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Raising Jewish Children: Research and Indications for Intervention

Is the conviction that Jewishness must survive because it must survive an axiom–or a tautology? What is the ultimate point of Jewish education? Younger American Jewish adults and some educators and thinkers argue that the success of Jewish education should be measured by its ability to enhance the qualities of meaning and community at each stage of life–rather than viewing education as a means to the end of creating adults who will make new generations of identified Jews. For example, the pursuit of social justice as the raison d’etre of Jewish education is echoed by many of the young leaders and educators, including a young Conservative rabbi who has served in a variety of chaplaincy and rabbinic and educational positions and participated in Project Otzma, American Jewish World Service, Hazon and Jumpstart. This rabbi sees fighting for justice as the only non-negotiable, quintessential, core Jewish activity, and says: “Don‘t keep kosher, that‘s fine, don‘t keep Shabbat, that‘s fine, marry a non-Jew—whatever. But understand that it will take away your Jewish identity if you don‘t fight for justice.” The interaction between Jewishly rigorous education, meaning, and Jewish morality was articulated across denominational lines not only by young leaders working in social justice enterprises, but by artists, intellectuals, and various types of Jewish communal professionals, including educators. For these younger leaders, the Jewishness of these connections was key. For example, another rabbi, a ROI leadership program veteran who supports the work of organizations like Teva, Adamah, and the Avodah program, urges the integration of moral and Judaic values into daily behavior — “quotidian Judaism”— to give a wide spectrum of young Jewish Americans the cultural literacy to imbue their social justice lives with Judaic knowledge. This rabbi’s education venues are blogs and other Internet sites like www.jewityourself.com.45

In a philosophical piece that defines contemporary culture after the Enlightenment by choice, rationality, and disenchantment, following from Weber’s “disenchantment of the world” and Berger‘s ―the heretical imperative,” Malamet outlines two paths of Jewish education that try to impress students—the Shoah and making education entertaining, underlining its relevance, and making it ―marketable.” Malamet argues, however, that “the benchmark for contemporary Jewish identity should not be continuity, but purpose.” He cites Dr. James Orbinski‘s notion of “living your question”–or in the case of Jewish education, teaching Jews to live their Jewish question. ―As every corner of the Jewish world is slowly learning, ‘Jewish continuity‘ does not produce identity, it is the outcome of such.”46 New research should examine the extent to which Jewish educational enterprises incorporate Jewish approaches to social justice, and other “making meaning” issues so important to contemporary Jewish students.

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