A century ago, Israel Friedlaender—scholar, communal activist, and educator—played a key role in such educational institutions as the Teachers Institute of JTS, the Bureau of Jewish Education, the Menorah Society, Young Israel, and Young Judea. A JTS professor and prolific writer, Friedlaender has been described as “the teacher of the Jewish youth of that generation.” Yet, scant attention has been devoted to exploring his educational thought and action agenda. This retrospective focuses on Friedlaender’s activities and impact in advancing Jewish education and considers the relationship of his legacy to current directions in the field.
After a brief biographical sketch and look at his scholarly interests, this article focuses on Friedlaender’s activities and impact in advancing Jewish education during his years in the United States. For Friedlaender, Jewish learning was an essential starting point for Jewish vitality. His understanding of Jewish history and nuanced view of cultural Zionism informed his Jewish educational agenda. Active in diverse Jewish educational initiatives, Friedlaender valued experiential learning as well as academic study. Engaging with many organizations in the ecosystem of Jewish education, Friedlaender recognized the unique contributions of each entity, and focused on the cause of Jewish learning above parochial, institutional interests. Israel education, experiential education, the web of institutional relationships that characterize the landscape of Jewish education and education for Jewish literacy remain matters of current interest; the relationship of Friedlaender’s work to the contemporary context and enduring tensions inherent in aspects of his approach are explored.
Each of the themes and projects to which Friedlaender devoted his career in Jewish education in the United States remains a work in progress. Friedlaender’s overarching commitment to promoting Jewish literacy; his interest in experiential education; his concern for education relating to Zionism; and his advocacy of collaboration in pursuit of the goals of Jewish learning remain instructive. That these themes resonate as current is a tribute to Friedlaender’s vision. His legacy, for those engaged in the work to which he was so passionately dedicated, serves as a goad and inspiration for the present and future, as it did in the past.