Conversations (7)

Hello, potential friends.


is My question irelated to a project I'm working on: To your knowledge, is antisemitism a problem in middle-school grades?


Thank you very much.

Chana-Rochel Eller

Antisemitism is seen in a variety of forms in the UK - subtle and not so subtle. Motifs that resonate with the Holocaust and myths that have their roots in medieval antisemitism still persist and often appear quite blatantly.


So I guess I would advocate strongly for Jewish education to invest in building into schools' curriculum content, a carefully constructed programme that seeks to help it's students  recognise and respond to antisemitic signals - and begin quite early on ( albeit with due care ). We cannot shy away from the reality nor shield our kids from it.


Moreover this learning ( appropriated) should stretch beyond Jewish education to the wider school system. Our universities are fertile ground for overt antisemitism and so by this stage Jewish students need to be operating in an informed way - on how antisemitic ideas have developed, how they are packaged, how they might respond and how and when to draw upon organisations and structures which are in place to protect individuals.  Far from young Jews seeing themselves as targets for victimhood in this process, a carefully constructed learning programme for Jewish schools that seeks to do this while inculcating empowerment and agency challenging as it will be should not be beyond the realms of possibility ( I hope).


After all it is not 'being Jewish' that causes anti semitism but the 'issues' or ignorance of those who perpetrate it. Yet bizarrely sometimes a false inference emerges that implies that there maybe something about  'Jewishness' that brings about this antipathy in people.


I remember that a year or two ago a question appeared on an A Level Religious Studies (Judaism) paper that caused a major row in the British education circles. The question was something like ' Explain briefly why some people are prejudiced against Jews'.  That question, particular on a paper about Judaism ( as opposed to another subject ) suggested for some that by studying Jewish people, Jewish life, customs and religion ( the content of the syllabus being examined), one might be able to discover (and explain) just why prejudice towards Jews occurs. This was, I hasten to add, far from the exam board's intentions but many were left deeply concerned about the lack of awareness that the questions could be construed in this way. This question appearing on an national exam board paper might reinforce for Jewish and non Jewish students a deeply problematic falsity that antisemitism is inevitable.


I see some problems with inclusivity of antisemitism under a wider 'racism ' agenda, and I am not totally convinced that visits to Holocaust killing sites forges long term Jewish collectiveness. But I'll save these worries for another post once I have tried to get my head around them.

I really appreciate that all of the panelists are honing in on educational travel as a key factor for creating connections between diverse Jewish communities - but I wonder how similar modalities can be applied in a local context? 


If we agree that the immersive experience of tourism allows the learner to understand themselves in relation to an other (real or imagined), could similar local immersive experiences achieve the same results without the expenditure of resources that it takes to send people halfway around the world?


I also know that these sorts of experiences have been examined in depth through the theoretical lenses developed by sociologists of toursim - but I also think that theories of situated learning are relevant. Lave and Wanger's work on Legitimate Peripheral Participation (how "newcomers" learn to be a part of a community of practice through interaction/work with "old timers") and Holland et. al.'s work on Figured Worlds (how people reframe their identity in relation to their social environment) both speak to the learning processes that are going on when learners find themselves in a new or different situation. 

Another component I'm thinking about as an addendum to the immersive experience is the post-trip (dare I say, follow up) expectation. In my work, we're hoping to build on the experience back home. The question is how to continue the connection among the cohort and with the communities abroad in a meaningful way?

We’re very excited to be engaging a great cast this week in a discussion about Jewish early childhood education.


Some evaluation research in this sector points to the promise of quality Jewish ECE initiatives to promote engagement of low and marginally-affiliated families with the Jewish community (For example:  the 2002 study of preschools in Baltimore, Chicago and Denver, the 2006 Map of the Field of Jewish ECE in Denver and Boulder, the 2014 program evaluation of the Jewish Resource Specialist program in the Bay Area which was part of a larger initiative called ECEI, and the 2013  program evaluation of the Joyfully Jewish initiative in Chicago).


This is a good start, but we need more systematic and robust study to make claims about what works, for whom, and how —  and, more importantly, to bring improvements to practice and philanthropic investment.


So,  I would like to kick off the conversation with a framing question: From where you sit and based on your experience in the field,  in what ways, and to what extent, is Jewish ECE serving as a gateway into broader and deeper Jewish engagement and/or education, particularly among those who enter the system 'less engaged, connected or involved'? What would we need to know in order to determine how could Jewish ECE facilitate this kind of engagement role more effectively?

We have solid research to substantiate that families with young children are actively looking for friendships, support, information and connection to community at this stage in their lives.  And it pays for the Jewish community to be there for families - when they are creating patterns, setting routines and building relationships with families and institutions –many of which will last and influence the choices they will be making throughout their lives.

 

Yet the extent to which we are successful in “hooking” them depends a lot on our intent and execution while they are in our early childhood programs and the offerings we have for families when they transition out.

 

First, I can think of 5 ways – I’m sure there are others - in which ECE serves as a gateway to broader engagement:

1)    Through age appropriate and joy-filled Jewish learning that goes on in the classroom that prompts children to go home and open a conversation about G-d or mitzvot or to use the ritual object they made in the classroom. It is not at all surprising to me that one of the most frequently cited outcomes of ECE programs is that families are celebrating Shabbat or holidays in a new or enhanced way.  In my home, our observance of Shabbat increased from a monthly or “whenever it was convenient” approach to a weekly one as our then 4-year old came home one Friday and said “Mommy, Shabbat is actually every week” followed up with  “So….aren’t we going to do it tonight?”  It was clear that Shabbat had become meaningful and joyful to him….and he wanted to continue to share it with us.  What parent can say no to that?!


2)    The extent to which the ECE Director and teachers see it as part of their jobs to encourage social connections and build community among parents.  This can be a challenge, particularly in full day programs when parents are often rushing to drop-off to get to work and pick up after a long day, but perhaps even more important that these relationships are forged, so families feel supported and connected during these early years.  We know that the number of Jewish friends correlates with Jewish choices families make later on – but this requires community building to be as central to the school’s mission as what is happening in the classrooms.  (As an aside, the “sense of community” is often what we often hear as a distinguishing feature of Jewish preschools – we need to be great at this…and market it.  It we are looking for a competitive edge in the ever crowded early childhood market, this is one area we can absolutely win.)


3)    The extent to which Directors and other organizational leadership identify themselves and make themselves available as (Jewish) role models for parents and children.  Are Directors welcoming parents in the lobby each morning during drop off? Are they available for advice and consultation on parenting issues? Do rabbis or other Jewish leaders invite school families regularly for coffee, as Shabbat guests or attend preschool graduation ceremonies?  For some families, being in an ECE program is the first time they’ve had exposure and access to Jewish leadership – what are we doing to maximize that opportunity?


4)    The way that schools actively encourage and invite participation in the larger community – whether it be a synagogue, community center or broader Jewish community at large. I loved hearing that two synagogue-based EC centers in Chicago recently voted to extend synagogue membership to all EC families. To do this right, individual ECE centers must be able to see that any ongoing connection to the Jewish community is a “win” – and actively market the offerings of other Jewish organizations’ activities to their families.


5)    The way we help families connect to the next step when they leave our schools.  How well are day schools, congregational schools, Jewish camps, etc. marketed to preschool families? Who is taking responsibility for making sure these families stay in the pipeline? The community at large has a role to play here. Locally, participation in community wide programs such as PJ Library, JUF Right Start and others, families remain connected to the broader Jewish community which can help them learn about and transition to next steps.

 

In terms of what we’d need to know to facilitate this engagement better – we need to stay on top of both the demand and supply sides of the equation.  What are families looking for as they age out of our ECE programs, and in particular, how can Judaism and the Jewish community play a role in meeting these needs?  Secondly, what exists in our communities – or needs to be created -  that matches up with their needs and interests? And what barriers need to be addressed to make sure families can access these offerings? Time and time again, I think we have seen that the interest among families in connecting with the Jewish community is strong.   But a close look at our offerings – ensuring they are high quality, accessible, welcoming, relevant and integrated with the ways families are living their everyday lives – is key to ensuring that they want to stay connected.  The howto keep them connected becomes much easier when the offerings themselves are attractive, relevant, meaningful and accessible.

Is enough being done to tie the Jewish camp experience - to Jewish experience & learning all year round? (schools, Synagogues, JCCs, Youth movment & groups?

Jewish educators argue about many things; check out this past CASJE blogcast if you don’t believe me. There's one thing, though, about which they seem to agree: Jewish camp is peculiarly effective as a vehicle for Jewish education and engagement. It seems that there’s a kind of magic at camp that leaves a lasting influence on the Jewish lives of most former campers. There are few forms of educational experience that are so impactful and that are remembered so warmly.

 

This week I’m joined by a crackerjack “cast” to help make sense of that magic. Ultimately, I’m hoping that this group will think about how we transform Jewish camps into laboratories of practice from/in which all Jewish educators can learn to perform their magic, whatever institutions they lead.

 

To get the ball rolling, I want to ask the cast what the magic of camp looks like. How do you know it when you see it? What would you point to as evidence of the magic?