Something big is happening here at Community Day School. It has been incremental and not revolutionary—so you may have missed it along the way.
Little hints here and there, and now, it is a thing! Here are some glimpses:
Dad in interfaith family: “I love what my child is learning about prayer and about Judaism. But I don’t believe in God and I have to be honest with my children about that. What should I tell them?” “Tell me about the God you don’t believe in” was the response. And a beautiful conversation was launched.
Israeli mom peeked into morning tefillot one day and asked “Am I allowed to watch?” Of course! When asked what caught her interest, she said that she never saw prayer experiences like this back home, where progressive egalitarian Judaism is a fledgling movement and not often seen.
Torah and text study classes with Rabbi Danny Schiff are highly popular whenever offered. A parent from CDS sits next to a parent from Hillel Academy who sits next to a community rabbi’s wife who sits next to a newly converted Jew who sits next to a former CDS teacher (not Jewish) who signs up to every class Rabbi Schiff offers!
A dozen Jewish and non-Jewish staff members meet with Morah Tal Perel every week to learn some Hebrew—and their own CDS students help them practice from week to week.
Nearly half of CDS Middle Schoolers sign up for Tefillah Council (a leadership opportunity helping guide Jewish life at school) and ask if they can create a new CDS experience for their younger peers for Rosh Hashanah. And then they do it!
There was a time when our school community was divided into camps of families who thought that the school was too Jewish or not Jewish enough. Schools like ours were having a hard time “selling” Judaism. The Jewish world wondered how to engage increasing numbers of lost Jews. But no one was asking why they were lost. The Jewish world is now coming to realize that the Jewish world lost generations of Jews because we were very focused on preserving Judaism. But we weren’t doing what was needed to nurture Jewish people!
What we’ve discovered is that authentic Judaism “sells” itself. When people believe that Judaism offers a toolkit for living a better life and improving humanity, when we lower the barriers to access and raise the bar for quality, depth, and meaning, we see people leaning in to learn. Adults. Teachers. Parents. Grandparents. And, of course, our kids. Unlocking the wisdom of Jewish teachings for the modern day offers everyone tools for a better life and a chance at a better world.
Now, a whopping 73 percent of what is arguably the most diverse community of families we’ve ever seen agree that CDS, Jewishly, is “just right.” This is a modern-day miracle and an enviable position for a school like ours to be in. And we want to seize upon this moment to propel us forward.
So, when we embarked on creating a position description for an expanded role for a Head of Jewish Life and Learning at CDS, we saw this “just right” moment as a challenge, not a done deal.
Precisely because people are curious, interested, eager, and enthusiastic, our job is to create a way forward.
I conducted a listening tour with parents, students, staff members, community leaders, and members of our community at large. I sought their input to help understand how CDS is seen in the community and what kind of person we should invite to lead us Jewishly into a new Jewish landscape. And as I listened, I heard the beautiful sound of consensus.
Uniformly, people see that we are building something unique here at CDS. A sweet and energizing blend of old and new that does what Judaism has always done, germinating within a loving familial and communal educational framework. This framework treasures and transmits a brilliant organizing principle from generation to generation, while taking inspiration from, and inspiring, the culture and times in which we find ourselves.
So, our search is on! This is a unique moment in American and world Jewish history, and this will be a unique opportunity for a unique leader to nurture this new kind of community at Community Day School.
The consequences of our work could not be more profound. Remember. We are no longer in the business of preserving Judaism in order to preserve Judaism. We are in the business of deploying our Jewish superpowers because they preserve us as humans, which then enables us to stand up for the sake of all humanity.
I hope many of you will be able to hear CDS alum and New York Times opinion editor, columnist, and author Bari Weiss (Class of 1999) in conversation with Mark Nordenberg this coming Monday night, November 4.
I agree with Bari when she says in a recent New York Times op-ed (and in her recent book!) that our roadmap is clear. Jews are to “build, without shame, a Judaism and a Jewish people and a Jewish state that are not only safe and resilient but also generative, humane, joyful and life-affirming.”
We are in the business of “entering the fray for our values, for our ideas, for our ancestors, for our families, and for the generations that will come after us.”
Bari gets it. Let's do it!