JWA's Institute for Educators: Making it all about the learning
Last week I was able to spend a week learning from the wonderful people at the Jewish Women's Archive as they were teaching us how to use their online archive in our schools, especially the Living the Legacy curriculum. The curriculum teaches about the role of Jewish women and men in the civil rights movement, an event that changed the world we live in. One statistic that struck me is that some estimates suggest nearly half the white women who went south to work for civil rights from the north had Jewish heritage as part of their family history. These were mostly women of privilege who saw injustice and wanted to change it. This story is important and visiting JWA’s website and learning about these extraordinary women would be well worth your time.
But what was interesting was that I was the only man in a group of 25 Jewish educators from the U.S. and Canada. Still, this was not an unusual position for me in my career. I knew a couple of the people before I came, recognized a few more from other conferences, and many were complete strangers. What was amazing was how quickly we became a community.
As an obvious outsider, it would have been easy to hold me responsible for the sexism of the past and in many cases the present. (I did occasionally cringe when some spoke of their helpless husbands suffering back home.) But we represented what truly illustrates the theme of my multicultural workshop "The Diversity of a Dozen Eggs." (This workshop explores diversity in a group often seen as homogeneous. The title comes from a teacher saying that she didn't have diversity in her classroom so multiculturalism was not important to her, and my reply: "You can find diversity in dozen eggs." Please email for more information.)
We were born Jews and Jews by Choice, Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Reform, and Secular Humanist. We were Rabbis, lay synagogue professionals, lawyers, writers, and many other professions I can't remember. We were Jews who kept kosher and some who loved bacon, Jews who love services and Jews who never attend, Jews who feel God in every tiny detail of the world, and Jews who are comfortable in their doubt of God's existence. But we were all there for one thing: We were there to become better educators and bring voice to the voiceless of history.
What happened is that we all learned from each other, we all shared with each other, we all connected with each other. So often the walls that separate us make it hard for us to access all we can be.
When I think of my experience at JWA’s Institute for Educators, I will always remember the teachers who think outside the box to instill the wonders of Judaism to the next generation. I will remember how we worked together to find ways to modify the curriculum for our particular setting. I will remember the discussions of sustainable food and traffic on route 128. I won't remember where these women daven, or how they say the blessings, or if full kriah is important to them, and that will always make me smile.
We came together in diversity and left in unity without compromising that diversity. Huzzah to all the women I learned from and to Etta, Judith and the entire staff at JWA. Thank you for making my summer learning useful and reenergizing.
George Kelley was a participant in JWA's 2011 Summer Institute for Educators. He is the Education Director at Congregation Beth-El Zedeck in Indianapolis as well as a storyteller and speaker, who does a great deal of work in the interfaith community looking for ways for people to share community without having to give up their differences.