Out of Zion Will Come Forth (Personalizing) Torah: Building Educational Partnerships with Israel

July 3, 2019

Source: eJewish Philanthropy 

How does one not only teach Torah but also help students personalize what they are learning so that it is compelling and relevant, whether as a religious act in its own right or because of the messages that it can convey for life in the twenty-first century? The Fuchs Mizrachi School in Cleveland, led in this effort by Rabbi Yehuda Chanales, decided to address this issue directly and explicitly as a professional community. Thanks to a grant from the Mayberg Foundation, the Jewish Studies faculty has been able to embark on a two year project to work on their curriculum and teaching together with training and input from a number of Israeli institutions under the auspices of Herzog Teachers College in Gush Etzion.

I was fortunate enough to tag along as they traveled to Israel for a week-long training and here is some of what I learned:

As a national school system, Israel has the human, professional and financial resources that we do not have. They thus have the ability to experiment with new initiatives in ways that educators here can only dream about. We would be foolish not to take advantage of that experience. And this despite the fact that there are serious cultural differences between us that require translation and adaptation. Even so, this should not deter us from building better bridges to our kindred spirits there. “Out of Zion will come forth Torah,” may speak not only to Torah’s point of origin, but to its method of delivery as well.

Making change to the way we do education should take place within an organized and deliberate framework that is rooted in research and experience. For the most part, we have been unable to replicate the academic and pedagogic expertise that a government funded system has been able to accomplish. It should ideally consist of what Joseph Schwab referred to as the commonplaces, including curricular experts, for example, who are able to mine the texts of tradition for their underlying values and philosophy without distortion while remaining firm to the principles of appropriate pedagogy for each age group.

It is indeed possible to empower our students to personalize their learning not only in the way we have traditionally understood it, each according to her own pace, but also to nurture their ability to internalize that learning, each according to her own personal needs, be they spiritual or existential. We can teach text but also teach students. We can speak to their minds without leaving their hearts behind and we can do so in systematic ways, by the persona we take into the classroom as well as by the strategies we employ.

Speaking to our children’s inner world must begin with educators exploring their own inner world. This may seem obvious, but the truth is that many of us were never educated that way as students and neither were we trained that way as teachers. Before we start talking about impacting students, we need to talk seriously about what it means for adults to learn and change. In addition, one needs to work with an entire group of faculty at once and not just an individual or two. One of the most gratifying and impressive parts of the trip was to watch this group of teachers coalesce into an even more supportive and caring group, emerging from an intense collaboration of personal sharing with a common language to express their goals and methods going forward. They are working at changing the culture in their school and not just what they do in their individual classrooms.

Read the whole article at eJewish Philanthropy.

Updated: Jul. 11, 2019