Jewish Journal

The challenge of pluralistic day schools

by Julie G Fax

Posted on Feb. 22, 2007 at 7:00 pm

More than 225 Jewish educators from pluralistic community day schools across the country convened in Los Angeles for four days of networking and brainstorming last month.

The 20th annual conference of Ravsak: Jewish Community Day School Network, held at the Biltmore Millennium Downtown, was the organization's first conference in Los Angeles and its largest ever.

Ravsak -- an acronym for the Hebrew meaning Jewish Community Day Schools Network -- was founded 20 years ago with about 12 schools. By 1994 there were 27, and by this year there are 120, a reflection of the tremendous growth in day school attendance across the country.

The theme of the conference, underwritten in part by a grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, was "Everything to Everyone: The Challenges, Limits and Opportunities of Jewish Community Day School Education."

The theme stemmed from the reality that as attendance at community day schools has mushroomed, the socioeconomic levels, cultural background, learning styles and Jewish affiliation of the students and families has become increasingly diverse.

While 20 years ago day school attendance was dominated by families that were already Jewishly committed and observant to varying degrees, that is no longer the case.

"Today we see families with new commitments, families whose commitment to the Jewish people is largely articulated through enrollment in Jewish day school, who are building their lives based on what the kids do in school," said Marc Kramer, executive director of Ravsak, pointing out that a growing percentage of children have only one Jewish parent.

Some topics covered at the conference could have applied to any school -- students' sexual identity, mental health and learning differences, lay leadership, philanthropy and legal issues. Other issues pertained specifically to community day schools -- how to create inclusive prayer atmospheres, forging an attachment to Israel and the Jewish people and successfully integrating sub-communities, such as the Orthodox, the Reform or the intermarried.

Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino delivered the opening keynote speech, challenging leaders to question their assumptions about community day schools.

Pardes, the Progressive Association of Reform Day Schools, folded its conference into the Ravsak conference, and the North American Association of Jewish High Schools recently merged with Ravsak, which had previously dealt mostly with kindergarten through eighth-grade schools.

Aside from the conference, Ravsak provides leadership training, consulting services and curricular and staffing initiatives for day schools, and recently opened a new Center for Jewish Day School Education, as a laboratory of ideas for teachers and administrators.

For more information visit www.ravsak.org or www.pardesdayschools.org.

Jewish Leaders Help LAUSD Tackle Diversity

Five Jewish leaders were among the 22 appointees to a new Human Relations Council for the LAUSD Board of Education. The council will advise and review policies and make recommendations to the Board of Education on matters related to human relations, diversity and equity.

Appointed to the board were: Dan Alba, L.A. regional director of Facing History and Ourselves, an organization that educates students and teachers about how to apply lessons of tolerance through understanding the Holocaust; Jenny Betz, project director of the Anti-Defamation League's A World of Difference Institute, which runs cultural diversity and tolerance workshops for students and teachers; Rabbi Allen Freehling, executive director of the L.A. City Human Relations Commission and rabbi emeritus of University Synagogue in Brentwood; Beverly Lemay, program manager at the Museum of Tolerance, which hosts thousands of school children each year; and Tzivia Schwartz-Getzug, executive director of Jewish World Watch, which raises awareness and funds to stop genocide throughout the world.

"In a community as diverse as Los Angeles, community leaders must have a role in developing policies that emphasize the importance of tolerance and respect of other cultures," said School Board President Marlene Canter. "The Council provides a formal, ongoing forum for our community partners to voice their opinions and concerns."

Hillel Pumps Up the College-Bound

Los Angeles Hillel Council's March 18 "Get Into College Conference and College Fair" is geared toward helping Jewish students and their parents understand the importance of Jewish life and community in deciding which college to choose. Aside from general information about schools and admissions, the fair focuses on topics such as Jewish life on campus, how to deal with anti-Semitism, cults and anti-Israel rhetoric and a parents-only session on letting go and helping your student succeed.

The conference takes place March 18, 11:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. at the Yitzhak Rabin Center for Jewish Life at UCLA, 574 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles.

For more information visit www.getintocollegeconference.com.

Free Spirits Wanted Alex Melamed Shalhevet senior Alex Melamed was one of 102 student journalists nationwide -- a male and female from each state -- to win an Al Neuharth Free Spirit Scholarship from Freedom Forum, a nonprofit dedicated to a free press. Along with a $1,000 scholarship to the college of his choice, Melamed will be flown to Washington, D.C., in March to receive the award and attend a journalism conference. Two of the 102 winners will be chosen for an additional $50,000 scholarship.

Melamed, who emigrated from Ukraine at age 6, worked his way up to being editor in chief of The Boiling Point, Shalhevet's newspaper.

Some of the topics he has written about include an examination of the specific mandates of Jewish journalism and a three-part series on Torah and evolution. As editor in chief, he has motivated young writers to push themselves to write complex articles.

For more information visit www.shalhevet.org or www.freedomforum.org.

Science Scholars Receive Awards at Milken

Six Milken Community High School students received Excellence in Science Awards from the American Technion Society Southern California Chapter. The awards are part of a collaboration between Milken and the American Technion Society meant to foster more interest and expertise in science while promoting closer ties to Israel and Technion, Israel's leading science and technology university. In addition to the awards, professors and researchers from Technion have visited Milken science classes and the Technion website is available for use in researching the science projects.

The winners were: Alixandra Kriegsman, 10th grade, for "Indigo vs. Dycromine Dye -- Which is More Colorfast?"; Abigail Zwick, 10th grade, for "Effect of Wearing a Swim Cap on Streamline Velocities"; Jonathan Batscha, ninth grade, for "Determining the pH of Various Soils Affected by the Simi Valley (2005) Fires"; Yael Cypers, ninth grade, for "Calculating the Salt Concentrations of Various Sidewalk Samples"; and Madison Friedman, ninth grade, and Daniel Reisfeld, ninth grade, for a study of increasing efficiency of photovoltaic cells.For information on American Technion, contact 323-857-5575 or visit www.ats.org; for Milken Community High School visit www.Milkenschool.org.

Dog Biscuits for Peace First graders at Heschel West

You might not want to sample the goods at this bake sale. First graders at Heschel West in Agoura baked and sold dog biscuits to support Pups for Peace, an organization that trains dogs for counter-terrorism detection work.

Last month, Sheriff Deputy Rick Faulk and his dog, Debra, visited Heschel to demonstrate how fast a trained dog could track down a suspicious package. The students have raised about $600 so far.

For more information, visit www.heschelwest.com or www.pupsforpeace.org.

More Help for a Fallen Soldier

When Ester's older brother was killed while serving in the Israeli army, it fell upon Ester to care for her seven siblings. Last summer, Ester, an Ethiopian Israeli, got a break from that when she spent 10 days at Camp Ramah in Ojai on a trip with 20 other Israelis who had lost siblings or parents as soldiers for the Israeli Army.

Along with memories of Universal Studios and new American friends, Ester brought back a stash of candy and clothes for siblings.

But tragedy has struck her family again. Weeks after Ester returned, her second oldest brother, also in the army, took his own life.

The Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF), which sponsored the Camp Ramah trip, once again stepped in to help Ester's family.

Following a request from Israeli social workers who visited with the family, the Western Region chapter of FIDF provided Ester's family with basic items missing from their home: a washing machine, oven, beds and mattresses, living room furniture, armoires and a computer and desk.

In immediately approving the request for funds, Miri Nash, director of FIDF's Western Region, wrote to her Israeli colleague: "This is the very least we can do. It is our duty and responsibility."

Sephardic Temple Fetes Educator

Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel will present the Heritage Award to Elaine Lindheim, president of the Bureau of Jewish Education, at a ceremony March 17. A member of the board at Sephardic Temple and chairperson of the scholarship and merit award committee, Lindheim is an educator with a PhD in educational evaluation. She and her husband, Richard Lindheim, have hosted international high school exchange students in their home. Lindheim's mother, Stella Lavis, received the Sephardic Heritage Award in 1993. She was the niece of Maurice Amado, founder of the Maurice Amado Foundation.

For more information call (310) 475-7311 or go to www.sephardictemple.org.

Panamanian Kids Winter in California girls from Panama's Chabad and Jewish Community Center

A group of 40 girls from Panama's Chabad and Jewish Community Center were among the more than 100 kids who spent winter break in Camp Gan Israel in Running Springs.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance for them to be part of the greater Jewish community -- they're so happy to be here," said Panama Chabad director Rabbi Ari Lain.

Campers from Panama were paired up with campers from California, as they learned about each other's lives and communities. The Hebrew Academy from Huntington Beach and the San Diego Chabad Day School brought groups from their schools for a Rock the Mountain Top Shabbat, and a skiing trip on Sunday.

For information on summer camp at Camp Gan Israel Running Springs, visit www.cgirunningsprings.com or call (310)-622-8030.

A Few Good Principals

Rabbi Laurence Scheindlin, headmaster of Sinai Akiba Academy in Westwood, and Michael Zeldin, professor of education at the Los Angeles Campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, were among 50 educators from North America to participate in a two-day think tank held in New York City to address the dearth of candidates to head the growing number of day schools.

The conference followed months of preliminary research that gathered best practices from public and private schools. A planning committee developed an action plan, which was the focus of the think tank meetings.

"We have just begun to address the problem and I look forward to working collaboratively with the other participants to find creative solutions for identifying, cultivating, hiring and supporting excellent leaders for day schools across the country," Scheindlin said.

The Think Tank Consultation met at the Jewish Theological Seminary, and sponsors included representatives of day schools from all denominations, educational organizations, private foundations, and graduate schools of education.

For more information, contact Rabbi Joshua Elkin, Think Tank Planning Committee member and the executive director of Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education at (617) 367-0001.

Reading for Rides

Elementary school students at Perutz Etz Jacob Hebrew Academy are working hard -- or rather reading hard -- to earn free tickets to Six Flags Magic Mountain. The "6 Hour Reading Club" requires students to read, be read to or read to someone else for a total of six hours, and they receive a special certificate and a free ticket to Magic Mountain.

For more information about the Perutz Etz Jacob Hebrew Academy call (323) 655-5766.

Prejudice Awareness Summit

Some 250 middle school students from eight LAUSD and parochial schools explored issues of prejudice at the University of Judaism's annual Prejudice Awareness Summit Feb. 21.

The adolescents learned about the roots of prejudice and its damaging effects and participated in group exercises to explore their own feelings.

Oscar de la Torre, vice president of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School Board and founder of the gang prevention Pico Youth and Family Center, addressed the summit, which was created in 1992 by Jewish Women International.

For more information visit www.uj.edu. Tracker Pixel for Entry


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