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 Silent Power of Chanukah

Why are these nights different than all other nights?

Photographed by Chayim B. Alevsky.
Photographed by Chayim B. Alevsky.

Wrong holiday, I know.

But there is actually something powerfully different about Chanukah that has much to teach us about the power of experiences and a pedagogy of meaning…

Chanukah is the only Jewish holiday without a sacred text of its own.  (There is a Book of Maccabees, but it is part of the Catholic Bible.)  Instead of a public reading, we are commanded to bear silent witness to the miracles of the season with a public doing – the lighting of candles in a window.

For me the pedagogical takeaway isn’t so much the “silence” as it is the “act”.  It is an action that anyone can take; it is not so ritualistically complex that only the most knowledgable amongst us can perform it.  It is an action performed publicly and in the home.  And it is an act through which the meaning can be found through the doing.  It is truly and act of “na’aseh v’nishma“.

This quotation from the Torah (Exodus 24:7) has been interpreted in many ways in Jewish tradition.  The meaning which speaks most deeply to me is: “We will do and then we will understand.”  This meaning comes from a rabbinic story (also called “midrash”) that explains Israel’s unconditional love for the Torah.  The midrash is as follows:

When the Children of Israel were offered the Torah they enthusiastically accepted the prescriptive mitzvot (commandments) as God’s gift.  Israel collectively proclaimed the words “na’aseh v’nishma “, “we will do mitzvot and then we will understand them”. Judaism places an emphasis on performance and understanding spirituality,
values, community, and the self through deed.

Simply put, we learn best by doing.

This idea has powerfully stimulated my own Jewish journey and informs my work as a Jewish educator.  I think there are two major implications from this:  One, regardless of the institution, we have a responsibility to provide access to informal Jewish educational programs to our young people.  Two, our formal educational institutions can stand to learn from what makes informal work.  Namely, I believe strongly in education that is active, interactive, dynamic, and most importantly experiential.  It is one thing to teach Judaism; it is something more powerful to teach people how to live Judaism.

It is one thing to teach social action; it is identity forming for our children to go out into the world as part of their Jewish Studies experience and make the world a better place by doing social action.

It is one thing to read about Israel; it is transformative to visit Israel.  (Now more than ever.)

And for this time of year?

It is one thing to study Chanukah; it is something infinitely more meaningful to light a menorah in the window, surrounded by family.

So please next week let’s gather together in our windows to light the Chanukah candles.

In addition, this and each Chanukah, let’s not forget our Jewish values of tzedakah (charity) and kehillah (community).   Along with your normal gift-giving, consider donating a night or two of your family’s celebration to those less fortunate than ourselves.


Chag urim sameach from my family to yours!

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.]

I Heart Israel

NormalDSC_0052I have really debated whether or not to write this for quite a while…

…similar to other issues of national or international import, I am never entirely certain whether it is an appropriate use of my small slice of the blogosphere to add to a conversation in which I bring no particular expertise and no concrete suggestions.

Is there something I can say or offer that will help address what is going on in Israel right now and how we could or should respond?  Do I have something critical to share with our schools about how to process and discuss current events?  Our schools are led by talented and bright professionals and lay leaders who in this day and age have access to a myriad of resources.  Sure, I might be aware of one or two they are not and could help by making them available, but it would be hubris to think that I have an answer to address this that they don’t or that they couldn’t easily find.  And yet…

Saying nothing at all doesn’t feel right either.  As a Jewish educator – as a Jew – I have to speak purely from the heart about Israel…

…a place that changed my life in 1988.

…a place that changed it again in 1992.

…a place that changed it once again in 1997 and 1998.

…a place that I anxiously await revisiting.

…a place that I have waited their whole lives to share with my children.

Because like a lot of Jews of my generation, a teen Israel experience (along with camp) was a crucial step on my Jewish journey.  It also was my very first job in Jewish education.

I first went to Israel in 1988 as part of our local Federation’s teen tour.  It was an 13736_195079166057_1485454_nextraordinary experience and I met friends that summer that I am still close with today.  I returned to Israel in 1992 as part of a NFTY in Israel summer experience. I unfortunately decided to pose in the awkward position you find me in the lower, righthand corner of this picture.  Yes, my hair is shoulder-length.  And yes, sadly, I am wearing socks with sandals.

My very first job in Jewish education was working for the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Los Angles (BJE-LA) running teen programs, paramount of which was the LA Summer-in-Israel Ulpan.  I cannot provide a link to the program because, unfortunately, it no longer exists, but for many years it was a signature summer-in-Israel program combining the regular touring experiences of other trips with an actual Hebrew ulpan for which students received high school and college credit.  I spent the summers of 1997 and 1998 leading this trip and having an opportunity to provide teens with the experiences I had been blessed to have as a teen myself.

The power of the Israel experience is real.

That’s why we visit.  That’s why we do our b’nai mitzvah there.  That’s why we have Federation and synagogue missions.  That’s why we send our Jewish day school classes.  That’s why we send our teachers.  That’s why we make aliyah.

That’s why the current situation is heartbreaking.


I have no interest injecting politics of any kind.  I have my beliefs and I am sure you do as well.  I don’t know what the answers are to safeguard our homeland, our beating heart. I’m not even sure I know the questions.  I am sure that the opportunity to experience Israel transformed me and the opportunity to provide that experience to others transformed me just as thoroughly.  To contemplate the idea that one day it could prove too unsafe to visit stirs my soul to anger.  To wonder if one day it could prove impossible shakes me to my core.

As the sun makes a slow descent and brings with it the spirit of Shabbat, I can only pray. Other days of the week lend themselves to advocacy, but not this one.  Our worship calls us to face our sacred ancestral home…may a day come when the peace of Shabbat envelopes our home, our Israel.

And may that day come without delay…

A Totally Unscientific, Crowdsourced and Inadequate JED Annotated Blogroll

paper-chain-in-the-dark-1215912-mDid that lower the bar enough?

In my ongoing attempt to stay current, to learn, to amplify, etc., etc., I have had an ambition to clean out my RSS feed and start over with which blogs I really ought to try to pay attention to…

…to accomplish this goal, I utilized all my networks – Twitter, Facebook, listservs, etc. asking not only for people to volunteer their own blogs, not only asking for people to share with me blogs they pay attention to, but to own this project with me by joining a GoogleDoc as a co-owner and editing to their heart’s content.

I sent out a variety of reminders and have reached a point where it is time to share this completely inadequate document!

I have let people describe their own blogs.  I have not personally vetted them all.  I did not add each one myself, although I did add a few.  You will surely find it lacking.


Shame on you for not helping!

How can we make this list more helpful, inclusive, exciting, diverse and meaningful?  By adding more (content) and more (categorizing)…


Which blogs did we leave out?

You can offer your suggestions as a comment to this blog (and I will carry them to the master document) OR you can email me ([email protected]) and I would be happy to add you as an owner to the master document and you can contribute directly.

“THANK YOU” to all the folk who did help.  Happy reading!


A Jewish Day School Annotated Blogroll

Julie Wohl:

“My goal is to share my own work on integrating Jewish learning with art creation, and to also share techniques and ideas for other educators to use the arts in their work.”


Amy Meltzer:

“I keep a blog that is designed for parents, but does give a lot of information about the Gan program at Lander Grinspoon Academy.”

One of my go to blogs is – it’s not a Jewish blog, however.


Rabbi Arnold Samlan:

“Jewish Connectivity”


Rabbi Lee Buckman:

“Twice-monthly blog by Rabbi Lee Buckman, head of school of TanenbaumCHAT, a grade 9-12 Jewish day high school of over 1,000 students in Toronto.”


Ruth Schapira:

I writ[e], with some candor, [about] the issues the Jewish community faces”

I read many blogs, but would be hard pressed to name those few that I read regularly. Some are on, a few on wordpresss (Pitputim, Architect Guy  EJewishPhilanthropy is a blog I read often


Rabbi Mitchel Malkus:

Education Matters – One Head of School’s reflections on education, Jewish education and the Jewish world.”


National Association of Independent Schools –  Independent Ideas: The Independent School ​Magazine Blog 

“Engages educators, researchers, policy experts, and thought leaders in a spirited dialogue about the topics that matter most in education now and in the years to come.”


Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education, Brandeis University: Learning about Learning


Ari Yares:

“Exploring the intersection of psychology, education, and technology.”

I’m following a fair number of blogs, but I’m also using a tool called to help me stay on top of what’s being shared.


Jillian Lubow

“I write an #instructionalleadership blog for @TeachBoost: #Top5JDSBlogs”


Adam Tilove:


Bill Zarch:


Eddie Shostak: rEddieTalk

“Focused on Jewish life, education, and parenting.”


Jon Mitzmacher: “A Floor, But No Ceiling

“Where the future of Jewish day school is debated, explored and celebrated”


Andrea Hernandez: “EdTech Workshop


Silvia Tolisano: “Langwitches


Rabbi Jim Rogozen:

“Observations and questions on Jewish education and the Conservative Movement”


Drew Frank @ugafrank Davis Academy AHOS

Micah Lapidus @rabbispen Davis Academy Rabbi

A few of my (Drew Frank) favorite blogs:

Massive resource for links to blogs, twitter, and all things education Jerry Blumengarten


From Melanie Waynik:



Dan Finkel:

“A non-preachy weekly thought on how to think about Torah as a modern guide for both education and meaningful living.”


Beverly Socher-Lerner:

“The adventures and explorations of an immersive, informal Jewish afterschool enrichment program in Center City Philadelphia for 15+ hours a week of text-based, experiential Jewish Education.”



“The AVI CHAI Blog features issues important to day schools and summer camps, including sharing best practices, highlighting important trends, and dialoguing around big ideas.”


MOFET International’s Jewish Ed Portal

“…is a curated listing of academic articles, blog posts, online resources, conferences and PD sessions dealing with a wide spectrum of Jewish education around the world. The portal is updated weekly and posts a monthly collection of new items via email.”


Jeffrey Rothman:

“Each blog post includes a discussion or short write up of some best educational practices as well as links to articles, tools and thoughtful quotes.”