While I was away from the office earlier last week, the UJA-Federation of New York released a big, giant, whopping study of Downstate NY’s community. (Downstate being, of course, the opposite of Upstate NY. That is, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island, Nassau County, Suffolk County and Westchester County.) More than 250 pages long, there’s a lot to think about – and I’m still thinking. But there are some highlights that readers of InterfaithFamily.com might especially want to know about. I’m going to do a brieffisking, for ease of navigation.
From 1991 to 2002, the number of Jews in the eight-county New York area held steady, while from 2002 to 2011 it grew dramatically. The contrasting changes in the number of non-Jews in Jewish households — consisting mostly of spouses and children in intermarried homes — are even more striking. In the earlier period (1991–2002), the number of non-Jewish people in Jewish households almost doubled; since 2002, though, it has declined slightly, falling to 231,000. With respect to the slightly declining numbers of non-Jews in Jewish households, the Jewish population in the New York area sharply contrasts with most Jewish communities in the United States and, indeed, the entire Jewish world outside of Israel. In every other large Jewish diaspora community, rising intermarriage has brought increasing numbers of non-Jews — spouses, partners, and children — into Jewish households.
Are outreach initiatives working in NY while falling short in other communities? Are Jewish communal organizations, such as synagogues and JCCs, more welcoming and inclusive of partners and other family members who aren’t Jewish in NY than elsewhere? Or is this solely a statistical game, with the number of non-Jews in Jewish households smaller in NY than elsewhere due to the large number of Orthodox (who have lower rates of including non-Jews in their Jewish households)? Indeed, the study attributes it in part to the high birthrate of Orthodox families, but also to the “dramatic increase in the number of people who consider themselves ‘partially Jewish,’ many the children of intermarriage.”
Unlike major religious groups in the United States, major segments of Jews do not necessarily identify being Jewish with Judaism as a religion. Significant numbers of Jews claim their religion as “none.” This configuration is particularly common among the intermarried, children of the intermarried, and less engaged Jews, as well as Russian-speaking Jews. However, Jewish identity without religion is by no means isolated to these Jews; it is also expressed by those influenced by certain Zionist and Yiddishist movements in the United States and Europe. Still others lay claim to Jewish identity even though they maintain religious identities tied to something other than Judaism.
After reading the first two sentences here, I started to wonder about those Jews who have identified as cultural Jews for generations, but was reassured that intermarriage wasn’t being (solely) blamed as I continued reading the last two sentences.
Growing up in Canada, our Jewish population studies are slightly different. According to the Canadian census, one is considered Jewish if one identifies as Jewish by ethnicity, by religion, or both. Additionally, one is counted as Jewish if identifying as Jewish by ethnicity and with a religion that does not require conversion (such as Buddhism, but not, say, Catholicism). Using definitions such as these, perhaps there wouldn’t be a negative connotation to being Jewish but listing religion as “none.” More »
In an op-ed piece reworked from a speech delivered at the Jewish Federations General Assembly in Denver, Rabbi Elie Kaunfer of Mechon Hadar writes that:
Jews, like all people, are searching for meaning, substance and connection. The more we are inundated with e-mails, status updates and tweets, the more we want to go deeper. Our souls are calling out for engagement; our hearts are crying out to be opened.
Judaism, at its core, is a response to that yearning, an answer to that call. What are we “continuing” with our calls for “continuity”? Why does Judaism need a future? Because Judaism offers a system, a covenantal language, a heritage and tradition that responds to the human need for meaning, substance and connection. It is our system, our language, our heritage; it is relevant, and that is the reason that we need a Jewish future.
We Jews have a word for the pathway to meaning, substance and connection. It is called Torah. I don’t just mean the Torah scroll that sits alone in the ark, or even just the words of the five books of Moses. I mean the sum total of Jewish sources and texts — the wisdom stored up in our textual heritage.
Truth be told, not the biggest hiddush (original insight) but seriously brave considering the original audience. The Federation pretty much wrote the book of Jewish continuity for continuity’s sake. I was, however, especially happy to read this article after an experience this last Friday night which speaks loudly toward what Kaunfer is getting at. More »
The second third round of Jewish Community Heroes is well under way, the online email-collecting exercise by the Jewish Federations of North America. My excitement for participating in these types of online activities are always pretty minimal, in this case because I’m so ambivalent about the federation system itself. Such a powerful legacy, so many shortcomings. But between TribeFest and this effort, somebody there is taking good advice.
So in the spirit of playing along, here are nominees who I believe are heroes for their justice work combating racism, poverty and injustice. In no particular order and colored by my New York-tinted glasses: More »
I posted about the Jewish Futures Competition a few weeks ago. It asks how Jewish life, living and learning will change as we move to a society in which individuals are not only consumers of information and culture, but also producers of their own and others’ experiences. I think the question has it wrong. There never was such a divide between Jewish consumers and producers.
If you tried to picture the upbringing of a Jewish producer, it wouldn’t be mine. My formal Jewish education consisted of synagogue supplemental school, one year of Jewish Summer camp, and one college class. I have been an active participant in Jewish programming wherever I’ve lived. Does this make me a Jewish consumer?
I was elected to a synagogue board of directors at the age of 26. How did someone in the famously non-joining age group get on a synagogue board? They asked me to serve, and I said yes. When I moved to a new city, I helped start parent-led Shabbat services for preschoolers in my new synagogue, using the approach, designed by my previous community. Now that I have a child entering kindergarten, I’ve been working with several other families and Jewish professionals to organize a 4-5 day per week Jewish afterschool program that will provide robust Jewish learning (mixed in with a lot of play time) during hours when many children are already in supervised afterschool programs. More than fifty families in our community have already expressed interest in this program.
So when did I switch from a consumer to a producer? The answer is the same as it has always been. A Jewish consumer is someone who hasn’t (yet) found the motivation and outlet to produce. If you chose to be involved in a Jewish community you are a producer. You don’t need any title or degree to lead prayer. The lifeblood of Jewish organizations from Federations to minimally structured minyanim are the volunteers who step forward to inspire and organize.
So, what inspired the original question? Most Jewish producers have been hyper-local. Our synagogue walls are filled with plaques honoring our predecessors, whose devotion, ideas, and energy created these communities. Sadly, few people outside their own communities would recognize these names. Technology is shrinking the barriers that kept local voices local and expanding the types of communities that are possible. A good idea, adapted by one community, can spread well beyond the word of mouth of the members of that community. What looks like more consumers becoming producers is really local producers starting to grasp the possibilities of a larger network.
So, take my collaborators’ efforts to create an aftercare program as an example. We’ve identified and compiled detailed information from similar establishedandemergingprogramsacross the country in just a few months. We’ve gotten advice from Jewish educators working across the country and down the block. People I’ve never met are writing to me offering to help or asking about potential jobs.
Even though individuals can do more, institutions still matter. To launch our aftercare program, we’re collaborating with threelocalsynagogues who have offered classroom space and we’re trying to collaborate with others. People inside and outside the professional Jewish world have given us their time and money. Our local Partnership for Jewish Life & Learning is giving us advice and a small grant for our preparatory year. Programs like ours can’t succeed in a vaccuum.
What does this mean for the future? The increasing number of voices bringing innovation to national Jewish living and learning is a good thing. Good ideas don’t all need to come from our Federations, academic programs, and other Jewish institutions, but our institutions will need to adapt. They must figure out where centeralized support is needed and where networks of local producers can do things better and cheaper on their own. This will require the broader Jewish community to significantly re-evaluate the ways we distribute and share resources and to better understand the technology tools that are strengthening our producers. I can’t tell you the best way to do all this, but I look forward to being part of what happens next.
The Jewish Futures conference is holding its second annual competition. The basic idea is that you create a 4-minute YouTube video or written document that addresses their topic of the year. This year, that topic is: “The Jewish Prosumer: The Move from Consumer to Producer in Jewish Life and Learning.” They want people to address, “How will Jewish life, living and learning change as we move to a society in which individuals are not only consumers of information and culture, but also producers of their own and others’ experiences?”
I figure some of the readers here might have opinions about this topic, why the shift is happening, or even if it is happening.
Beyond the warm feeling you get from sharing ideas with others, the winners will get $1800, an expenses-paid trip to the Jewish Futures Conference at the General Assembly of Jewish Federations of North America in Denver on November 7-8, and the chance to pitch your ideas to a high profile room full of potential donors and supporters at the conference.
You can read the competition guidelines and rules here. The submission deadline is August 27th.
The contest is sponsored by the Jewish Education Project and JESNA’s Lippman Kanfer Institute, and hosted by Jewish Federations of North America. I’m curious to see what comes out of this and might submit something myself.
The admirable project of a social media extravaganza to engage the Jewish demos in picking the Los Angeles federation’s next idea to revolutionize Jewish life has reached fruition! Thank God! We’ve been waiting so long to discover what the next revolution in Jewish thinking is: Jewish spam. The “LaunchBox,” formerly “Jewww in a Box,” is essentially an upgrade from federation spam to federation-sponsored kiruv. How very web 2.0, all hail the wisdom of crowdsourcing, halleluyah. You can read the description as it bends over backwards trying to explain why this is big, new, or innovative.
Seriously, I can’t fault the LA federation for picking a practical winner whose project they could implement immediately and one that would contribute to their everyday work. Mazel tov to Batsheva Frankel on her success, it’s a fine idea. But, personally, I feel the hype and slogan just don’t justify the final product.
A recent article in the Forward, by Jerome A. Chanes, discusses the perennial issue of why we must focus our Jewish education efforts on day schools and how to make them affordable. “The system, at least with respect to the most prominent prescription for the [Jewish] future — education — is broken. Jewish parents find themselves increasingly caught between rising day school tuitions and declining real-dollar income. Teachers’ salaries in many Jewish day schools are disgraceful. And because in tough economic times, schools cannot afford to alienate anyone, day schools are increasingly parent-driven — not necessarily a good thing. Add to these a rather flaccid commitment on the part of federations to Jewish education. The system is collapsing.” He worries that, “The Hebrew-based charter school represents a further erosion of the classic text-based Jewish curriculum… The charter schools take this erosion to a new, dangerous, level by separating Hebrew learning from Judaism completely.” He concludes that charter schools are a distraction and only reallocation of more Federation funds towards day schools will fix the broken system.
Dr. Chanes put forth an almost identical solution in a 2009 article for The NY Jewish Week. He hadn’t happened upon the Charter school bogeyman yet, but he did detail which priorities federations need to shift. He urges that federations spend more money subsidizing day school tuition and less money on gyms, immigrant aid, child care for those in need, and poverty programs. He rationalizes this by noting most of the poverty related federation programs spend a lot of money on non-Jews, and, “most analysts agree that Jewish poverty is, in 2009, not the pressing issue for the community.”
Dr. Chanes is not the only opinionator preaching the doom of Jewish peoplehood that can only be avoided if we massively increase donations to day schools. More »
My first post at Jewschool was about being a Jew from Texas. Finally–now that I’ve lived in New Jersey for nearly four years and I’m getting ready to graduate and move somewhere other than my hometown of Austin–it seems that Jewish life in Austin is beginning to diversify.
I started thinking about this when I got an email from Mike Wachs, founder of Austin’s very own, brand-spanking-new local jewblog, Git Nu. It’s got a pretty daring design. Each post has an image. Mouse-over and of the images and the text of the post displays, and click on the image and you go through to the post.
So far, there aren’t so many posts. With the help of a grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater Austin, Mike is just getting Git Nu off the ground. Here’s part of what he said in his email:
I’ve started a small, alternative outlet for Jewish Culture in Austin and just wanted to say hi. The site is called Git Nu and while there have only been a few outside contributions so far, the initial response seems to be one of excitement.
If you have any advice on soliciting content, building community, leading the discussion–in a general sense–or any other topics, any help would be much appreciated.
According to my mom’s boyfriend–he’s on the board of the Austin fed–Austin is the fastest-growing city in American for 20- and 30-somethings. He says that’s not a percentage, but in sheer numbers. So more people means more Jews. And more young Jews means more diverse offerings in the Jewish community in Austin.
At least, in theory. I haven’t seen a whole of evidence of it yet, but Git Nu looks like an indicator.
Finally, after so many years, Federations are working to complete the Ethiopian Aliyah. JFNA has announced at $5.5 Million Dollar campaign to fund bring 7800 Ethiopian Olim, many of whom have been waiting for close to a decade, to Israel. This is a considerably more modest effort than the last, more ambitious effort to raise $100 Million in 2005, which did not meet its goals. If they only needed $5.5 Million, why has it take so long? In the world of Federation funding, this is chump change.
Of course, the concern once they arrive is, where and how will they be absorbed? I’m thrilled they are finally coming home, but over 1,000 Olim are still stuck in centers years after their arrival. How will the Israeli government handle seven times that? Will there be a balance to integrate them into Israeli society, housing and community? Or will they retain their unique culture only due to segregation?
“We must not make the mistakes of yesterday – Ethiopian olim should be helped to get permanent housing and integrate in Israeli society” Natan Sharansky, Nov. 16 2010
To explain the “big-deal-ness” of this to non-Jews: just mention that Vice President Biden spoke, and they raise their eyebrows, as if they are impressed, and then squint, saying, “Is he Jewish?”
To stay awake during a session: count the number of times you hear the word “Delegitimization”–you won’t fall asleep, ever.
To be hypocritical: pretend you are an “older” delegate and don’t directly answer any of the questions that students ask during the sessions or workshop.
To sound like everyone else: use the following catchphrases–”delegitimization,” “conflict,” “framing,” “giving,” “development,” “social media,” “nolaga,” “Israel advocacy,” “Jewish identity,” “generation,” “future.”
There has been quite a bit of conversation both on this blog and in the Jewish press and blogosphere on both the tactics and content of the recent JVP action at the GA. I have to say I was really inspired to see the coverage and conversation generated by these protests. More than that, I am inspired by the statements behind them. Talking back to Bibi was a way of getting heard. The message, contained in their Young Jewish and Proud declaration, makes it clear why we should, in the words of Peter Beinart, “expect more of this.”
We are not apathetic. We know and name persecution when we see it. Occupation has constricted our throats and fattened our tongues. We are feeding each other new words. We have family, we build family, we are family. We re-negotiate. We atone. We re-draw the map every single day. We travel between worlds. This is not our birthright, it is our necessity.
Not only should we expect to hear this message getting louder and stronger, we should be prepared to listen. Jews, committed to their identities, histories, and traditions, are increasingly seeing how the ongoing occupation and human rights abuses, the loyalty oath, and the stunted discourse on Israel and Zionism within the OJC are making a perversion out of the lessons of Jewish history (which illustrate that oppression and othering can be a deadly mix), and of Jewish teachings (which, in Rabbi Sid Schwarz’s formulation, are “dedicated to expanding the boundaries of righteousness and justice in the world“).
I’ve recently been corresponding with one of the organizers about JVP’s choice of message and their tactics. In light of the all the debate around that action, I wanted to share some of that correspondence here. In talking with her it is clear that there were significant conversations within the group about both tactics and messaging. The first thing she emphasized was that the goal of this action was not the disruption itself. “Our original idea,” she told me, “was actually the opposite, that the disruption of Netanyahu’s speech would be silent and dignified.” More »
It was my first time at the GA, and I’m very glad I got to go. But then, I really like conferences. Here are some thoughts:
1. I knew quite a few people who were there, including one of the Jewish Voice for Peace protesters. This conflicts with my sense that politically and communally, I’m a marginal Jew. Conclusion: the mainstream, official, institutional Jewish world isn’t quite as narrow as one might imagine.
2. Two young women wearing Israeli army uniforms were mingling with folks at the conference. I asked one of them if I could take her picture, thinking it would be fun to share here on Jewschool. Right before the snap, she said – but you can’t post my picture anywhere. Let’s recap: this nice Israeli woman soldier was fine letting me photograph her for my PERSONAL collection. How creepy is that? Made me wonder if men asking to take her picture was something normal.
3. There’s a class of older guy in a suit and white shirt who wanders around talking to clones of each other and looking important. I have no idea what they are doing. They weren’t at any of the workshops I attended. Who are they? Anyone know?
4. After the JVP protest/disruption of Netanyahu’s speech, I heard folks say that there was a mismatch between the alleged tactic and the reasonable message of the youngsters. Why not a JVP booth next year? The way to win an argument with the mainstream is by dressing it in mainstream clothes. I fear that disruptive tactics that aren’t part of a constructive plan make ‘our’ side a bit weaker in the corridors of power. Then again, they sort of made headlines, right? So I’m torn. I also think Rae can do no wrong….
5. Secret plan uncovered: the ‘refuse to talk about Israel’ wing of the progressive Jewish world might be on to something. Pro-peace folks are unlikely to ‘win’ an argument about Israel’s importance or get leaders to admit they are wrong about knee-jerk supporting of the Israeli government. But they might make a case that a rising cohort of Jews who care more about universal values and less about tribal hallmarks of Jewish identity need more and better alternatives to a focus on Israel.
Actually, they’ve done it. The Social Justice Roundtable that includes JFSJ, Avodah, AJWS, Repair the World and others are proving to general satisfaction that they offer programs that work with young people. In a few years (I predict) we’ll have solid evidence that those programs represent the solid core of Jewish continuity work, performing better and costing less than Israel related programs.
Some day, at a meeting of those strange dudes in suits and white shirts will conclude that the whole Israel thing is coming at the expense of continuity work, at least as currently formulated. Will they choose what works by the numbers, or drive the Israel right or wrong agenda with a smaller and smaller audience?
6. Some public facing leaders of Jewish organizations have personas that ooze sincerity. Am I the only one who sees almost all of it as performance, leaving me cold to any emotional content they might have sought to impart? It’s the same trait I’ve noticed with many politicians and rabbis. Is it just me?
Five young Jews interrupted Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech at the General Assembly (GA) of Jewish federations yesterday. You can read the first-hand accounts by lead protestor and Jewlicious and ROI alum Rae Abileah, LA Jewish Journal editor Rob Eshman, and JTA’s Fundermentalist Jacob Berkman, among many others.
I will echo the comments by LA’s Eshman when I note that these protestors spoke in a language of Israel’s self-interest, setting them apart from the Muslim protestors at UC-Irvine earlier this year. The media statements by the protestors demonstrate — despite their chosen allegiances or tactics — thoughtfulness and rootedness in Jewish ethical culture. As Eshman reported, ‘ “What were they against?” one Israeli journalist in the audience asked rhetorically. “The loyalty oath? The occupation? Gaza? Most Jews would agree with them.” ‘ I and many others on Jewschool have made the occupation and many Israeli policies the topic of our consistent, vocal and stringent calls for reform.
I admire dedicated, assertive, moral student activists. The 1969 student sit-in of the GA resulted in reform of Jewish student program funding. Ultimately, it led to the expansion of Hillel. Many of those young leaders now head Jewish organizations and I’m honored to have some of them as mentors. But New Voices’ editor Ben Sales compares that event with today’s stunt, saying, “Far from articulating a positive and productive vision for the Jewish community, all they did was yell vapid sound bytes during a public event.”
I may have little taste for these theatrics. But for every five protestors who resort to dramatic headline seeking, there are dozens more like me. More »
Honoring movers and shakers doing good work on behalf of (or for) the Jooz in the areas of:
Social and economic justice and do-gooding
Peace (in Israel and elsewhere, except Iceland)
Jewish culture (whatever that is)
Spirituality (‘specially the touchy feel-y sort)
Inclusivity (Pluralist, Racial, Gender and all that ‘faggy’ stuff)
Media (it is the message after all, liek this blog)
Other things we hate but have to include.
Step one: We announce the contest and make it sticky on the site. (check)
Circulate it via email, blogosphere and intertubes. (need your help here)
Develop snarky but slick logo that looks Obama-esque (uh, check?)
Step two: Nominations accepted via form submission on the website
Post facebook event/app/group/widget to redirect voters to jewschool.com
Be sure that heads of major Joowish organizations and entities iz nominated.
Also, anyone with a huge email/twitter/facebook following…
Note that femalez iz welcome to apply but will not be winnerz
(cuz they iz too stoopid… naw, cuz they all already iz heroz- hi mom!)
Step three: Inform all nominees they are finalists. Because they are all special.
To be named a 36, they must encourage their supporters to vote for them
(and be popular).
Votes are accepted via hosted form, which collects their name, locale,
Announce winners of the cheerleading squad via press release, youtubz
Compile voter list into email database and announce winners via email list
Solicit their financial support, just for shirtz and gigglz
Use the email list for our own purposez: to give all teh kittehz cheezburgerz er- Kosher tofu-parve cheezburgers..!
Muuuuhahahahahaha!!!! I eatz it up. I laffs at u. More »
Attentive as always to the sentiment of my peers who obsess less about this issue than I do, the past weekend’s flotilla events have only confirmed what Peter Beinart wrote. His words confirm what I and others on Jewschool have long prophesied: young Jews are refusing “to check their liberalism” at Israel’s door.
All week, the reticence of my peers — actively engaged Jews in their 20s and 30s — to have “the Israel conversation” with me has been collapsing. Amazingly, friends who long avoided it. The sudden burst of awareness about Israel’s prohibition of cooking ingredients, toys and minor life amenities in Gaza has undermined sympathy for confroting even rebar-wielding provacateurs. Israel’s international disregard sours in their mouths. The severity of Israel’s recent behavior has shaken so many loose from the inhibitions to say openly and angrily, “What the fuck? How could Israel do that?”
“This has given me so much guilt. What is it about this that is different from what normally goes on there?” asked one friend over brunch.
“It’s like Israel tries to solve every problem with the military,” mourned another friend the night before. An organizer by profession, she smartly asked, “Where can we put political pressure to make this stop?”
“I am giving up on Israel. They can’t ask me to defend this policy,” said another the day before that. More »
What is grating on my nerves about the Freedom Flotilla matters now that the passengers have been unloaded in Ashdod is the rhetoric around the event. Chillul Who said it well: You can trust both sides to tell only the truths that paint them in the best light. Call me a liberal, but the pursuit of truth was always more important than the selective release of peices of the truth to get what you want.
In opposing efforts to show their separate causes in the best light, supporters of the Israeli government and Palestinian activists are inventing facts and distorting international law to suit their agendas.
Take for example the American Jewish Committee’s official statement: it calls the flotilla “pro-Hamas” and claims they exist “to bolster the despotic Hamas regime and its Muslim Brotherhood support base in Turkey and elsewhere.” One can accuse the Free Gaza Movement of happily singling Israel for condemnation and turning a blind eye to Hamas’ crimes. But the Free Gaza operation was created and launched by secular, Palestinian solidarity Europeans, not the Turkish Muslim Brotherhood.
Elsewhere in the same statement, the AJC asserts erroneously that the IDF encountered “automatic weapons” upon arrival. No source, by either IDF or media outlet, has made such a claim. The IDF press office has released photos of improvised weapons, but no guns. Reportedly, two guns stolen from Israeli soldiers were found later. Israel no doubt was expecting (hoping?) to find guns and rocket-building materials on board. But so far, the flotilla had no guns.
What does the AJC think they’re doing by inventing facts?
I used to work at New Voices Magazine, the only independent publication written by and for Jewish undergrads. It was the best (and worst) crash course in nonprofit management and journalism I could ask for. Thrown in the deep end of the Jewish philanthropic pool, it was sink or swim.
I can count myself as half-successful, since our editorial line of publishing critical student thought ran us into trouble with the David Project, who in 2007 intervened in our funding with the UJA-Federation of NY. We had to cut staff, I got the axe. This is a heretofore unreported detail which is harmless now to mention — yes, I lost my job because of the David Project’s branding New Voices as “bad for young Jews, bad for the Jewish state.” (As quoted to me by a UJA official who kindly read me the email David Project circulated to my funders. There was plenty more to it also.) Needless to say, I harbor a small grudge against the David Project and some of the UJA. The first is zealotry incarnate, the other a paragon of spinelessness.
So when I read Sam Green’s opinion piece in New Voices chastising all the Jewish anti-Zionists out there, I could only chuckle at the unintended (and likely unaware) incongruity. The misfortune of arguing a politics of exclusion in a publication that lost $30,000 and a staffer to being too open-minded diminishes his intended impact. Then again, only myself, my friends then, and those involved remember that episode, so perhaps we shouldn’t expect him to “know your roots” as he says. More »
Shalom from Israel! I’m spending the week in Haifa through the generosity of Combined Jewish Philanthropies, working on a pilot project for the Jewish Identity and Education subcommittee of the Boston-Haifa Steering Committee (aka שותפות חיפה-בוסטון). Although I’ve been here since Tuesday working with a team from my school and a team from our sister school, tonight was the official kick-off to the Steering Committee meeting.
As far as kick-offs to Federation sponsored meetings go, it was pretty kick-ass. First off, one of two leadership awards was presented to Dr. Eshetu Kebede, the Haifa-side co-chair of Shiluvim (“Integration”), a program to empower and integrate Ethiopian residents of Haifa into mainstream Israeli society. Dr. Kebede took the opportunity to highlight the educational work Shiluvim has done, busing Ethiopian children into schools across the city, noting how far we’ve come in the areas of student commitment and parental support. But then he acknowledged how far we still have to travel in the third pillar of student success — relationship with teachers. And he specifically called out the racism still rampant in some Israeli classrooms, where some teachers tell their Ethiopian students they aren’t Jews, aren’t Israelis, and aren’t worthy or capable of an education.
You can imagine the shitstorm unleashed behind the scenes as the professionals involved with the project leap into damage-control mode. Sitting at a table full of Israeli educators, I could feel the tension in the room, and yet despite the discomfort, it was clear that many recognized the truth in his words. I know that there are many excellent teachers in the Haifa schools who work hard as partners in their Ethiopian students’ (and all students’) success — some of them were at my table. But that doesn’t discount the work left to be done. I hope Dr. Kebede’s call to arms will be taken seriously, galvanizing the community to continue the important work this program has begun.
After some more speeches (and another leadership award presented to Bostonian Debbie Kurinsky), the evening took a decidedly less serious turn with the introduction of Kolot Min HaShamayim (“Voices from Heaven”), an Orthodox Boys’ Choir, to be the evening’s entertainment.
Maybe it’s jet lag, maybe I needed something to relieve the tension left from Dr. Kebede’s speech, or maybe my inner USY dork simply came alive, but I was totally sold on them. Their style is best described as “Glee set in a yeshiva.” Their repertoire ranged from traditional and liturgical settings to a Caribbean take on Adon Olam and a mash-up of Kabbalat Shabbat and O Sole Mio. I didn’t have my Flip camera handy, but thankfully my Blackberry takes video. It’s not the best footage I’ve ever recorded, but I do hope you enjoy it. (And somebody, please get these guys a record deal!)