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Jason Marantz

 
JEWISH EDUCATOR JASON MARANTZ ON WHY WE NEED JEWISH SCHOOLS

BY: SHAKED KARABELNICOFF, Grade 10, Gray Academy

 

During the Limmud Festival of Jewish Learning on March 15th, I heard a witty and interesting presentation by former Winnipegger Jason Marantz, the Chief Executive of the London School of Jewish Studies. Jason began the presentation by introducing himself and humouring the crowd by showing some photos of himself growing up in Winnipeg, going to Camp Massad and attending Joseph Wolinsky Collegiate. Jason explained that he travelled to London sixteen years ago for what was supposed to be a one-year term as a teacher. That one year turned into two, and then into three and he hasn't left London since. Now, having been  successful teaching in and even leading various primary schools, and the London School of Jewish Studies, he has become an internationally renowned leader in the field of Jewish educator.

 

Jason began his presentation asking the attendee's, "Who is responsible for educating a child?" His answer was, "It's the school and  the home... I'm a product of Camp Massad and the community as well." He indicated that although he lives his life with his family, teaching in the UK, he takes Winnipeg with him wherever he goes. This is why primary school is so important, because it gives children the base that they will take everywhere they go. Jason explained that one of the reasons he is so passionate about Jewish education is because he himself is a parent, and it is important to him that his children are educated with Jewish values and beliefs and enabled to develop a Jewish identity

 

Jason noted that if you count all Jewish schools including nurseries, elementary schools and high schools from the reform to the Charedi, there are  around"100 Jewish schools in England" and  indicated that of all the primary school-aged children in London, 70 % receive some means of Jewish education ( The crowd was astonished by the number of Jewish schools in England). Jason's philosophy is that in order to keep these numbers up, we need to discard some of the old ways that may have been embedded in  the school system,  as well as modernizing the system so that parents will remain interested in enrolling their children in Jewish schools. 

 

To explain why it is so crucial to maintain the Jewish school system, Jason shared a quote said by the former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, Jonathan Sacks; "To defend a land you need an army. But to defend freedom, you need education. You need families and schools to ensure that your ideals are passed on to the next generation and never lost or despaired of, or obscured." 

 

Adding to this, Jason said that to ensure that children have a strong Jewish identity they must be able to discuss prayer, Israel and God in a natural and secure way.

 

Typically, within Jewish schools, Jewish education and secular subjects are separated. Jason said he felt that this is a major flaw in the system. If both areas could work hand-in-hand in an integrated way this would only enhance learning, rather than what usually happens, which is that students delegate more time and effort towards secular studies and treat Jewish studies as a "poorer cousin".  He shared an example of a student who was studying Egyptian history in one class and the Jewish exile from "Mizrayim"(Egypt) in another, and had no idea that they were one in the same. Jason suggested that schools could give children homework timetables that delegate balanced amounts of time to both secular and Jewish studies in order to promote equal relevance and respect to both subjects.

 

He emphasized the idea of focusing on relevance as opposed to just engagement. He believes that "we need to answer children’s questions about Judaism and encourage them regularly" but we also need to focus on making sure the information provided is the most accurate and relevant. For example, rather than building sukkahs out of popsicle sticks, which may be fun but decontextualized, students in a Jewish school  could build precise, life-sized sukkahs out of recycled materials. In this way children are still learning with a hands-on approach but there is a greater focus on providing accurate information and a relevant integrated concept.  He explained that educators should promote curiosity and not be afraid to answer questions about God. He also added that LSJS is developing an online resource where children, parents and teachers can post and search for common questions children ask about Judaism such as "Who are God's parents" and "Can God fly?" .  These will be answered by a range of experts and in time, be made accessible to the public.

 

Jason touched on the fact that Jewish schools in the UK are not permitted to charge fees and that the Jewish school system relies mostly on donations from members of the community. He also explained that to keep Jewish kids past Bar and Bat Mitzvah age interested in Jewish learning it is important to include Jewish youth groups in formal education.

 

I was the only person under 30 that heard Jason's presentation As I sat alongside many of my teachers while they took notes and were eager to learn new ways to promote Jewish education, I experienced the talk from the perspective of a student. 

 

 Jason was an inspiring speaker and an example of how Winnipeggers have branched out and been successful in other parts of the world.   

 
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Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.


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