by Lisa Exler
Many day schools boast creative and innovative programs that excite students about Judaism and produce graduates who continue their affiliation with the Jewish community. Yet many of these same students and graduates cannot independently navigate our core texts or comfortably and confidently practice Judaism. They may be enthusiastic about their Jewish identities, but they lack the skills, knowledge and experience to be the bearers and transmitters of Judaism into the next generation. If we want to truly ensure Jewish continuity, day schools must not only provide students with a compelling vision for Jewish life, we must give students fluency in the texts and practices that are the foundation of this vision so that they are empowered to own and shape the vision as well, in their own lives and in their communities.
So what would this “fluency” look like?
Imagine someone who is fluent in a language. She has command of the language, understanding when it is spoken, reading and deciphering the meaning of texts, speaking in a way that is easily comprehensible to others, and writing descriptively and analytically in her own voice. Now imagine that this ”language” is not Spanish or Chinese, but Judaism and that it encompasses Jewish texts and practices as well as the concepts, values, vocabulary and narratives on which they are based. Fluency, as opposed to literacy, in Jewish texts and practice means not only the acquisition of content knowledge but also the skills to independently engage with Jewish texts and practice. Fluency also signals a level of confidence, comfort and ownership that goes beyond literacy or familiarity.