Challenges in Jewish education

I’m very involved in planning (and often chairing) adult education programs for the two shuls in Stamford to which we belong. And over the years we’ve been privileged to host many interesting scholars and fascinating programs on a host of topics in our community.

The program that I’m most proud of, though, is an annual event that I have chaired since its inception – the Challenges in Jewish Education Panel – which has continued to be held in Stamford uninterrupted (except for the year when Covid closed our shuls) over three different decades.

The program is sponsored by our local day school, the Bi-Cultural Hebrew Academy. Each year, we invite two different Jewish educators from outside our own community to participate in a panel, in which they discuss a topic that is relevant to the times.  And we have tackled some very challenging and heavy topics: the tuition crisis…teaching ivrit b’ivrit…co-education…towards a more meaningful davening experience…creating a place for youngsters with special needs…making Shabbat a more meaningful experience for our children.

We have also been able to feature a veritable who’s who in the Jewish education world – the folks who I consider some of the best and brightest stars at our day schools.  Past participants have included Dr. Shani Bechhofer, Miriam Krupka Berger, Rabbi Dr. Alan Berkowitz, Rookie Billet, Rabbi Yaakov Blau, Rabbi Yotav Eliach, Dr. Scott Goldberg, Rabbi Jay Goldmintz, Amy Katz, Rivy Kletenik, Rabbi Jeffrey Kobrin, Rabbi Joshua Lookstein, C.B. Neugroschl, Rabbi Dr. Gil Perl, and Rabbi Eliezer Rubin. I’m sure I have left out several other fine educators who have participated, too.

One of my favorite panel discussions was the year in which we invited Rabbi Tully Harcsztark and Raizi Chechik to discuss the following topic: “Where is God…in Our Day School Curriculum.” It was a fascinating panel discussion on a subject that deserves more attention – the fact that our day schools rarely teach about belief in God and the related issues that our children often must face.

One year we decided to invite a father-daughter tandem to address various educational issues from a different generational viewpoint.  How fortunate we were to have both Rabbi Michael Taubes, a former head of school at MTA High School and now a Rosh Yeshiva at RIETS, and his daughter Shuli Taubes, a Judaic studies instructor at SAR High School, participate together in our annual panel discussion. They were terrific!

One year we invited Rabbi Yakov Horowitz to join the panel discussion on the topic, “When Your Youngster Doesn’t Quite Fit the Mold.” He was fantastic! That year we strongly encouraged our teens to attend the panel discussion – and they came in full force. What I distinctly remember about that panel is that after the panel had concluded, a half dozen of the teens came over to Rabbi Horowitz to ask more questions and continue the discussion. (If you think teenagers don’t want to talk to rabbis and to their parents, I believe you are sadly mistaken…in fact, they desperately want to converse with us.)

We don’t shy away from discussing controversial topics, either, as part of the annual panel.  Two years ago, we invited Rivka Press Schwartz (who is never shy about expressing her opinions) and Rabbi Dr. Avery Joel to discuss “Money, Materialism, and Modern Orthodoxy.” It was one of the most well attended panels we ever had.

We just hosted this year’s panel two weeks ago, and our panelists discussed a very hot topic: artificial intelligence in the classroom. We were fortunate to host Rabbi Avi Bloom, the director of technology at SAR High School, and Sarah Rubinson Levy, who regularly consults with various day schools about AI and other technology issues. They discussed some of the advantages and disadvantages of AI, and some of the very sticky questions that AI presents: Is the role of the teacher going away? How do you address some of the ethical considerations that come into play with AI usage?  What do parents need to know about AI now? It was a fabulous panel discussion on a cutting-edge topic.

I’m extremely proud that I have been able to chair this panel for so many years. First, because we have been able to host this program for as long as we have and share an enormous amount of wisdom with parents of day school children and our local Jewish educators, from dozens of other Jewish educators in the field. And second, because it demonstrates that our community members take the issue of Jewish education very seriously and want to proactively engage in meaningful discussions about important topics relating to the education of our youngsters.

As a side benefit, I have developed several close relationships with various Jewish educators across the country…and I have occasionally called upon them for their wisdom and expertise about different subjects.

So…what is your community doing to engage members in discussing important issues relating to Jewish education?

About the Author
Michael Feldstein, who lives in Stamford, CT, is the author of "Meet Me in the Middle," a collection of essays on contemporary Jewish life. His articles and letters have appeared in The Jewish Link, The Jewish Week, The Forward, and The Jewish Press. He can be reached at
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