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From the J-Vault: Kids for Peace

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The year was 1915, and the Great War (World War I) was devastating Europe. An ocean (and then half a continent) away, The Chicago Hebrew Institute decided to enlist their Sabbath and Sunday school students to promote the ideal of peace.

This week, from the J-Vault: A Peace Movement Among Children (1915)

Writing in the Bulletin of the National Conference of Jewish Charities, Philip L. Seman used terms for his school's initiative which, in modern times, would be criticized as an unacceptable form of indoctrination of the youth:

The children of the Peace Society are recruited from various classes conducted at the Institute, particularly from the Sabbath and Sunday school. The main effort is to saturate the children's minds and hearts against the horrors of war, and in favor of universal peace. At a recent meeting of the teachers of the Sabbath school, we have made clear that the teachers, in instructing the children in Bible history, should underestimate the heroism, too often made much of in the Sabbath schools, regarding the wars the Hebrews fought in early days, and to draw ethical lessons in favor of peace. In other words, our teachers were instructed, not as has been the fashion heretofore, to encourage young Judea to emulate the militarism of the Maccabees, but rather to hope for the realization of the human peace prophecy of Isaiah.

Read more...

Browse the BJPA for publications on War and Peace, or search for "indoctrination".

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Yes We Khan

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Have you heard of Khan Academy, the free online video learning site where you can learn about quadtratic inequalities, or C-4 photosynthesis, or plate tectonics, whenever you want? Perhaps you've seen this TED talk featuring Salman Khan himself.

None of the components of this concept is actually new. Before the internet there were mail-order videos, although they were not free, nor available instantly. And before Khan Academy, there were countless YouTube tutorials. The main differences, I think, are in comprehensive scope and coordinated structure.

  • Scope: so far KA has an extremely impressive range of videos in the quantitative fields of math and science, and the site has its foot in the door to the humanities with a history series -- the first part of what I'm sure will be a much larger endeavor.
  • Structure: unlike YouTube tutorials, which are made by many different individuals, at many different levels of quality, for many different audiences, using many different learning techniques, Khan Academy aims to be a one-stop location to find what you need (just as bjpa.org is your one-stop location for Jewish communal policy [sorry, couldn't resist]) with a roughly uniform level of quality and format.

So can we get a Jewish Khan Academy? (Cohen Academy, let's say.) A one-stop, free, on-demand video resource for learning Hebrew (beginner to high level), Jewish history, and Jewish texts?

I'm not the first to ask. The AVI CHAI Foundation blog has a post on this topic. YU 2.0 has a discussion, as does the Lookjed forum.  What do you think? Add your comment in the comments section below, we beg of you... we're tired of reading mostly spam robot comments instructing us to buy things.

For more on related topics, browse BJPA holdings for Technology, or Internet.

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