Pausing For Gratitude As A Chapter Begins to Close

[Reprinted by request from our final Constant Contact to Schechter stakeholders.]

Dear Friends,

The emails and updates are coming fast and furious and are coming more and more from OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANewOrg and less and less from us as the transition from what was to what will be grows closer each day.  Critical information about “Membership”, “Conference”, “Fee For Service”, “Staffing”, etc. – the stuff you really need to know in order to better understand your engagement with NewOrg next year and beyond is finally making its way to the field.  And not a moment too soon (and maybe a few moments too late) considering our earliest schools are already beginning to close for the summer.

I am incredibly proud of the work our staff and lay leaders have done over the last six months along with our colleagues from the other legacy organizations to get to this point.  There is clearly much more to do and to come.  Here at Schechter, we will continue through June pushing out information and being available to answer questions and concerns.  I will also be publishing closing blog posts where I have more space to be expansive about what I think these last three years have meant.

But now, I prefer to pause for gratitude.

Without going into the laundry list here, I will simply say that what we have accomplished together during our brief run as an independent network of amazing schools is almost inconceivable.  And it didn’t happen by accident.

It took the vision of Dr. Steven Lorch, Rabbi Jim Rogozen, Jane Taubenfeld Cohen, Dr. Susan Kardos, Rabbi Shelly Dorph and Dr. Elaine Cohen.

It took the leadership of Dara Yanowitz and our founding (and closing) Board of Trustees.

It took the wisdom and advice of our Professional Advisory Board.

It took the partnership of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, Camp Ramah, USY, and the American Jewish University.

It took the generous capacity building support from the AVI CHAI Foundation and an anonymous foundation to launch us, and the programmatic support of the AVI CHAI Foundation, the Alan B.  Slifka Foundation, Crown Family Philanthropies, and Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah to help us soar.

It took the excellence, the openness, the hospitality, the candor and the magic of our schools.

But more than anything else?  It took the blood, sweat and tears of our staff.

Our Associate Director Ilisa Cappell, who essentially ran Schechter as “Acting Director” our first year, was the only partner I could ever have imagined going on this journey with.  I have never worked with anyone who complemented me better and who I should have complimented more.  Hiring Ilisa was the best thing I did as Executive Director.

Followed very closely by the hiring of everyone else!  Pearl Mattenson has provided us with wisdom and warmth.  No one is more aptly named than “Pearl”.  Working with her has taught me more than most of my graduate school classes.

Alisha Goodman inherited an organization with no Business Manager, HR Manager, or Development Director and she has managed to wear all those hats and more with tireless effort and dedication.  Her speed at Excel spreadsheeting is only surpassed by her wit.

Andrea Hernandez and Silvia Tolisano are probably more responsible for my career than anyone!  Our work together as school leaders forever changed my beliefs about Jewish education and to be able to continue the work together at Schechter and beyond remains a daily joy.

And of course there is Doree Greenfield who stepped into our most transitory position and very quickly mastered not only the work, but the relationships.  She has been invaluable during her tenure at Schechter.

the-futureWe don’t know exactly what or who the future will bring.  But we know what the past and present has meant.  On behalf of the staff and the board of the Schechter Day School Network, let me thank all our stakeholders one last time and to be clear that we are not saying shalom, but l’hitraot.

This is not goodbye…because we will see you later.

What Exactly Is A Schechter Education Anyway?

One of the clearest goals that I set for myself when becoming Executive Director was to visit each of our full members by the end of my second year.  I had no way of knowing, of course, that the end of my second year would also be the end of my last year.  These visits have surely been the highlight of my brief tenure.  They have also been deeply clarifying in our thinking about what Schechter really is…a question that only grows more important as we look forward to a new future within a NewOrg.

wrote at quite some length a few weeks back about how Schechter’s (r)evolution these last few years matches up nicely with the thought process which led to NewOrg.  In that post, I wrote explicitly why I thought that the creation of NewOrg represented a “win-win” not only for Schechter, but for Conservative Judaism.  What I only touched upon, but want to go deeper on here is the question of what makes Schechter “Schechter”.  This isn’t an academic question.  However permeable the boundaries, in order for Schechter to live and breathe within NewOrg; in order for the larger Jewish community to make sense of the different kinds of schools; in order for schools themselves to know who they are and why, now seems like the perfect time to have the conversation.

A Philosophy of Definition

When one seeks to define something, one wants the definition to state the necessary and sufficient conditions for that thing (Dorff, 1970).  One has stated the sufficient conditions when anything that fits the definition is included; and one has stated the necessary conditions when everything in one’s definition is required (i.e. when nothing extra is demanded).  For example, to define a table as a flat surface would be necessary (a table must have a flat service), but not sufficient (there are other flat surfaces).  Most things do not lend themselves to such definition.  And if it is difficult to define clearly what a “table” is, how much the harder to define a particular kind of Jewish day school experience.  To put it another way, in order to precisely define Schechter, one would have to ask, “What are the necessary and sufficient conditions to be a Schechter school?”

I could try to list out the necessary and sufficient conditions, but inevitably I would soon be faced with challenges to both kinds of conditions.  For example, if a condition of a Schechter school was that forty percent of the day is dedicated to Jewish Studies (a commonly identified Schechter condition), it would neither be necessary (there are Schechter schools who spend both less and more time of their day in Jewish Studies) nor sufficient (there are other kinds of Jewish day schools who spend forty percent of the day in Jewish Studies).  Even something like, a Schechter school has a Conservative rabbi who serves as its religious authority, is a condition that is neither necessary (there are Schechter schools with other religious authority models) nor sufficient (there are are other kinds of Jewish day schools who may have a Conservative rabbi as its religious authority).

Ludwig Wittgenstein, a twentieth century philosopher, suggested that when we define something we “often state the ‘family characteristics,’ as it were, either because we cannot do any more than that, or because that is all we want or need to know in the first place” (Dorff).  Even though there are other objects that have four legs and a flat surface, we know that both “four-leggedness” and “flatness” are critical family characteristics of “tables”.  We know that certain things are true of virtually all the members of the family, but others are true of some and some of others.  And, like all families, some members are more closely related to others.

The Schechter Family

I can report firsthand that there is indeed a “Schechter Family” of Jewish day schools in North America.  I can (and will) state clearly what I believe the characteristics that make Schechter “Schechter”.  I can also report that there are characteristics that not all Schechter schools share while still being part of the “family”.  There are also characteristics that Schechter schools share with other families of Jewish day schools.  Ours is a diverse family, but a family nonetheless.

Here are what I believe to be the family characteristics of Schechter in no particular order:

  • Progressive approach to education
  • Innovative, future-forward, pioneering of 21st century pedagogies
  • Serious and rigorous Jewish studies
  • Hebrew as a living, breathing language
  • Jewish experiences derived from or informed by Conservative Judaism
  • Egalitarian
  • Inclusive of children with special needs (where adequate resources exist)
  • Inclusive of LGBT students, families and faculty
  • Educating the whole child
  • Differentiated and personalized learning
  • Interactive curriculum
  • Best practices across both Jewish and General Studies instruction
  • Zionist
  • Sound governance
  • Schools of and for the communities they exist to serve
  • Dedicated to faculty growth

Family Ties

You can quibble with my choices.  There is no perfect way of doing this.  There are examples of Schechter schools who lack or who have different characteristics, but I will argue that (only) the majority of Schechter schools have a sufficient majority of these characteristics to declare them related.

But that’s me!

I invite you to share your perspective as well.  Specifically, I would love to hear your answers to these questions:

  1. What would you add to the list of characteristics of the Schechter family?
  2. What does it mean to your school to be part of a Schechter family?

As NewOrg prepares to roll out membership information to the field, it is important that the Schechter family of schools sees how its family journey is entwined with the journey of the field.  By better defining what makes Schechter “Schechter”, we can help NewOrg orient its exciting array of programs, resources, staff, and assets to better meet the needs of our family.  Because however defined, this is a family of schools who will be building a new home in NewOrg.  This is a family of schools who knew themselves to be a family regardless of where the central office was located or who staffed it.  And this is a family poised to expand its definition of family.  This is a family of schools who have made significant contributions to bring us to the Jewish present and are poised to help lead us to a bright Jewish future.

A “Fifth Question” For NewOrg

question-mark-1000269-mIt has become a tradition for organizations to use the pedagogy of Passover to advocate for causes.  We can change customs (“The Four Children”), add customs (“Miriam’s Cup), or adjust customs.  One common adjustment is the addition of a “fifth question”.  In addition to the traditional “Four Questions” we add one to address important issues of the day.  You can go online and find a myriad of examples of “fifth questions” that deal with everything from hunger, drought, Israel, peace, etc., etc.  You can find a “fifth question” for every cause.  We did the same, here, at Schechter last year.

The confluence of the birth of NewOrg looming closer with the approach of Passover has me thinking about the generation who lived through the Exodus, particularly the enjoinment on us during this season to…

11 B'chol Dor Vador

The Haggadah instructs us that, “In every generation, each person must regard himself or herself as if he or she had come out of Egypt.”

This is not simply a way to better enjoy the experience of Passover through role-play…this is literal.  The Rabbis really wanted us to believe that we, too, experienced the Exodus.  Theologically, this is in line with the idea that we all stood together at Sinai and received Torah.  Again, not metaphorically, but truly.  We were there and that changes everything.

Admittedly I am about to make a clumsy analogy…

…I am surely in no way suggesting that our current organizations have enslaved the field and NewOrg represents a promised land we are all about to enter!


My “fifth question” for NewOrg is this: How can we inspire the field to believe that they, too, were part of NewOrg’s creation story?

I ask the question because I believe the second part of the analogy is powerful – being part of transformational change is more empowering than having transformational change happen to you.  And that changes everything.


As I am not an innocent bystander, I will offer a few thoughts…

I hope we (Schechter) did our best to share out with our schools what was happening when and why as transparently as events allowed.  I know we tried.

I hope we did our best to allow our schools to provide meaningful feedback before, during and after the organizational voting to ensure their needs will be met.  I know we tried.

I hope we have been accountable to schools since the news went public.  We have written about how we think this impacts Schechter and the field.  We have done a significant number of in-person briefings.  But we could always do better.


I know that we (NewOrg) are working hard to include as many voices as reasonably possible during this period of transition to get it as right as it can be for Year One.  Our staffs at all the legacy organizations are exerting extraordinary energy to finishing their current work with strength and dignity while beginning work on a future with great potential and promise.  But we could always do better.

My Passover wish for our current organizations, our schools, our field and our people is that because of the work we will do together in this generation, that future generations of Jewish day school leaders, donors, teachers, parents, and students will enthusiastically embrace the notion that they, too, were there when it happened.  Because that changed everything.


Wishing you a chag kasher v’sameach…

Purim is the Prescription for Pediatric Judaism

Gratuitous Throwback Purim Photo
Gratuitous Throwback Purim Photo

When we think about Purim as parents, we probably think most about this: “What shall I dress my children as this year for Purim?”

But in a hopefully growing number of families, including ours, the question isn’t what are we going to dress our children as for Purim.  In our family, we ask ourselves what are we going to dress as for Purim?

I would wager a bet that no more than 10-15% of families attending Purim services and/or carnivals this year will come in costume.  Why?

The phenomenon is often referred to as “pedicatric Judaism” and I find that Purim is its paradigmatic Jewish holiday.  I Googled “pediatric Judaism” to see who should get credit for its coinage and the best I could come up with was the following from a Reform Judaism Magazine article:

Why, then, the emphasis on what Rabbi Larry Hoffman, professor at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, calls “pediatric Judaism”? “We have planned for our children only,” he wrote in 1996. “In our understandable anxiety to pass on Judaism as their heritage, we have neglected its spiritual resources for adults, leaving ourselves with no adequate notion of how we too might draw sustenance from our faith as we grow up and grow older.”

That sounds about right.

Far too often, even those who are the most engaged – the ones who do affiliate with synagogues and do try to provide their children with Jewish educational experiences – they work to ensure their children experience and participate, but neglect to include themselves.

When as a graduate student in Los Angeles, I first attended a synagogue in which adults participated in Jewish holiday celebrations as adults – active, joyous and engaged – it was almost surreal.  This was not a Judaism for children – costume contests, parades, pony rides and candy (although that may all have been there as well) – but a Judaism that adults took seriously for themselves.  They were not lining the walls watching the children within; they were celebrating the joy of being Jewish for themselves.

What’s the danger of “pediatric Judaism”?  For me it is the perpetuation of the idea that being Jewish, or perhaps more accurately doing Jewish, is something that is only for children.  We are our children’s most powerful role models and teachers and they are surely paying attention.  When they can see that we take something seriously, it is a signal to them that they ought to as well.  Children learn how to be an adult by watching our adult behaviors.  We understand this as parents and so we think carefully about how we behave in front of our children, what kind of language we use, and what kind of values we express and try to live by.  So, too, it is with being a Jewish adult.  Our children are looking to us to see what adult Jews do and it presents us with a big opportunity and a huge responsibility.

I don’t wish to pile on parents.  Jewish schools and institutions play a part as well.  If Rabbi Hoffman is correct that adult Jews do not see in Judaism a resource to find their spiritual needs met, we have to be willing to ask the difficult question of why?  What programs, classes, experiences, outreach, etc., have we not successfully offered or facilitated that have led to this situation?

We will all need to do more if we are ever to cure ourselves of pediatric Judaism.  In our schools and our synagogues, we need to reach out to parents and provide them with the support, education, experiences and love they will need to find the courage to try on new ideas and behaviors.  We will need to present a Judaism worthy of the education and sophistication of our parents.  Luckily, Judaism contains within it all that and more.

So this year…what are you going to be for Purim?  Don’t let your children have all the fun…and don’t let them think that the fun of Purim is only for them!

The Inclusive Jewish Day School

jdaim_hires1People who know our family know that since we moved to Florida six years ago, we will take any opportunity to maximize our proximity to Disney.  So it should be no surprise that with a daughter’s birthday nearly conflated with a three-day weekend, that I found myself in line for Space Mountain yesterday people-watching with my ten year-old.  A few families ahead of us was a tween who exhibited a variety of tics, both physical and auditory, who, thanks to the 50-minute wait, attracted his fair share of glances both furtive and obvious.  I observed my daughter and watched her split her gaze between the tween and the watchers and felt myself grow tense as I wondered what she was thinking, what she might say and whether I had prepared her for encountering difference with grace and acceptance.

But beyond the living parenting litmus test the situation created, the question shifted as it often does for me from the personal to the professional and I wondered if this tween had been a student in a school I had headed, would he have felt safe, appreciated, loved and, perhaps most importantly, included?

It made me ask myself, as a leader of schools, “Are we providing our schools with the resources and support they need to tackle issues of difference in ways that accord with our highest Jewish values?”

I am not sure that we are.

And sadly, as a number of articles that have come out in response to this being Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month, a significant number of parents and organizations would agree.

We recognize that Schechter schools, Jewish day schools, private schools, etc., are not always capable of handling each and every situation appropriately.  We are not always the “best educational setting” for each Jewish child of difference, disability or with special needs.


We also recognize that if our starting point was “how can we make this work for this child and our school” instead of “here are all the reasons why this cannot work” that a lot more Jewish children and their families would be included.  Our philosophical and moral starting point must be that difference or disability ought not preclude a Jewish day school education for those who wish it.  And then a conversation about how can begin…


This Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month, let us declare that our schools have a passion for meeting the needs of all Jewish children because we recognize that each child has “special” needs.  That to truly believe that each is made in God’s image requires that we apply the filter of inclusivity whenever possible.  And each time our resources prevent one Jewish family from joining our Jewish day school family, let us be resolved to secure the resources so that not one more family share a similar fate.

The Biggest Tent: A NewOrg For A New Schechter

[This is an unusually long post – even for me – I hope you stay with me to the end.]

If you read this blog (and thank you if you do!) then you know that we officially made public that which we had spent the better part of a year or so working so hard in private to make true…


My board chair uses a yiddish expression to describe the journey Schechter has been on since our recent rebirth and it translates essentially to “riding two horses with one tuchus“. The metaphor probably explains both why the direction of the Schechter Day School Network has occasionally appeared helter-skelter and why our rumps are sore from travel.

[Rim shot.]

the-futureHowever jarring it might seem from the outside to witness the transition from the Solomon Schechter Day School Association to the Schechter Day School Network to NewOrg over the course of just three years, the truth is that the story of Schechter and many of its schools is the story of NewOrg and that is why I am confident and enthusiastic that NewOrg is a game changer for Schechter and for the field.

Let me state clearly that each organization has its own unique story leading up to this moment. In the here and now, as the leader of Schechter, it is only my place to share our story.

The story of Schechter over the last couple of years is a story of renewal, reconnection, reintroduction and rebirth.  I have visited over thirty-five Schechter schools in the last eighteen months and I can testify that the state of our union is strong.  There is unequivocally a thing called “Schechter” that includes, but is not limited to, both a clear educational philosophy and a strong sense of Jewish mission and vision.  There are broadly shared assumptions about standards, innovation, excellence, rigor, integration, Zionism, Hebrew language acquisition, centrality of prayer, and much more which simply cannot be reduced to policy or schedule or a prayerbook.  There are relationships with Conservative Judaism that include synagogues (USCJ), camp (Ramah), youth movements USY), and academia (JTS and AJU) and our schools have a multivalent relationship with the movement that is not a weakness of either, but a strength of both.

The story of Schechter is that of a big tent where Schechter schools share an overwhelming majority of critical characteristics that taken together clearly identify them as “Schechter” while preserving sufficient room for schools to be who they are in an ever-changing, ever-more-blurry Jewish world.  I blogged at length early in our rebirth about how all Schechter schools (really all Jewish day schools) are by some definition “community schools” and I revisit that notion here only to suggest that among many catalysts and forces that led to NewOrg, one that I believe is deserving of inclusion is the reemergence of Schechter as a vital force in the field.  Our work helped clarify that some boundaries are more permeable than others; that some lines had grown more blurry than others and that the future of Schechter and the field would require a healthy re-imagination of that adjacent possible.


And that brings us to NewOrg.

NewOrg makes possible for Jewish day schools what the current constellation of organizations could not – the ability to be defined across a multiplicity of domains and the opportunity to be resourced as such.  Schools will no longer be reduced to one definition as a result of politics or size or religious affiliation or cost.  NewOrg is the promise of personalized organizational support equal to that which our leaders and teachers require and our students deserve.  If you are a Schechter school by virtue of your Jewish mission and vision, a community school by virtue of your pluralistic enrollment, Hebrew immersed by virtue of your approach to second-language acquisition, Zionist by virtue of the centrality of Israel, “21st century” by virtue of your beliefs about innovation and educational technology, fiscally safeguarded by virtue of your endowment programs, etc., etc., etc., then your school will engage with NewOrg along and across all these dimensions with the people and resources  necessary to be the most successful version of your authentic self.

That’s why we believe this is a huge “win-win” and a gigantic “yes, and” for Schechter.

It is also why we believe this is a huge win for Conservative Judaism.

I’ll have more to say about this in upcoming posts, but for now let us be clear that the opportunities NewOrg presents are not only about what Schechter schools get, but what Schechter has to offer the field.  It makes it possible for the vision for Jewish day school that makes Schechter “Schechter” accessible to other schools who resemble Schechter schools in myriad ways.  There are Schechter schools whose Jewish mission and vision are either determined or informed by normative Conservative Jewish beliefs and practices. But there are a significant number of other schools whose centrist Jewish mission and vision mirror Conservative Jewish beliefs and practices.  NewOrg will provide those schools access to Schechter expertise and resources proven successful in a centrist Jewish context.  So not only is Schechter’s influence not reduced by NewOrg, we believe it is significantly enhanced, and with it the ability to share in the education of thousands upon thousands of Conservative Jewish children who attend other day schools.


NewOrg does not resolve each issue nor solve each problem facing Schechter or the field. Not even close.  Affordability, relevance, and excellence are just three categories of work NewOrg will need to address in bold new ways to fulfill its promise.   There remains many questions unanswered and an accelerated transition process during which to answer them. Not to mention our guarantee to the commitments of the here and now.  Our accountability to our schools and our programs remains as we navigate the path from here to there.  


The story of the Schechter Day School Network may not turn out to be the longest chapter in Schechter’s narrative, in fact, it is likely to be its shortest.  But we believe wholeheartedly that it will go down as amongst its most impactful and historic.  The narrative of Schechter will now be interwoven with the narratives of our sister organizations and of NewOrg itself.  We pray that together we will write a new and powerful chapter for our children, our communities, and our people.

Praying With Your Legs in 2016: What JDS Can Learn From Killer Mike

I have a pretty extravagant lunch routine…

…I will typically grab a yogurt and spend a little “me time” on the web catching up on the late-night TV antics that I am no longer old enough to stay up to watch.

Pretty crazy, I know.

Very rarely do I see anything that inspires any kind of reaction; never have I watched something that inspired me to write professionally.  And I can assure you that I was not anticipating an interview with Killer Mike could be such a catalyst.

And yet…

I thought there were two remarkable takeaways from this worth sharing…

The first was Killer Mike’s claim that Bernie Sanders is the spiritual heir to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s message of social justice.

You can leave your aesthetic sensibilities of Killer Mike’s work as an artist and your political views of Bernie Sander’s work as a public servant in someone else’s comments.  I am not here to advocate for either.  What struck me is essentially this:

Photo: Library of Congress
Photo: Library of Congress


David Goldman/AP Photo
David Goldman/AP Photo

Again, please.  I am not suggesting that Bernie Sanders is Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel any more than I would be suggesting that Killer Mike is Martin Luther King, Jr.

But I would be lying if I didn’t say that my very first thought when listening to this younger, African-American, hip-hop artist and social justice advocate talk about this older, Jewish, public servant and social justice advocate wasn’t a reminder of how inextricably linked the Jewish and African-American communities were during the civil rights era and whether this unlikely duo represents an anomaly or a harbinger.

I have written and others have written better about that historical and current relationship.  As we head into yet another MLK Day, perhaps we can be reminded once again of our “shared dreams” and inspired to bring them a day closer to realization.


The second takeaway – and the one that has more applicability to Jewish day school – is Killer Mike’s proscription for how to best support underserved communities.  He lays out a vision of empathy which can only be achieved through relationship.  This requires us to leave our comfort zones and engage with the wider world.  In Killer Mike’s context he is talking essentially about white, middle-class folk, but in it I heard echoes of a common concern families have about the ghettoization of Jewish day schools, their lack of racial diversity and the impact it has on children who will need to live, work and contribute to a multicultural world.

Almost a year ago, I wrote about Ferguson, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner, and my struggle to decide if I had what to say.

Saying nothing at all doesn’t feel right either.  To say nothing would suggest that I have no stake in this issue, that it neither impacts me nor is incumbent upon me to participate in. Even, if I am unclear as to what “participation” ought to be.  As a citizen and as an educator, I do have a stake, I am impacted and I believe it is incumbent upon me to participate.  And I will, like many others, have to struggle to figure out what participation looks like because I am unwilling to remain forever a bystander.  Are we our brother’s keeper?  What does that keeping look like today?

And that was long before Cleveland, Charleston, and Chicago and the rest…

Killer Mike provides one path of participation.  Many of our schools have relationships with underserved schools where tutoring, mentoring, supplies, books, etc., are shared. Many of our schools have social justice programs where they take what they are learning in the walls of their buildings and go out into the world to make a difference.  These are wonderful initiatives to be sure.  However, if economic inequality is the issue of today (even if we cannot agree on what to do about it), we can and should do more. Furthermore, if we want our schools and our children to really matter to black (and brown and impoverished) lives in our communities, we will need to do more than engage in hashtag activism.  We need to engage with people.


Add one.

As we prepare to commemorate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., let’s get curious about what our networks, organizations and schools are doing to really engage with others.  I challenge schools – and other thought-leaders – to share links to programs or ideas in the comment section or on social media.  I welcome your feedback, ideas, curiosity and contributions.

How to Support Israel When Israel Doesn’t Support You

Israeli flag in the windOur Friday morning breakfast conversation was a little bit different than normal this morning thanks to our guest, Talia, a teacher from our school’s sister school in Israel who is staying with us during this year’s Federation-sponsored exchange of teachers.  As she was preparing to spend the day and her visit at our Schechter school, the local Orthodox Jewish day school and each of the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox synagogues in our local Jewish community, she had lots of questions.  Our system of denominations, day schools and congregational schools is mostly a mystery to Talia.


Well maybe this article published on Wednesday from JTA helps explain:

Israel’s Ashkenazi chief rabbi, David Lau, criticized Education Minister Naftali Bennett for visiting a Conservative Jewish Solomon Schechter school [Manhattan] while in the United States.

On Wednesday, Lau told the haredi Kol Hai radio station that Bennett, chair of the religious Zionist Jewish Home party and a modern Orthodox Jew, should have conferred with an Orthodox rabbi about the visit. Lau called the Dec. 1 trip to the New York school “unacceptable.”

Commenting on his visit, Bennett tweeted, “What love of Israel, what love of Judaism.” As minister of religious services from 2013 to 2015, he advocated limited religious reform in Israel.

“To speak deliberately with a specific community and to recognize it and its path, when this path distances Jews from the path of the Jewish people, this is forbidden,” Lau said, according to the The Jerusalem Post. “If Minister Bennett would have asked my opinion before the visit, I would have said to him explicitly, ‘You cannot go somewhere where the education distances Jews from tradition, from the past, and from the future of the Jewish people.’”

[For an appropriate response on behalf of Conservative Judaism, you won’t do better than this statement from the Rabbinical Assembly.]

Now I realize that a visit to a different Schechter school, to a Reform Jewish day school or to a Community day school would surely have resulted in similar comments.  It speaks to much larger issues about the stranglehold Orthodoxy has over the Jewish State.  And it begs for me a very simple and sad question: “How do you support Israel when Israel doesn’t seem to support you?”

I just wrote a few weeks ago a blog post all about my love of Israel so I don’t think I need to restate it here…

And I wrote last year a blog post all about the importance of the World Zionist Organization and MERCAZ (an importance that these events makes all too clear) so I won’t restate it here…

…what I will state is the emotional challenge of caring deeply for Israel while acknowledging that, at least, the STATE of Israel (not the PEOPLE) not only doesn’t care, but seems outright hostile to everything I believe to be true and beautiful about Judaism.

Those of us who have responsibility for Jewish day schools in North America are frequently and rightfully challenged to do a better job of providing high-quality Israel education to our students, to better and more ably prepare them to be advocates for Israel on increasingly more divisive high school and college campuses and to facilitate their journey towards lifelong engagement and an enduring relationship with the Land, People and State of Israel.

Is it fair to ask that Israel do a better job acknowledging and respecting the positive contributions of all streams of Jewish life to Israel and to Jewish Peoplehood writ large?

The Storify of #edJEWcon Chicago

I know there are others, but until someone convinces me others, I’m sticking with Storify as my preferred method of documenting my learning from professional development conferences and experiences. I like how visual it is and I love how easy it is to preserve the links to all my learning.

We had a wonderful experience on Wednesday in Chicago and I am pleased to amplify the learning by inviting you into its story. I hope our learning inspires more learning, more reflection, and more sharing.


[If your browser isn’t letting you scroll through the whole thing, please follow this link.]