IN PURSUIT OF A BETTER WORLD
The importance of good character or being a mensch as we oft beseech our children, is not something easily taught in a theoretical sense. Lessons on goodness and community-mindedness are far more likely to stick with our children if they move beyond the conceptual framework and become lived experiences. The Jewish Day Schools of Nashville are unified in their mission to instill students with social-mindedness and the skills and knowledge to engage with community challenges and be active participants in affecting change.
As the holiday of Sukkot approaches, students at the Jewish Middle School explored the concept of the Sukkah (the temporary dwelling constructed for use during the holiday). Students learned various Talmudic debates about the sukkah and discovered that the sukkah provides two essential comforts to those dwelling within: physical safety and emotional safety. This concept launched a school-wide exploration into understanding the difference between a house and a home and an action plan to help combat homelessness in Nashville. Partnering with Room at the Inn, a local non-profit committed to sheltering people experiencing homelessness, JMS students will be touring their Campus for Human Development to see first-hand how Nashville serves its un-housed population. JMS students will develop and implement a community-service project designed to help alleviate the challenges and unmet needs of this population. Rabbi Daniel Hoffman, Associate Head of School for Judaic Studies at JMS, noted, “When we have the opportunity to both learn and to put that learning into action, we accomplish two things at once: we make a difference in the world, and we also allow the students to see that the text is real, the text matters, and it's not just something on a page that was written thousands of years ago.”
The idea that students need to put their learning into action and engage in community projects is something that is taught from the moment children begin their Jewish education in Nashville. At Akiva, this year’s Kindergarten Class is already engaged in social action, learning about the different ways they can help their friends, families, and community. The students will be visiting a local Goodwill to learn first-hand about their mission to change and improve lives across Middle Tennessee, and they will run a drive to collect items from the community on behalf of Goodwill. The Fourth-Grade class has been hard at work clearing up and replanting the Akiva garden, and will open up the crop of vegetables to Akiva families and communities to take and use, as needed. Fifth and Sixth graders at Akiva are participating in a Chesed program that encourages students to commit time in service of school and community needs. Much of Akiva’s mission is grounded in the idea that volunteering and community service are essential in cultivating students who are responsible and principled members of a global community. Sixth graders Sylvie Mackler and Lyla Banish are constantly looking for ways to help around Akiva. Sylive says, “I like that we can show the school that it is easy to help out here and in the community.” Lyla added that, “Everybody needs some help or support with something. Even if people don’t see all you do, it is still having an impact on someone, and it just feels good to be able to help.”
Founders and faculty of Kehilla High School, now in its inaugural year, are committed to this idea, and have developed a curriculum that guides students to be productive citizens grounded in ethics and morality. At Kehilla, which literally means ‘community,’ students are introduced to moral problems and explore Jewish views and varying perspectives of these issues. Students are tasked with finding different avenues of action and implementing practical solutions. Rabbi Saul Strosberg is the Founder of Kehilla High School. “From day one at Kehilla, we work to engage deeply with our greater communities,” says Rabbi Strosberg, adding, “These students understand that they don’t live in a vacuum and that they have a deep responsibility to learn about and become involved in the world around them.”
The Jewish values of chesed and tikkun olam (repairing the world) are foundational to Jewish education in Nashville. Students from Kindergarten through High School consistently learn about their responsibility to be productive citizens and are given the opportunity to practically apply these lessons every day. Through hands-on community service work students develop social-awareness and empathy, and experience first-hand the positive impact they have on their communities and in the world around them.