• Mordecai M. Kaplan (1881-1983) was one of the most influential Jewish thinkers of the 20th century.  We believe that his thought may be even more important in the 21st century.

Cyd Weissman's Response to Our 21st Century Kaplanian Vision

Cyd Weissman challenges us to consider whether it is a different ball game entirely than Kaplan (or his 21st century interpreters) might have imagined when the foundations of Jewish civilization are “cracked” or “cracking.” Under such circumstances one might do well to remember Rabbi Ira Eisenstein’s observation that part of Kaplan’s copernican revolution was to acknowledge that Judaism exists for Jews rather than Jews existing for Judaism. Given that shift perhaps we ought to begin our thinking with the insights about meaning making coming from the newest research in social emotional intelligence and the new neuroscience. Kaplan actually countenanced such possibilities in Greater Judaism in the Making (1948) and The Meaning and Purpose of Jewish Existence (1964).

 

I have been in conversations where people note the very thing that holds Jewish education back is the grammar of education. We are charged to enculturate, to foster love and belonging and meaning and yet the grammar of schooling...books, lessons, classroom and the like limit our imagination and intervention. What if we dropped that grammar and adapted one of raising a child in a family for example? What grammar and tools might we use? 

 

I do believe vision is critical and you make that point. What I yearn to understand are visions ...pictures of the future state that speak to today's world. I do wish for example visions paint the picture of learning in lived community not classrooms, or parents as learners and children as a secondary focus or pictures of homes not schools as the central local or.. oh a million. 

 

We need a time of experimentation that acknowledges the foundations of society and Jewish life are cracking or cracked. Children spend 6 to 8 hours per day on screens. Half of our children live in multi faith homes. Two hours of Jewish learning in a waking weak where no other Jewish notes are heard will accomplish? Parents struggle to raise their children in the most basic factors of character and resilience. We have a generation of anxious children..and adults.  Facts on the ground like that impact our visions or should. 

 

Our times call on us to imagine anew the answers to how do we ground and grow our children in a world gone wild and a religious life so loosely tethered to the reality of a child's existence. Innovation is not a counterpoint to vision. It is in service of creating new visions  in service of our mission. 

 

Frankly I'm humbly saying we don't know what education looks like that can ground and grow children in this environment. A vision offered may be a starting point to help educators. Another way to start to imagine a better future is a close and hard look at the lives of those we seek to teach. If we see with empathy the facts on the ground like what I listed above...if they were the drivers of vision I have to ask what would the vision be? Is it Kaplan's answer. Maybe.  I'm not sure.

 

Ahead we need established visions like the one from Kaplan to be in conversation with empathic understanding of the needs and desires and challenges of the people we serve. I think something of value can emerge.

 

- Cyd Weissman

 

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