(From left) Prof. Menachem Hirshman, Hebrew University; Dr. Michal Muszkat-Barkan, Direct, Department of the Department of of Education and Professional Development, HUC-JIR; Dr. Michael Gillis, Hebrew University; Rabbi Naamah Kelman, Dean, HUC-JIR.
A scholarly conference entitled Pluralistic Jewish Education: Trends and Challenges, jointly sponsored by the Melton Center for Jewish Education of the Hebrew University and HUC-JIR, was held in Jerusalem on July 27-28. Dr. Michal Muszkat-Barkan, Director of HUC-JIR/Jerusalem’s Department of Education and Professional Development, was a Co-Chair of the conference, which was coordinated by Ronit Polsky, a doctoral student and member of the Department’s staff.
The conference aimed to grapple with some key issues confronting those interested in advancing a pluralistic approach to Jewish education. What does pluralism mean and what are its limitations? Who are our partners in this work? How do the political realities of life in Israel affect the debate on pluralism? Are the sources of pluralism to be found within Jewish culture or outside it? How do communities and schools embrace pluralistic attitudes and programs? What is the role of the individual teacher?
In many ways this conference broke new ground. It was the first international academic conference in Israel to deal with this vitally important subject, and it combined scholarly inquiry with a real sensitivity to the ‘field.’ Papers were given by members of the College-Institute faculty – Dr. Michael Meyer from Cincinnati, Dr. Lisa Grant from New York, and Dr. Yehoyada Amir, Dr. Michael Marmur, Dr. Michal Muskat-Barkan, Ms. Ronit Polsky and Dr. Ruchama Weiss from Jerusalem. A session was chaired by Dr. Isa Aron of the Rhea Hirsch School of Jewish Education at HUC-Los Angeles, and two others by Dr. Marc Rosenstein and Dr. David Levine, both of HUC-JIR/Jerusalem.
Scholars from around the world presented papers at the conference, among them Hebrew University scholars Dr. Michael Gillis, Dr. Jen Glaser, Dr. Hagit Hacohen Wolf, Dr. Alex Pomson and Dr. Avinoam Rosenak, Dr. Susan Shevitz from Brandeis University, Dr. Martin Ubani from the University of Helsinki, Dr. Zehavit Gross from Bar Ilan University, Dr. Rena Havlin, Rabbi Leon Weiner Dow, Dr. Ezra Kopelowitz, Rhea Hirsch graduate Meir Yoffe, Dr. Eitan Shikli of the Tali Foundation, and others. Among others presiding over sessions and attending the conference could be found such luminaries as Dr. John Levison of Brandeis University, Dr. Dalia Ofer of the Hebrew University, Dr. Saul Wachs of Gratz College, Rabbi Margaret Meyer of Cincinnati, and the Head of Jewish Studies at a new pluralist High School in England who flew over especially in order to hear the sessions. There was also an impressive selection of principals and teachers from the Israeli school system, and students from our Specialization in Pluralistic Jewish Education.
One highlight of the conference was a panel open to the public in which Orthodox, Reform, and secular principals of Israeli schools shared dilemmas of pluralism with great honesty. Former MK Rabbi Michael Melchior, who will be receiving an Honorary Doctorate from the College-Institute in November, was the respondent. At other points in the conference, evidence gleaned from an experiment in Jewish pluralism in Holon, from the work of Panim, an organization co-ordinating efforts in the area of pluralistic Jewish renewal around Israel, from the Tali School system, and beyond was adduced and analyzed alongside theoretical models. At this conference, theory and practice worked hand in hand. Some research from schools in North America (and one paper on Jewish education in Finland!) was also presented – so Israel and the Diaspora were also in encounter throughout the conference.
Participants have been uniformly enthusiastic about the significance of the conference’s subject matter and the quality of the presentations. HUC-JIR/Jerusalem is proud to be part of the intellectual and academic conversation about pluralism in Israel and around the Jewish world.