- Outside the Classroom
By Carla Kutnick, Denver JDS parent and board member
Denver Jewish Day School began offering a Words to Live By (Divrei Chaim) Speaker Series at the beginning of this school year. I have attended all three of the events to date. Each time, I learn something valuable, not only as it applies to my kids’ education, but also for myself.
I have often thought about the importance of Jewish continuity in our family materializing by making sure my children are connected to their Jewish identity and exposed to a variety of ways to express and internalize who they are as Jews. Two years ago when I attended a JWRP (Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project) trip to Israel, I recognized the equal importance of my husband’s and my roles as links in the Jewish continuity chain.
Our children are so fortunate to attend Denver JDS, where the school’s Divrei Chaim help guide their education and character formation. The Words to Live By speaker series is an opportunity for us as parents and community members to engage in an enriching Jewish educational opportunity. The speakers are relevant, highly professional, and present content that is valuable and insightful.
This week Denver JDS hosted Dr. Michael Kay, the head of school at Solomon Schechter School of Westchester in New York, to speak about “community.” He specifically talked about what it means to be a pluralistic Jewish community.
So what exactly is pluralism?
Dr. Kay said that while we use the term “pluralism,” we can also insert the term “diversity.” He told us that diversity is not aesthetic – it is a skill, and one that Jewish day schools are well-poised to teach. He noted that many people misunderstand pluralism to mean “anything goes.” He defined pluralism as a process of community engagement, not a predictor of outcomes. I found this definition to be enlightened and open to possibility.
According to Dr. Kay, interactional pluralism represents a 21st century offering. It means that different stakeholders do more than co-exist; they also understand each other and openly engage with different ideas. Stakeholders interact with the possibility of enriching one another’s beliefs versus just cultivating an atmosphere where people with different practices can co-exist, or enables people to understand (informationally) different ways to practice.
Interactional pluralism implies collaboration, a transferable and marketable skill beyond Jewish day school. Think of it as an essential skill to succeed in politics, academics, business, health-related fields, and so on. Interactional pluralism enables critical thinking skills, where students retain more of what they learn by being forced to articulate their perspectives while also better accepting other people’s perspectives.
Following Dr. Kay’s talk, we heard from a panel of experts (including, Director of Jewish Life & Learning Dr. Sarah Levy, fifth grade teacher Spencer Stachler, parent and board member Dr. Eli Sacks, and students Eli Asarch and Shaun Slamowitz). We were able to ask questions and engage in meaningful discussion about pluralism and community. The two students described how even though they have opposite views about the existence of God, they are the best of friends because they are in a safe environment where they can openly challenge and disagree with one another. People disagreeing with one another is, as Dr. Kay put it, “a hallmark of Judaism,” and has been part of our culture for thousands of years.
The next Words to Live By speaker event, this one featuring “integrity,” is on Monday, March 4. I hope to see many of you there.