People of the book(s)…

I just spent three days at a truly remarkable conference, The Conversation.  I’m not sure there’s any way for me to effectively talk about the experience here. It was immense and confusing and private, and I’m still chewing it over, but I’ll  say this– I met some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met in my life, and I feel renewed and excited and compelled to rejoin the world of Jewish communal work.

I feel fraught and bewildered in good ways. I feel challenged to figure out how to help create an infrastructure for Jewish people like me, who live on the boundaries of the organized Jewish world.  I want to see the term “unaffiliated” mean a positive thing.

I am, myself, “unaffiliated”, but what that means is only that I defy denominations and groups, not that I lack interest, input, literacy. “Unaffiliated” means creative to me. Outside the box. Not that I’m not a vital part of the community as a whole.  There has to be a way for those of us who are living in small towns, non-Jewish n’hoods, to participate more fully. An easier way  for the intermarrieds and the politically contentious (I mean this nicely) to contribute, build.

It will require a new kind of participation, new types of structures, but I think this is wonderful!

Today, I’m wondering what would happen if there was a charter school that taught Hebrew immersion. Placed in a commuity with failing schools, but where a sizeable unaffiliated Jewish community was living nearby.   I wonder if the Hebrew would act as a secular draw, particularly for parents who want/need educational options, and also a new kind of Jewish community.  A charter school that would act as a hub for that community-building work in the kinds of places  I choose to live.

I would absolutely choose such a school for my kids!  A school that would be a non-denominational, all-inclusive way to meet other Jews, but also other non-Jews.  A place where my kids would learn Hebrew (which I want them to do) but also live in a mixed-up community. An anti-eruv. A place where I’d meet Jewish families to join pot-luck Shabbat dinners, but without moving to the burbs or doing private school.  And the charter could include Jewish holidays off from school!  Not religious instruction, but a secular centerpiece to transitioning n’hoods with Jewish families in them.

I’d imagine other things would spin out from it.


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3 Responses to “People of the book(s)…”

  1. Liz B Says:

    Laurel, I don’t think this has a specific affiliation:

  2. Paul G Says:

    Hi Laurel,

    I heard rumors of some more disturbing conversations at “the conversation”. Anyway, besides the Hebrew charter school in Broward linked to by Liz B., there is some talk of also starting one in Brooklyn. Note that those two locations are two of the most heavily-concentrated Jewish populations in the country. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. To me, Hebrew charter schools are mid-way down a very slippery slope breaking the separation of church and state. True, they won’t be able to teach Judaism as a religion (during “regular” school hours, anyway) but I’m sure the overwhelming majority of kids will be Jewish, and “affiliated,” and the whole concept is a clever way of working around the high costs of Jewish day schools. You may have heard some talk of day schools at “the conversation” because it is the current panacea to all that ails the Jewish community, specifically intermarriage. As with the other panaceas (panacei?) like Birthright Israel, Jewish Camping, et al, it involves “immersive” experiences. In other words, it sequesters Jewish kids from the non-Jewish mainstream. And that may be quite effective for those families who choose to do so, but is it really “good for the Jews” in the long run? I personally don’t think so. And I don’t think the majority of Jews want to sequester their kids that much.

    I think the movement for immersive Jewish experiences is basically an admission of failure: once fully exposed to — and accepted by — the American mainstream, Jews are having a tough time answering the question “Why be Jewish?” So the best answer to date our “leaders” can conjure is to recreate the shtetl; to disengage from constant contact with the non-Jewish mainstream. Too few people are working on how to make Judaism a component of an otherwise American life. That, to me, is the real challenge. IMHO.


  3. David W Says:

    Thanks for the write up. Im a regular contributor in this field, I really value understanding other peoples perspectives and teachings; understanding how every one of us fit with one another.

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