Thursday, September 9, 2010

Being a Jew in the U.S.--A View from my Father

This posting comes from my Father in regards to the closure of a Jewish Day School in the area of FL that my parents live. I am posting this because it is the Jewish New Year and really, the piece demonstrates the values of plurality and how it is to be a Jew living in the US as an integrated citizen holding a distinct tradition, culture and religion. With all of the politicization fo religion and discussion of integration v. isolation in the discourse already, I'd like to share this post and how it represents the values I was personally raised with -- how to be a good Jew living in a multicultural, open and free United States. It also demonstrates how to reflect, grow and change as a community. To not blindly follow the status quo but to truly consider alternate paths (for whatever issue anyone is tacking). The 21st century brings many challenges to humankind and navigating the religious and secular ways of our society has come into the forefront in the last few days. If anything, with this New Year, we should all be reflecting and considering different options for many different issues having to do with religion and civic life and to provoke thoughts to create a better future for all. Wishing everyone a happy, sweet and healthy 5771.

Jewish Day Schools – A Contrarian Viewpoint

I write this as a Conservative Jew, and as someone who served on his Temple Board for 15 years, including 6 as Chairman and 4 as chairman of the Ritual Committee. For me, there are so many things wrong with the whole concept of Conservative Jewish Day Schools that it is hard to know where to start and how to limit myself to a length appropriate to a letter to the editor. So let me ask the parents of day school students two
questions –Do you believe that all Jewish children should receive a good Jewish education? Or just yours? Do you believe as a Conservative Jew that we should live in society or apart from it?

I grew up in the New York City area before the development of Solomon Schecter Schools. We had a vibrant Talmud Torah [after-school Hebrew school[ taught by well educated and observant teachers and a community wide Hebrew High School. What I have seen over the last 40 years is the widespread decline of the Talmud Torah system. This seems to be due to four factors: Parents, students, teachers and demographics. Each of these factors is complex, and I have clearly oversimplified the issues. First, there are simply fewer children and how they are split between two systems. When it comes to teachers, the most qualified teachers have been skimmed off by the day school.

The parents who seem to care the most about Jewish education send their children to day schools. A large proportion of those who remain primarily care about getting to the Bar/Bat Mitzvah with a minimum amount of effort. They pressure the schools not to give homework, reduce class hours and generally make it easier to get through. The constant threat being that they’ll take their children and their membership somewhere that expects less. So the pressure on the schools is to become less and less rigorous.

If that weren’t bad enough, the peer leadership has been stripped from the Talmud Torah. Those children who are motivated and would set a high standard for others are mostly in the day school. Jewish education becomes something that prevents children from doing other things, instead of being of value in and of itself.

As much as the Talmud Torah students are injured by this system, the day school students also lose out. They go through school without having to negotiate being a Jew in a secular world, without learning how to be different without feeling left out. We throw them into the deep end in 9th grade or in college without ever having taught them how to swim. Many will feel that their choice is between having no friends and abandoning what they’ve been taught. Is this the choice we want to give them? Should we be surprised at how many abandon observance and marry non-Jews?

As I see it, the competing systems of Day School and Talmud Torah are a detriment to the community. The demise of the PCJDS is unfortunate. However, before we jump back in to recreate what I see as a failed system, perhaps we should seriously consider alternatives that serve the whole community. Perhaps we should consider a consolidated Jewish educational system that serves all students, whether they chose to attend public schools for their secular education or not. Perhaps we should give up on the model where every Temple has its own school. Whatever we do, let us not squander this opportunity by blindly following the model of the past. 
-  Dr. Ronald S. Leight

No comments:

Post a Comment