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Diversity is the one thing we all have in common

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Modern Orthodox educational institutions must accommodate two crucial, but superficially conflicting, Torah values. On the one hand, an unwavering commitment to our movement’s principles must pervade our halls, a commitment that is expressed in both actions and words. On the other hand, it is our duty to provide a high level of Jewish education to all children, regardless of whether they follow Orthodox belief and practice.

I emphasize that these are both values of paramount importance and are both Torah values. There is, however, there is a tension between them. The presence of non-observant students in an Orthodox institution is perceived by some as a dilution of the institution’s religious character and is therefore viewed as a compromise of its commitment to Torah. For this reason, several Orthodox schools have, in the past decade, adopted a policy to no longer enroll non-Orthodox students.

I have been shocked and saddened by this trend, and my years in a Modern Orthodox yeshiva day school that serves a mid-sized but highly diverse Jewish community have helped me realize that these values are not dissonant but mutually enhancing.

At the Robert M. Beren Academy, in Houston, TX, we aim to educate our students so that when they leave our halls, they will form the backbone of a strong Jewish community. Moreover, a strong Jewish community needs two key ingredients to succeed as a serious Jewish community. First, we want all Jews to be as Jewishly educated as possible and to experience a positive interaction with Orthodox Jews. Second, we want a solid group of Orthodox Jews who are proud, committed, knowledgeable, and open-minded. We are committed to cultivating both of these ingredients, all in one place.

If we create a religiously diverse environment in our school, it will demonstrate to Orthodox and non-Orthodox students alike that Torah is everyone’s to study – morasha kehilat ya’akov – “it is the inheritance of the (whole) community of Israel.” Cultivating such an environment will teach derech eretz (goodwill and common decency) between members of different denominations and between all human beings. It will foster Ahavat Yisrael (Love of our fellow Jews) in practice, not just in theory.

Finally, it will teach all of our students that non-Orthodox denominations represent a viewpoint that we respect. Even if we disagree with some of their philosophies, we value them as one of many necessary instruments in the Jewish symphony. In this way our diversity is not a compromise of our commitment to Torah, but a confirmation of it; it is our way of teaching certain core Torah values outside the classroom and not just inside.

As a practical matter, I understand how hard it is at times to have children facing religious challenges, such as spending time at the house of a friend who does not keep kosher or hosting a family who is not Shabbat observant. But we believe that children can rise to these challenges. Of course, this requires parents to help their children by supporting and encouraging a commitment to the values they hold dear and by supporting the mission and expectations of the school. It also strengthens their commitment to their observance.

At the end of the day, all of our students will have received a first-rate Jewish education consonant with Orthodox principles and will have grown in achdut (unity) and mutual respect, and be well on their way to becoming proud and well-integrated Jewish adults. They will come out stronger, prouder, and better-suited to serve the Jewish community of tomorrow.

Rabbi Ari Segal
Head, Robert M. Beren Academy, Houston TX
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The trauma of privilege

I have been in the center of the swirl of awareness about the unintended consequences of affluence and privilege on our children.

I meet these youngsters and their families when crisis penetrates their denial system and they arrive at Beit T’Shuvah, the recovery community I founded in Los Angeles 30 years ago. I have listened to their baffled, bewildered parents, who “gave them everything” only to have it thrown in their faces. I coined the family dynamic: “I hate you; send money.” At Beit T’Shuvah, we have been essentially “re-parenting” these children of all ages, allowing them to experience “all the disadvantages of success,” in the words of Larry Ellison.

A recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds a direct correlation between parents who overvalue their children and children who are narcissistic. Researchers found that while parental warmth was associated with high self-esteem in kids, that parental over-evaluation was not. Or, as Madeline Levine put it: “Praise is not warmth pumped in; self-esteem is not self-efficacy.” I have heard from many recovering addicts that when they feel undeserving, praise exacerbates their self-loathing and sense of fraudulence.



What we have to pay for

Toilet paper . . .

This scroll endowed by . . .

With 2+ decades spent working in the Jewish world, I’ve seen a lot of things come and go. Ideas that were considered the epitome of best practice come into vogue, run their course, and become passé.

Agencies and innovative think tanks slip away due to failure to create, implement, and execute strategic sustainability plans. Iconic thought leaders tire and fail to notice that the landscape is changing and passing them by. Then what? Now what?



The lion and the compass

Maimonides and Nahmanides had their differences.

Maimonides (d. 1204) tolerated no idea that failed the test of reason. An ancient and robust tradition of superstition among the Jews did not deter him. Maimonides either ignored or rationalized scores of Talmudic halachot based on astrology, demonology, and magic.

Maimonides denounced astrology passionately, despite its popularity, calling the belief “stupidity” and its practitioners “fools.” His argument bears emphasis: Maimonides opposed astrology primarily on scientific rather than religious grounds. The Torah prohibits divination from the sky, he ruled, not because it displays a lack of faith in God, but simply because it is false.


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