• 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.

Rabbi Elyse Wechterman's Response to the 21st Century Vision

I am grateful to the colleagues who devote time to mining our Kaplanian sources for fresh insights into our work as educators and for the opportunity to benefit from their dedication.  My comments are humble additions – offered in the spirit of “both/and” knowing that their expertise far outweighs my experience and that in inspiring my own thought they are indeed the source from which any contribution I might make truly comes.

I am particularly moved by the first affirmation of your “roadmap:” “The Jewish community as a whole educates. School as well as camps, synagogues, youth groups, Israel experiences and Jewish community centers are the acculturating vibrant centers for this educational process.”  I appreciate the recognition that Jewish learning, acculturation and meaning-making happen wherever Jews gather and “do” Jewish. We know that the best learning is both experiential and personally relevant and to define places where Jews and those who love them are engaged in personal Jewish experiences as loci for learning is to make explicit the opportunities for learning that are often overlooked.  I would like to push your list a little further and include specifically family and home as “acculturating vibrant centers” for meaning-making as well.  

I am not so naïve to believe that Jewish learning and acculturation can take place in today’s homes as easily as we like to believe they once did – when Jewish life and knowledge seemed to imbue the home organically.  It is patently obvious that many of the families who cross our thresholds today have neither the skills, resources, knowledge (yiddishkeit, some might call it) or confidence to take on this role unsupported. But I do believe that those of us who see ourselves as Jewish educators must find ways to empower, support, and provide resources to parents and family members to create organic, meaning-making experiences in and through their own homes.  

Witness the “Shabbat Box” or neighborhood “Sukkah Collectives” as examples of home-based empowerment projects where synagogues and schools foster empowerment in the Jewish home.  PJ Library has several years of experience in getting Jewish children’s books into Jewish homes and supporting parents and grandparents in sharing these stories of Jewish life with their very young children.  (Has a longitudinal study of PJ Library yet been done to measure its effect)? I’d love to see Reconstructionist educators take these efforts and others like them to the next level. What could it mean to have art appreciation classes for adults in which people are encouraged to buy Jewish art for their homes?  What about a Top-Ten Jewish Library Book List for adults? Can encouraging parents to take their children with them for Shiva Minyanim provide a powerful model for teaching gemilut hesed in a community?

These are just a few ways in which we, as Jewish educators, can empower and enable Jewish families to learn and do in their own homes and relocate Jewish family – especially Jewish families of diverse and varied cultures – as centers of Jewish learning in our communities.