This past Friday, a small group of TCK students, Shlomi Edelshtein, and I went to express our condolences to the members of the Ahmadiyya community, located nearby in Maple, ON, who were mourning the loss of the six murdered victims in the Quebec City massacre.

One of the students who attended, Daniel Minden, wrote a reaction to the tragic events and published it on Times of Israel.  “Whatever our differences,” he writes, “we must always remember the imperative of standing together against religious hatred. Judaism teaches compassion, respect, and understanding. Needless to say, Jews have seen and endured too much not to stand with others in their time of need.”

I bring to your attention the entirety of his moving post: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/standing-together-in-face-of-hatred/

As well, I share with you a copy of the letter that I sent in advance of our visit to the members of the Ahmadiyya mosque this past Friday.

Dear Asif,

I want to express our condolences to you on the tragic deaths of members of the Islamic community in Quebec City.  This past Monday, in the school that I lead, we stood for a moment of silence and in solidarity with the victims of this horrific crime.  We recognized that this act of terror was a desecration of human life, an attack on religious freedom, and a violation of sacred space.

Our tradition teaches that all people are created in the image of God with infinite value.  Our Torah begins not with the first Jew, Abraham, but with the first human being, Adam.  Regardless of religious background, political party, or skin colour, a life is a life.  In both Islamic and Jewish tradition, we believe that to destroy one life is to destroy a whole world.  This past week, the worlds of each one of the victims was irreparably shattered.

We are saddened by these events and extend our sympathies to the family members and friends of those who perished.  We wish a “refuah sheleimah,” a speedy recovery to those who were “only” injured.  Our thoughts are with you and your community.

As Jews and Canadians, we will continue to remember, cherish, affirm, and preserve what is right and true and worth fighting for:  the sanctity of human life, human dignity, freedom, religious expression, and equality. We will continue to pray that we will see a day when all people can live together in peace and harmony.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Lee Buckman

 

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This past Sunday’s Super Bowl game was a stunning victory.  I was certain that Atlanta had it in the bag, and New England pulled it out.  I would love to have been a fly on the wall in the Patriots’ locker room during half-time.  What was said?  How did they defy the odds?

We may never know the key to the turnaround.  However, there are likely many lessons we can learn from the game.  One that was evident to me has to do with statistics.  When the Falcons were winning 28-3, a political pundit said that they had an 86% chance of winning the game…the same odds as Hillary Clinton.  I guess one lesson is that statistics aren’t destiny.

I asked a few football enthusiasts what they thought we can learn from the incredible and unexpected New England victory.

Ben Eisen, ‘17 at TCW, said “even when failure seems certain, it may be avoided. A dramatic spark or catalyst can cause a great turnaround, and it can only be reached if one stays hopeful and optimistic….With perseverance, New England was able to battle back and create this spark that gave them additional momentum for a game tying drive, and eventually an overtime win.”

Noah Greenberg, ‘17 at TCW, echoed Ben’s point and commented that the big lesson was one on the power of determination.  However, he also observed that “certain statistics (like the 86% chance of winning the game or election) are merely educated predictions. While everyone likes to be comforted by favourable statistics, it is important to understand that once game time comes around (especially the Super Bowl), they don’t mean much. I say this because it is very tough to predict how the individual human will react/perform ‘in the moment.’”

Max Handelman, ‘17 at TCW, highlighted the importance of taking a responsible risk when it comes to success.  He notes:  “Both the coaches and players had to make risky moves and decisions in order to give the team a shot at victory. Playing a conservative game in the second half would not have brought the Lombardi Trophy back to New England for the fifth time in the Brady Era.”

However, sometimes it’s about luck.  Adam Gropper, ‘16 from TCW, admits “that some luck is involved in every great triumph because had the Falcons won the OT coin toss and scored, the Patriots great comeback to force overtime would have been forgotten.  Sometimes winning is the result of hard work, preparation and perseverance, but sometimes it’s just determined by a coin flip.”

Mr. Shindo, one of our Phys. Ed. teachers at TCW, pointed to the value of staying calm and true to one’s core.  He put it this way: “Although the Patriots were down 28-3 with three minutes left in the third quarter, they did not panic under adversity. The Patriots played their style of football by executing a flawless passing game by throwing under the defense to their slot receivers and capitalising on the mistakes that the Falcons made.  When faced with adversity try not to panic, focus, and revert to your game plan to achieve your ultimate goal.”

Mr. Chaim, the Athletic Director and a Phys. Ed. teacher at TCK, waxed philosophic on his Facebook page and wrote:  “It’s never too late.  Don’t ever count yourself out of anything no matter what others tell you. You can do anything you set your mind to, and impossible is a myth. Take that and go be whatever you want to be. Go do whatever you want to do because you can.”

Mr. Steinfeld, head of Jewish Thought and a Rabbinics, Talmud and Tanach teacher at TCK, suggested that the key to success if often a focus on small wins, “one play at a time.”  He added another key element.  “Belichik,” the New England coach, “creates a culture of accountability, humility, and profound work ethic.  Players who demand too much money, or who think they’re invaluable find themselves traded quickly.”  For Belichik  “it’s not about the individual, but the team, and the team is about achievement and execution, professionalism and humility.”

I’ll end with Sam Neumark’s ‘17 at TCW, pithy observation which harkens back to the adage “it ain’t over till it’s over.” He applied the lessons of the game to school.  “No matter how bad your mark is in a class halfway through the year, it is always possible to raise your grade in the second half of the year if you put in the effort.”

There you have it, sports fans.  Super Bowl 51 showed the power of perseverance, hope, determination, risk-taking, the limitless capacity to achieve, not panicking, focusing on small wins and accountability, not quitting in the middle.  What a game!

What is Rabbinics?  It is one of the four Jewish Studies courses, but what should be included in Rabbinics? What should be its focus?  These are the questions the Jewish Studies teachers are discussing as we review the curriculum.

To gather some “data” that might enrich the conversation, I emailed a half dozen TanenbaumCHAT graduates to find out what units stuck with them and why.  Below is a sampling of their comments–their choice for most meaningful unit and why:

  • Organ donation “A family friend of mine, who is very religious, donated an organ completely anonymously. I was pretty confused as to how it was permissible to donate an organ, as I thought that according to religious reasons, a Jewish person had to have all their organs in order to be buried as a Jew. Thanks to my Rabbinics class, I was able to truly understand the specific laws that come from donating organs, and what is required.”
  • Death and Mourning “The Death and Mourning Unit was the most meaningful and helpful. It is very practical knowledge that is definitely useful and necessary. It just so happened that my Great Aunt passed away and that side of the family was unfamiliar with Shiva customs. I was able to help explain and give my family some clarity because I had studied it in school.”  Another student:  “I liked the topics in the Mourning unit because they were the most relatable and practical topics, regardless of one’s religious background.”
  • Sexual ethics “The grade 11 topics of marriage and conversion were interesting. Rabbinics was one my favourite Jewish studies courses, and as a university student I am trying to find a Jewish learning program that explores similar contemporary issues, as it is more relatable for students. These types of topics generate a lot of debate and affect everyone’s lives.”

What I learned from our graduates is that the most meaningful topics were the ones that had practical value, that dealt with some issue of contemporary Jewish living.  It’s that insight that led me to draft a mission statement for Jewish Studies in the words of Rabbi David Ellenson, former president of the Reform Movement’s Hebrew Union College:

The true goals of Jewish education are deep and broad. For individual Jews, our program of study should provide students access to the rich resources of our tradition. These resources can add meaning to their lives and help them answer life’s most challenging questions. Beyond the personal dimension, the goal should also be enculturation – connecting individuals to the ongoing experience of the Jewish people, past, present and future. Finally, Jewish education must also be generative – inspiring our graduates to create and support vibrant Jewish communities that sustain Jewish life, help repair a broken world, and ensure the future of the Jewish people.

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Being a teacher is not only about teaching others, but about continuously learning yourself. This, above all, is what I have come to realize as a participant in TCK’s Legacy Teaching Fellowship.

This is the first year that TCK has run this incredible program for students in grades 11 and 12. The program consists of weekly in-class workshops run by Ms. Socken, an inspiring English and drama teacher at TCK, as well as placements in Beit Rayim Synagogue’s supplementary Hebrew school. The Fellowship curriculum aims to educate aspiring teachers and give us a sense of the mysterious lesson-planning-essay-marking world that is a teacher’s reality.

The workshops with Ms. Socken have quickly become a highlight of my week. The set-up is much the same every Monday: the eight of us congregate in the Perlis boardroom, seated around a big table in comfy swivel chairs that make us feel exceptionally professional.  We begin our meetings with a snack (always a hit!) and chat about interesting classroom observations we made over the course of the week. We then move onto the topic of the day, which can range from classroom management to learning styles to promoting a positive mindset in students. We receive handouts and activities, but the sessions are primarily conversation-based, with interesting anecdotes from Ms. Socken’s experiences and a chance for us to share ideas as well. We always have such interesting discussions, and ninety minutes later we are still totally immersed, laughing and polishing off the last chocolate chip cookies.

The placement component of the program puts all that we learn in class into action as we join grades 4 to 7 Hebrew school classes at Beit Rayim. We mainly observe, keeping in mind all that we have learned in our sessions, and help out the students with classwork. We are also working towards teaching a lesson ourselves in the spring term! It has been such an interesting experience, seeing the workings of a classroom from a new perspective and applying what we are learning to a real life situation.

The best thing about the program overall, aside from all that we learn, of course, is the positive, collegial atmosphere. The eight of us have quickly become a community in which we are encouraged to share our thoughts and are made to feel that our ideas are just as important in the learning process as those of our teacher. This program has not only taught me so many practical skills of being a teacher, but it has also opened my eyes to the power of ongoing participatory learning. I am so grateful for the opportunity to participate in this invaluable program and to have created such wonderful memories with my Fellowship Family.

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I know it might sound strange to say this–not just because it may seem early to be thinking about summer camp–but working at a summer camp is good for your resume.  It’s strange to make this assertion because it’s counter-intuitive and because I truly value camp for its own sake.

Camp is a good break from school.  It’s a time to let your brain re-charge.  It’s a time to get out of the resume race.  Jewish camps teach you things that you don’t learn any place else even at the finest Jewish day schools:  shira, rikud, birkat hamazon (by heart).  Day school is, after all, school whereas camp is pure fun.  Camp transforms not just campers but counselors.  In fact, counselors often gain more from camp than the campers do.  When you have to teach something to someone else, you learn the material better.  When you have to be a role model, you act with greater intentionality.  When you’re put in a position to lead, you become more aware of your choices and conscious of your decisions.

That’s the case for the inherent value of camp.

Now, I want to make the case for camp’s instrumental value.  I want to make the case because there are high school students who say they can’t go to camp as a counselor because they need to get “a real job.”

I asked Ron Polster, director of Camp Ramah, what he thought of that.  He said:  “One of the most important skills staff learn at overnight camp is how to communicate face-to-face. At Ramah, where the youngest campers are part of our Gan (nursery) program and the oldest are graduating Gr. 10, and where we have a Tikvah program for children with a variety of special needs, staff learn to communicate with quite a diverse community. In fact, I often hear from Ramah alumni about how, in today’s world of technology, the development of these face-to-face communication skills at camp became so important to them later in life. Both personally and professionally.

Simon Wolle, the director at Camp Northland, added that camp staff positions “provide the skills today’s employers are looking for in their workers.  ‘Twenty-first century skills,’ the skills frequently sought after today’s employers, include Learning Skills (critical thinking, creative thinking, collaborating, and communicating) as well as Life Skills (flexibility, initiative, social skills, productivity and leadership).

Risa Epstein, national executive director of Young Judaea, echoes this insight:  “Camp gives a young adult the opportunity to develop skills that will help them on any path they take in the future.  Where else will students 18-22 have the ability to manage staff, speak in front of an audience, develop programs and care for children if it were not in the summer camp setting.”

I encourage all our students to work at camp; and if you’re already planning on doing so, don’t let anyone tell you that you need a real job.  Being a counselor is about as real as it gets.

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Jeremy Urbach attends Camp Ramah and is currently in grade 10 at TanenbaumCHAT.

This week we had the privilege of hosting on both campuses Shachar Chanan, the CEO of an Israeli non-profit organization called “My Truth” (http://mytruth.org.il/team_member/).  “My Truth” is made up of IDF reserve soldiers who seek to share the values, moral dilemmas, and experiences of Israeli soldiers.

What should be the IDF’s plan of action, for example, in the following circumstance?  The home and location of a known terrorist has just been discovered in a neighborhood in Gaza.  From his home, this man has been planning bombings, meeting with accomplices, supplying belts for suicide bombers, and storing up weapons.  However, the residence is also occupied 24 hours a day by the man’s wife and children.  What type of attack is permitted in a situation where the terrorist uses his own family as a human shield?

These are the kinds of complicated dilemmas that IDF soldiers face.  The vast majority of soldiers strive to meet the highest ethical standards of any army in the world.  Most meet these standards; some fail.  The recent decision by the military court finding an Israeli soldier guilty of manslaughter for killing a neutralized terrorist is a case in point (http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.762927).

I appreciate the fact that at TanenbaumCHAT, we don’t hide the flaws, foibles, or failings of Israel or its citizens or soldiers.  In our Grade 12 Arab-Israeli conflict courses, for example, teachers will present a series of events that took place in Israel’s past or present and then ask students to look up how five different newspapers portray those events.  The political left or right, the anti-Zionists, the settlers, the religious, and the secular community all look upon the same events but interpret them differently.  We want our students to see the nuance and complexity.  This is how we ensure that our students don’t feel that we present only one side of the very complicated issues Israel deals with on a daily basis.

In my experience, our students don’t benefit from being shielded from the complexities of Israel’s history or contemporary reality.  We won’t succeed in helping them develop a deep connection with Israel if we stifle debate, suppress doubt, or deny Israel’s failures. Israel is a country filled with the best a nation has to offer (high tech, individual freedoms, infinite opportunities) and with problems that all other countries possess (illegal immigration, religious conflicts, racial tension.)

As a Zionist myself, I view every imperfection as an invitation to get involved in building this phenomenal Jewish enterprise called Israel.  The American Jewish author Cynthia Ozick put it well: “Israel is imperfect…Because she is imperfect, she is always building.  Because she is always building, she is eternal.”  This is the attitude I hope our students cultivate as well.

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This is my fourth AGM at TanenbaumCHAT.  Since last year’s AGM, we have much to be proud of.  Let me share a few of those highlights.

At the beginning of this academic year, we launched the Chai Engineering Academy at TCW, thanks to a nearly $1.5 M gift from Danny and Anita Chai.  This is both an academic and a hands-on program.  On any given day, you might see the students taking apart an old computer and putting it back together, studying the design of pop cans to determine why a cylindrical shape with sturdy metal lip was chosen, or building and learning to program robots to perform elemental tasks.  Under the enthusiastic teaching of Mark Rottmann, they tinker and build and design.

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Since the 2015 AGM, we also have launched the Scholars Circle, a parent education program that gives a $5,000 discount on G10 tuition to G9 parents who enroll in a yearlong course that introduces them to our Jewish Studies program.  This year, there are 24 families in the program who attend class eagerly every week and learn parts of our Tanach, Jewish history, and ethics curriculum.  You can’t imagine the energy in the room each week. Here’s what one of our parents, Wendy Kauffman, said about the program:  “The more I learn, the more I want her to learn. Scholars Circle will not replace 4 years of daily education, but it opens my mind to how much more there is to know and how much is still missing from my child’s education that I would be remiss not to provide.”

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Since our last AGM, a year ago, we have seen the many fruits of the new model of shlichim.  Our shlichim, Shlomi and Yaara, are experiential educators, not classroom teachers.  In fact, in all of North America, these are the only two shlichim who are working in a school as informal or experiential educators.  They do what they do–between classes at school, in their kitchen at home where they invite kids to cook with them, they do it on shabbat on shabbatonim or in their home, through song and film and food.  One of our students shared this:  “Whether it’s dishing out hummus at 8:30 in the morning, teaching Israel advocacy at lunch, or hosting an Israeli movie night, Shlomi and Yaara  ignite a love for Israel in our students by building meaningful personal relationships.” Another student put it this way:  “Shlomi revived the Israel ruach and really brought a piece of Israel to the TCK day-to-day life. He is full of incredible ideas and tries to engage every student in his activities. Whether it be school wide events or just one-on-one conversations, I feel like Shlomi and Yaara have helped many students find their connection to Israel.”

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On a recent Friday evening, for example, Yaara and Shlomi hosted TCK students for a “tish” in the party room of their apartment complex.  It was 5 below that shabbat evening, and 150 kids came!  They have mobilized teachers–General Studies and Jewish Studies alike–to see themselves as part of the Israel engagement team.  Frances reminded me that 3-4 years ago when we asked for a photo of students doing something Israel related, we found one from 1999.  Now, Israel photos can be found almost weekly documenting the fine work Yaara and Shlomi are doing in the school.

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All of these programs as well as many others–the AP Program in Chemistry and Calculus, the curriculum-based Israel trips, the pithy articulation of our Five Core Values (curiosity, character, connection, community, and contribution), our very successful summer school program, the nearly $1M surplus that accrued due to cost cutting which will offset the lost revenue due to an expected decline in enrolment, a greater financial commitment on the part of subsidy families, a new culture of philanthropy, and the rental agreement with Leo Baeck at TCK which advances two of our five elements of our strategic plan—all of these, we would not have been able to implement or accomplish successfully without the leadership and dedication of the board and administration and the work of our outstanding teachers.  Leading a high quality school is a team effort, and we are where we are today because of the combined talents of our staff and lay leaders.

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If you were to ask most people to describe what a classroom looks like, they’d likely say that it’s a room filled with students sitting in desks facing forward to see the teacher who stands at the front of the room.  That image is generally true although my weekly classroom observations this week revealed something quite different.

In Mr. Paul’s English class, students were organized into book groups.  In Ms. Kadoch’s class, students were working independently or getting one-on-one attention.  In Ms. Socken’s class, students were working in small groups.  In Mr. Sotto’s class, students were debating in teams.  In Mr. Komlos’ class, the students were engrossed in a roundtable discussion.

A teacher colleague of mine used to say, “the one who’s doing the work is doing the learning.”  In the classrooms that I observed, the students were definitely doing the work and doing the learning.  However, what also impressed me was the masterful skill our teachers possess to structure a debate that works, formulate a question that sparks fruitful and sustained discussion, cultivate the skills in students to work on their own, teach students how to collaborate, and empower students to lead discussions.  Below is a window into the artful teaching and productive learning that are taking place at TanenbuamCHAT.

Mr. Paul’s Grade 11 Book Clubs: Students are reading Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.  The novel is about the lead-up to and 20 years after a flu wipes out 99% of the world’s population.  The novel takes place in Toronto. The students were asked to read a Canadian novel and take thorough reading notes focusing on character development, theme, mood and symbols.  They were also asked to look at writing style, the human condition and their own personal biases about situations in the novel.  The group members then discuss their findings.  The assignment shows students that they are capable of doing close readings of text and have student centred lessons.

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Mrs. Kadoch’s non-credit Learning Strategies class meets three times a week. Students use this structured spare very wisely to catch up on work and study for upcoming assessments. This week, most students are immersed in preparation for upcoming essay submissions. Students are actively using the POWER strategy to Plan, Outline, Write, Edit and Review their papers.

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Ms. Socken’s Grade 11 Drama students are finishing their Improv unit by creating satirical sketches, in the style of Second City or Saturday Night Live. They began by brainstorming contemporary topics worthy of being lampooned, such as the self-absorption of reality TV stars, the proliferation of fake news on the Internet, and what it’s like to visit a restaurant these days, when everyone has a different dietary restriction! Over the next few classes, students will develop and polish their sketches for their final performance, which is designed to make the audience laugh a lot, cringe a little and hopefully emerge with some greater insight about society and ourselves.

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Mr. Sotto’s Grade 10 Rabbinics engage in a debate in their unit on Tzedaka.  Students studied the problems of evil in Judaism as well as its various theodicies and approaches to human advocacy in the world. They watched “Pay it Forward” and discussed the ideals and  realities of tikkun olam. Lastly, students read an article on tzedakah as a form of social welfare by Byron Sherwin and weighed in on the positives and negatives of the Jewish approach to social welfare in the context of evil and the film analyzed. They had to argue one side of the debate, evaluate the Jewish duty of Tzedakah, and weigh in on its imperfections as well as its strengths and beauties.

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Mr. Komlos’ Grade 12 Canadian & International Politics class read an article by Matt Lebovic from Times of Israel entitled “Pro-Trump Jewish students grapple with social ‘death sentence’ in post-election isolation.”  The article describe the experience of pro-Trump university students who are hesitant to admit that they voted for the president-elect out of fear of facing allegations of bigotry, misogyny, and homophobia.  The students discussed the merits of the response to the pro-Trump supporters.  “Are there opinions that others can hold that would lead you, as a student, to ‘unfriend’ them?  Is there any red line that a friend could cross over that would jeopardize your friendship with them?”  The debate was lively and explored the limits of liberalism and the politics of pluralism and forced students to introspect on principles they hold deeply.

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Rising day school tuition is a topic that is on everyone’s mind.  If a TanenbaumCHAT education costs approximately $27,000 today, what will tuition be when today’s graduates become parents and want to send their children to day school?  How will anyone be able to afford a day school education?

As day school tuition has increased, “market penetration” has decreased.  The number of students enrolled at TanenbaumCHAT has declined steadily since it peaked in the mid-2000s.  Most people in the Toronto Jewish community make a causal link between enrollment and tuition.  They suggest that if tuition were to decrease, enrollment would increase.

However, I’d like to suggest that we reverse the causal arrow. In other words, I believe that if we increase enrollment, tuition will fall.

Tuition goes up not because our staff gets huge raises. Tuition rises because there are fewer and fewer families sharing fixed costs.  For example, whether we have 600 students at a campus or 300 students at a campus, our rent doesn’t go down; neither does the cost of keeping on the lights (and heat).

The best thing we could do to lower tuition is to recruit more students to our school, and by “we,” I mean not just our admissions team.  I mean that each parent must become an ambassador and a recruiter for TanenbaumCHAT. Our parent body’s collective network far exceeds the most conscientious admissions office.

We all know families who send their children to public school.  Those children get a scant Jewish education.  Demographic studies show that the more hours of Jewish education, the more likely that a child will grow up to feel a stake in the Jewish community and the Jewish future.  Some researchers have even suggested that one year of Jewish education post-bar/bat mitzvah is worth three years pre-bar/bat mitzvah.

If we all took responsibility for being part of the “sales force,” we could hold in check and perhaps lower tuition.  If each of us were to share a story with our non-day school friends of how a TanenbaumCHAT teacher touched our children’s lives, helped them discover their talents and deepened their understanding of who they are as Jews, then perhaps more parents would realize that their child is missing out on something powerful.

When our friends see that our children learn to live and love their Judaism in an academic environment that opens up a wide range of post-high school possibilities for them, our public or private secular school friends will be more likely to choose a Jewish day school education.

When they see that our children internalize a work ethic that will give them a leg up on their peers at college and university, and when they see that our students develop a sense of responsibility to the State of Israel and feel comfortable in their own skin outside the “bubble” of Jewish day school, our friends will be more likely to say a TanenbaumCHAT education may be expensive but it is priceless.

Being a day school evangelist is the one thing in our control to help bring into check day school tuition.  With your help, we can drive up enrollment, bring down tuition to the benefit of our current parents, and ensure that our children will be able to send their children to TanenbaumCHAT too.

I was part of a fascinating exchange with some parents and one of our teachers, Dr. Matt Reingold, a few weeks ago that impressed upon me an important insight about Jewish education.

It was the fourth week of Scholars Circle, and Dr. Reingold, a TCW Jewish history teacher, was teaching about two morally problematic events in the State of Israel’s formative history:  Tochnit Dalet and Deir Yassin.  The parents debated whether or not the less flattering side of Israel’s history should be taught to our high school students.  The majority agreed with Dr. Reingold that they should; if we do not teach a fulsome history of the State of Israel, someone, far less sympathetic, will do so.  It’s preferable that our students learn about the nuances and foibles of Israel’s history in the walls of TanenbaumCHAT where the point of doing so is to better Israel and not batter Israel, than in a hostile university environment where facts may be distorted and de-contextualized.

One of the parents then asked: “Why wasn’t my child taught this earlier in day school?  If it’s so important that students embrace a realistic Israel, and not a mythic or just a heroic Israel, why are they not taught these subjects in middle school?”  Dr. Reingold appropriately responded that these complex topics require a degree of sophistication that elementary school students simply don’t possess.

Then, it occurred to me that Dr. Reingold’s response is true about most real issues in Judaism and life.  An elementary Jewish day school education provides a solid foundation, but, frankly, much of Judaism is “R” rated, that is, it takes a certain maturity to understand.  Students who end their Jewish education after bar or bat mitzvah or when they graduate an elementary Jewish day school are left with quite a simplistic, appropriately G-rated or PG-13, understanding of Judaism.  Their knowledge of western culture continues to develop in the high school years, but their knowledge of Jewish civilization remains arrested at a pre-adolescent level.

Joel Grishaver, a liberal Jewish educator in California, put it this way in an article he wrote about Jewish day high school education:

The Judaism I am interested in teaching is a lot more like rocket science than it is like being a Cubs fan (read: Blue Jays!).  For me, Judaism is a lifelong study, the careful mastery of the paradigms that help you become a better, and then an even better, person.  It is the endless climb to get closer and closer to God.  It is the constant reconsideration of a lot of books and knowledge and ideas.  Cubs fans can learn statistics, can amass a wealth of information and insight, but essentially all you need to know is how to be loyal and, in fact, enthusiastic.

The renowned developmental psychologist Jean Piaget taught that it is not until adolescence that children gain the ability to think about abstract concepts and logically test hypotheses.  This is precisely the stage when they can comprehend the patterns and flow of Jewish history and the deeper ideas of the Torah, the spiritual symbolism of the lifecycle and holiday rituals and the Jewish ethical principles that compete within one another in real life situations.

Children who continue their education at TanenbaumCHAT are constructing their Jewish identity in a context where they will encounter the real questions of life and begin to discover real answers.  To use Joel Grishaver’s metaphor, TanenbaumCHAT is a place where they will learn “rocket science” and not simply be enthusiasts of Judaism, important as that certainly is.  It is a place where we ensure students’ knowledge of their Jewish roots develops on an adult level because most of the important issues that they will face are likely “R-rated.”

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