By Michelle Lynn-Sachs
The current issue of Journal of Jewish Education features four articles whose diversity reflects the rich amalgam of methods, settings, and content that make up the field of Jewish education. These articles present qualitative research from day school Shabbatonim and university Hebrew classrooms, a historical account of the contributions to Jewish education of 20th century biblical scholar Israel Friedlaender, and possibilities for a research agenda for technology and Jewish education that are rooted in reflections on practice.
As diverse as the content and methods of these pieces are, what they have in common is that they challenge us to view their subject in novel ways. Building on scholarship from both within and outside the field of Jewish education, they offer new perspectives on familiar topics. As a result, when you read this issue, you will not only know more, but you will also think differently about questions such as: How should Hebrew language be taught in the diaspora? How can Jewish diversity be utilized in service of a school’s broadest educational aims? How does new focus on the educational legacy of an early 20th century biblical scholar add to our understanding of the questions asked of Jewish education today? And finally, What might researchers and research-minded practitioners tackle first to develop a body of work on technology and Jewish education?
The first article in our issue is Yona Gilead’s Code-switching Functions in Modern Hebrew Teaching and Learning. In her first appearance in the Journal, Gilead reminds the reader of the long-standing advocacy among language pedagogues that second (or additional) languages should be taught entirely in that language, what we in Jewish education refer to as the ivrit b’ivrit model. Situating her article in current research in bi/multilingualism and second language acquisition and pedagogy, Gilead challenges this model, favoring instead selective use of students’ first language (in this case, English) in classes that teach them additional languages (in this case, Hebrew). Specifically, Gilead presents findings that show how “code switching,” which here refers to the act of alternating between languages in naturally occurring ways, serves the learner both pedagogically and holistically as persons.
Gilead’s findings come from data she collected in a beginner’s Hebrew course at an Australian university, with methods including classroom observation, discourse analysis of classroom video and audio recordings, interviews of students and teacher, and analysis of classroom resources. While collecting this data, code switching emerged as a recurring pattern of classroom speech and interaction. In presenting her findings, Gilead identifies six functions of code switching in the Hebrew classroom: 1) to confirm understanding of specific Hebrew words or phrases, 2) to support Hebrew learning and development, 3) to expand Jewish/Israeli cultural knowledge, 4) to support metalinguistic development, 5) for classroom management, and 6) to communicate socially and develop interpersonal relationships. In the article itself, clear and detailed examples of each of these functions illustrate how code switching occurs naturally. Overall, Gilead’s article brings our readers into current thinking about bi-/multilingualism, with an emphasis on allowing pedagogy to reflect the real life ways that multilingual individuals actually use language.
Our second article, Diversity, Community, and Pluralism in Jewish Community Day High Schools, is written by Jeff S. Kress of the Jewish Theological Seminary, New York. In this article, Kress takes a close look at community Jewish day high schools and the sometimes competing forces both to create a unified school community and to manage the expectations that the school’s Jewish practices should reflect the sensibilities of the students’ outside Jewish communities.
The data for Kress’s study were collected during observations in three different schools, including both on-site visits during the school week and off-site observations at Shabbatonim. The work is situated in the discourse of pluralism, and Kress leads the reader through differing conceptions of pluralism and how each of the three schools in the study represents a different type. At the heart of Kress’s findings is the thread that links each school’s approach to pluralism, the distinct practices that embody the Shabbaton, and the school’s educational aims. Specifically, the article details how each school has developed a “signature practice” that is consistent with the school’s approach to all three of the following: diversity, Jewish practice, educational aims, and that this “signature practice allows for individual participation across the spectrum of beliefs and practices, within a communal context, providing a centripetal ‘school-wide’ counterpoint to the centrifugal pull of the needs of ‘subgroups.’” (Kress, this issue; emphasis in original)
Kress’s conclusions remind the reader it can be tempting to fall into the habit of holding up one approach to pluralism as the ideal, and seeing other approaches to pluralism as simply not fully realized. Kress advocates a different approach, against this hierarchy of pluralisms, and in favor of viewed Jewish diversity in schools as linked to each particular school’s core Jewish tenets. In coining the phrase “diversity to support the core,” Kress offers the field a new metric for analysing diversity and community in Jewish schools.
The third article in this issue of the Journal is historian Gil Graff’s Jewish Education, Past and Present: Israel Friedlaender Re-Visited. In this paper, Gil Graff fills in a longstanding gap in scholarly work on the impact on Jewish education of Israel Friedlaender, the early 20th century Biblicist and leader in Jewish organizational life. Expanding on the biographical work of Baila Shargel (1985 Shargel, B. R. (1985). Practical dreamer: Israel Friedlaender and the shaping of American Judaism. New York, NY: Jewish Theological Seminary of America.), Graff’s article details and highlights Friedlaender’s broad involvement in, and impact on, the people, organizations and ideas central to the development of Jewish education.
Graff’s depiction of Friedlaender’s contributions shows an individual whose commitments and pursuits went beyond his scholarship, which in the United States was based at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Friedlaender’s mentorship of scores of teachers and students and his leadership of communal organizations, including his leadership at the helm of Young Judea and New York’s Bureau of Jewish Education distinguished him, as did his commitment to the Jewish educational endeavor as a multi-institutional ecosystem requiring cooperation and healthy relationships. With scholarly diligence and respect, Graff places Israel Friedlaender among the most influential leaders in American Jewish education of the early 20th century, showing how elements of Friedlaender’s vision still reverberate today.
The final article in this Journal issue is Jeffrey Schein’s Technology: So Pervasive in Jewish Living, So Absent from Jewish Educational Research. In this paper, the author offers a response to Jonathan Krasner’s (2014 Krasner, J. (2014). The new Journal of Jewish Education at ten: An appraisal. Journal of Jewish Education, 80(3), 160–192. doi:10.1080/15244113.2014.937200) lament on the lack of scholarship on technology and Jewish education. Based on reflection on his involvement with a series of teen and family education programs on technology and Judaism, Schein maps out a variety of possibilities for a research agenda on this timely topic.
Beyond the specifics of the proposals themselves, Schein brings the reader inside his reflective thought process as he reflects on the moments during the project when he, in his words, “pulled up short.” Crediting Lee Shulman’s notion of the “wisdom of practice,” Schein describes how he committed to take note of unexpected moments as an educator, and how he structured his reflection to both dig more deeply and to situate more broadly the experiences he was having. This type of reflective practice, and its public presentation, is critical to the ongoing development of our Journal’s aim to respond to issues of both scholarship and application to practice in Jewish education.
In this Journal issue, readers will be challenged to consider familiar narratives in a new light. Hebrew pedagogy, historical influences on American Jewish education, Jewish diversity in schools, and technology and Jewish education are all re-examined by our authors, deepening our understanding and suggesting new questions for further exploration.
This Editor’s Note is from Volume 82 of the Journal of Jewish Education. To purchase any of these articles, or access them through your school library, click here.