Monday, November 28, 2011

Reflections on a Schechter Education

The SSDS of Greater Boston celebrated the 50th anniversary of the school's founding. Eight hundred plus people came to remember, see old classmates, teachers, colleagues, friends. The community should take pride in what it built and what it accomplished: creating an alternative vision of what a day school could be, vis a vis the Maimonides School. I think of some of the virtues that Schechter the man embodied upon which the school founded itself: a love for Judaism, for tradition, for intellectual breadth and depth, a strong engagement with peoplehood, the Hebrew language, Zionism, and the modern State of Israel.

Those commitments still animate today's school. Sad to say there weren't much in evidence at the "party." There was one devar Torah, but it was given by Barry Shrage, not by one of the school leaders, professional or lay. And it was not delivered at a time when the entire gathering could hear it. There were no substantive remarks: the heads of school talked more about the 8th grade plays than they demonstrated what the school cared about on the deepest level. It's disappointing because many of us want a serious egalitarian Judaism; this sort of messaging subtlely and overtly perpetuates the distinction between Torah-centered Orthodoxy and liberal Jews who are centered on what exactly? At least the Reform Rashi school talks and acts re. social justice as a "Jewish value." What does SSDS talk incessantly about?

Education has to be about teaching students how to think. It has to orient them to contribute to the larger world. And it has to be about relationships inside and outside the classroom, modeling what it means to take seriously the blessing of life, the blessing of freedom, the blessing of being able to receive, to transmit, and to create. At its best SSDS creates that sort of environment. But it needs to push itself to do that as a truly, deeply, Jewish school. That is the hard part.