Secular and Jewish Education: Better Together

During the Year, I always strive to open my eyes to new ideas in the world.

Sometimes, these ideas relate specifically to my Jewish Identity, and sometimes they relate to my excitement for Early Childhood/Elementary Education. But, recently, I found that my goal should not be to separate the two. Instead, I should seek to put myself within conferences, classes, etc. that combine the two together. Therefore, since then, I have sought to do just that, and make it so that Early Childhood Education and Jewish Studies are better together, not apart.

I started gathering that vision while sitting in my Education 2900 class. I was the only male in the class, and often, hard conversations would happen around the table surrounding ideas of racial injustice, diversity, and equity for both males and females. One day in class, my Phenomenal Professor, for at least the 5th time, called me out because he and I were both males, and Caucasian, which meant that we were the ones schools were built for. But, this time, he made a mistake because he claimed that I was Catholic. Before I could say anything, a girl in the class raised her hand, and stated that I was Jewish. Afterwards, the girl who raised her hand stopped me in the hall, asked what I thought of the conversation, and then asked me: “Do you think it is appropriate that we, the females in the class, have to put up with hearing about how we will never be equal to a man?”

That question left me speechless for a few minutes. But, afterwards, I answered her. I let her know that I thought the conversation was phenomenal (I was the only one who enjoyed the radical teaching of the class), but that I did not agree that we should be discussing how women will not be equal to a man. We are obligated to learn about those times in history, but for today’s world, we cannot live that way. I told her that as a Conservative Jew, I believe in Egalitarianism, which means that I am obligated to see women as an equal. Women have the same opportunities that I would, and therefore, just like myself, they have every right to be a student in a school. The girl was impressed that I had just said such a statement, but also was glad to hear that she did no wrong by stating that I was a Jew.

That moment right there proved to me that my Early Childhood/Elementary Education classes can go hand in hand with my Jewish Values. This vision kept proving true, as I, this past summer participated in the first ever NEWCAJE College Cohort Fellowship, a two-year cohort made up of Jewish Students pursuing work in the field of Jewish Education, and education in general. I got to virtually attend many classes and learn with amazing scholars. But one major highlight for me, was found in Jewish Storytelling courses.

As an Early Childhood Major, I knew storytelling was at the forefront of the work that I would involve myself in. But what I did not know was that storytelling could speak to anything, and everything. Within these classes, I heard stories revolving around Diversity, Social Justice, Tikkun Olam (Repairing the World), L’Dor V’Dor (Inspiring one generation based off of another generation), and Jewish Ritual/Practice. For me, this was amazing because I realized that I found where my vision, Better Together, could come alive. Yes, teaching other subjects, I am able to bring out various parts of my identity. But, through storytelling, specifically, I found that I could illuminate my full self, and bring to light the values that define who I am as a Jewish person, and as a Future Early Childhood Educator.

As I write this, Jewish people around the world are getting ready for Chanukah. On this holiday, we light a Menorah with a special candle called a Shamash, which translates to helper. This candle serves as the reminder that we are obligated to be helpers in a world that is broken, and full of darkness. In a perfect world, we would already be able to be equal, and not have to worry about injustice happening to so many. But our world is not perfect, which means we have work to do.

With so many, I have shared that in the future, I have the goal of attending Rabbinical School and receiving a Masters in Jewish Education. With that said, I believe that I am a Shamash (A helper), because I believe in bridging both Jewish Education and Secular Education Together. I believe that I am a Shamash (A Helper), because I believe in helping make Diversity shine, and stories be heard, and I believe that I am a Shamash (A Helper), because I seek to make this world a better place, one step at a time.

My work is far from over (It is just beginning!), and in no way do I believe that I can make this world perfect by myself. But, as Rabbi Tarfon taught in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers): “It is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but you are not free to desist from it either (2:21).”

In the end, we are all obligated to be a Shamash, and I believe that with the vision of Better Together, I, along with the rest of my peers, can build this world back to the way it was meant to be. The work will not be easy, but at the end of the day, it will be rewarding and deserving!

Kein Yehi Ratzon!

About the Author
Sam Arnold is a Sophomore at Western Michigan University majoring in Early Childhood/Elementary Education,and minoring in Comparative Religions, with the goal to receive a masters in Jewish Education and pursue the Rabbinate. He is the 1st and 2nd Grade Teacher, along with the K-3 Team leader within the joint Religious School of Congregation of Moses and Temple B'nai Israel in Kalamazoo MI, and is the Shabbat Coordinator for Western Michigan's Hillel. Sam is a part of the first ever NEWCAJE College Cohort, a Shalom Hartman Winter I-Engage Participant, and has studied underneath Cantor Leonard Gutman of Congregation Shaarey Zedek learning and gaining respect for the art of Davening. Finally, Sam looks to inspire others to live their lives filled with passion and meaning, just as he is on a daily basis!
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