The Guf / Body of the Vision:
The Educational Shlemut of Kaplan’s Vision
We affirm that, over the long run, any effective educational enterprise should contain the five elements that Kaplan outlined in his chapter on Jewish Education. Our capacity to
remain reliable measures of an effective Jewish education. The best of our program will include all these elements within them, although different educational venues will put an emphasis on one element or another.
Commentary on "Understand and appreciate Hebrew Language and Literature"
Rabbi James Greene: Kaplan writes that if we want to develop an interest in Jewish life we need to, “make him (the learner) feel like he is a necessary part of the Jewish community.” Jewish education that focuses on formal lessons and texts will fail to truly integrate into community. The beauty of Kaplan’s vision is that it stretches beyond the classroom. Reconstructionist Jewish education continues to be an experiential educational environment where, in addition to the formal study process, we continue to nurture learners as they explore, play with, grow into, and love Jewish life, practice, and culture. And, in today’s Jewish world with all the intersections and off ramps, that is the sacred hiddush that still echoes from Kaplan’s writing.
Although the hiddush remains powerful, how it is experienced has changed dramatically. What it means to participate in Jewish life is continually evolving just as our Jewish civilization itself is evolving. Kaplan’s world enjoyed a well-maintained expectation that people will come to the community to learn, whether in the context of a synagogue, JCC, or other community agency. Today, those boundaries of Jewish community are falling away. What remains is a center point of Jewish journeys that serve as a guiding light, calling people in. Through new websites like JewBelong, through social media pages and meet up groups that serve as meeting spaces and connectors, and through a new havurah movement that is happening outside of the organized Jewish communal structure, we are witnessing a massive shift in the Jewish landscape. And, although Kaplan’s vision remains sound and the metric remains valid, what it means to “participate” in Jewish life could not be more different than when Kaplan initially wrote his chapter on Jewish education 80 years ago. We still need to motivate people to engage in Jewish life. I wonder, however, if we still have a shared understanding of what that means.