Source: Journal of Jewish Education Vol. 82, No. 4, 293-310
Students in “community” (nondenominational) Jewish high schools represent a diversity of denominational affiliations, including those who affiliate with more than one denomination and those that affiliate with none. These schools strive to create communities in which students with varying Jewish beliefs and practices are, at the very least, respected and comfortable. At the same time, schools work to avoid internal Jewish communal fragmentation. In this article, the approach to diversity in three such high schools is compared. Each school, in addition to presenting an approach distinct from the others, has created opportunities for communal Jewish engagement through the enactment of practices that are rooted in Judaism and in the ethos of the school, and allow individualization within universal participation. Further, the range of approaches to Jewish diversity exhibited raises questions about pluralism as it relates to the Jewish educational goals of these schools.
These three schools, though falling under the same heading of “community” Jewish day high schools, have notably different approaches to diversity. The approach of each is understood within the school’s general ethos or character. It can also be seen as consistent with the norms of the community in which each of the schools is embedded. These schools strive to balance the needs of the different denominational and nondenominational subgroups within the school, with the desire to create an overall sense of cohesive community, to balance centrifugal and centripetal forces not only in terms of “school spirit” but also Jewishly. While each school demonstrates a unique approach to striking this balance, it is argued here that each has developed a sense of communal celebration that is rooted in Jewish practice while also being consistent with the school’s overall approach to Jewish diversity. The schools’ approaches to Jewish diversity, in turn, can be seen as linked to their overall approach to Judaism. While it is possible to analyze each as being an exemplar of a different approach to pluralism, or being farther along on an implied hierarchy of pluralism, we should be wary of favoring certain sets of Jewish-related outcomes over others in a way that seems inconsistent with the actual values and missions of the schools themselves.