Most of what we learn in our early years is through observation. We watch people walk, and with some help we learn to walk. We listen to people speak, and we begin speaking.

When I think about centuries of people keeping kosher homes, it was not the product of formal learning. Most of the people entrusted with that sacred task were probably unable to read any of the halakhic literature, if it was even available. They learned by spending time watching and participating in meal preparation and cleanup, and with a little guidance, they learned to keep kosher kitchens.

When it comes to living rich Jewish lives, much of that has been lost in the past few generations. Families in which both parents work are the norm, and they work long and hard hours. Even in homes with rich Jewish lives, between homework, clubs, soccer, ballet, and the ubiquitous screens used as babysitters, the mimetic learning which was once such a powerful experience has faded. Add to that the increasingly porous boundaries of Jewish communities, which once played such a significant role in the fabric of Jewish life, Jewish educators and schools rose to the challenge, taking on increasing roles in providing rich, Jewish, living experiences.

This requires significant investment of time and resources, and opens up an entire host of challenges. How do we create authentic Jewish living experiences in school, when authentic living happens outside of school? How do we bridge between what happens in school and what happens—or doesn’t happen—at home? How do schools create authentic Jewish living experiences for a student body which is diverse, both in terms of level of observance at home and multiple traditions which exist in heterogeneous communities? One educator I spoke with recently described the challenge of teaching about hagim in a school with students from homes which were Modern Orthodox and Conservative, Yeshivish and Hasidic, Moroccan, Yemenite, Syrian, and Iranian—all of whose practices are dramatically different from one another.

Even some of the most basic points of commonality present challenges. Take, for example, parashat hashavua. Discussion of the parashah in one form or another is one of the most widespread regular Jewish practices—whether in shul, in school, at the Shabbat table, or even in Jewish newspapers. And yet, few schools have a well-developed program to ensure that students engage the parashah systematically and educationally.

The articles in this issue of Jewish Educational Leadership address the topic of Jewish life in and out of schools from a multiplicity of perspectives. They are both practical and thoughtful. We hope that they inspire new thinking and will contribute to your schools, your students, and the communities you serve.




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