You may have heard that starting September 2017, we’ll be offering Grade 12 students electives in Jewish Studies. Our four-year core curriculum will be reduced to three, and in Grade 12 students will no longer be required to take Hebrew, Tanach, Rabbinics, and Jewish History. Rather, they will be permitted to choose any combination of four Jewish Studies courses.
Some stakeholders who have heard this new policy say that we’re diluting the Jewish Studies program. I look at it differently.
My vision for a vibrant Jewish school community is one that is filled with students who possess deeper subject knowledge in one area or another of Jewish literacy or life. Students have different affinities, strengths, and aspirations. Some students love Ivrit and strive to speak and read and write like native Israelis. Others love Talmud and view it as the core text that guides their lives. Some seek a home in the lessons of the Tanach; others find their Jewish identity strengthened through Jewish History.
My vision for a vibrant school community mirrors my vision for a vibrant Jewish community. Some Jews excel at chesed, service to the needy, or outreach to Jews on the periphery of the community. Others stand out in their commitment to Torah study or in building a shabbat observant community. Some are courageous spokespeople on behalf of Israel. Others are active in synagogue life and connect to Judaism through prayer. No single person can perform all 613 mitzvot in the Torah; we fulfill them as a community.
One of the beautiful things about TanenbaumCHAT is that students come from different backgrounds and with different commitments, and yet we manage to study under the roof of one giant beit midrash. I celebrate that diversity and want to encourage it.
TanenbaumCHAT’s strength is that we’re an incubator of a vision where the typical silos that divide the Jewish community come down. Students at our school encounter Jews who are not like them and where we embrace and celebrate the discomfort of those differences. Imagine a Jewish world that mirrored the large tent of TanenbaumCHAT.
My vision is to foster a pluralism of substance where students learn that the Jewish world is enriched by all types of Jews. I want them to see that each movement contributed and contributes something important to Jewish life. If it weren’t for the Orthodox Movement, for example, there would be no day schools; without the Reform Movement, no youth groups; without the Conservative Movement, no Jewish camps; without the Reconstructionist Movement, no notion of the synagogue as a beit kenesset, not just a beit tefilla.
I want students to understand that the State of Israel might not have been established had it not been for secular Jews and it might not have been a Jewish State had it not been for religious Jews.
I want students to realize that the more ports of entry we create, the greater the likelihood that Jews will find a home in Judaism. I want them to find their unique voice and contribution to the Jewish community.
It is this vision that is driving the changes we are making in Jewish Studies. That is why we are giving students the opportunity to delve deeply into a subject area about which they are passionate. Let them take two or three Ivrit classes or two or three Jewish history classes. Let them find their voice and home in Jewish civilization and in our sacred family.
In an age where we are trying to nurture critical and innovative thinking, we need to offer a wider breadth and depth of courses to enable students to deepen their roots in their Jewish heritage and in the Jewish community. The elective policy doesn’t signal the advent of a diluted Judaism, but the aspiration towards a more vibrant one.