The inclination and ability to seek out multiple perspectives, engage with differences, and refine and challenge ideas while growing stronger in both your own identity and in empathy for others has a name: pluralism. Making this approach a deliberate part of daily life and discussion is what we at JCDS call intentional pluralism. Nowhere is that pluralism more evident than in our students’ diverse approaches to practicing Judaism.
We do our best to nurture our students’ participation in t’fillot and foster a joyful practice of Judaism. In addition, we offer our middle school students the opportunity to participate in t’fillah electives on a trimester basis. Our fall electives included a World Religions elective run by middle school teacher and advisor Andrea Silton. The elective provides an overview of the 5 major religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism), and includes discussion about the positives and negatives of organized religion and the role of G-d.
The students were treated to guest lectures and experiential lessons wherever possible. After watching videos about other religions, Andrea showed them a video about Judaism. She asked them to consider how complete a story it told about Judaism, the religion with which they are intimately familiar. This was an enlightening exercise as a number of the students felt the video painted an incomplete picture, which caused them to question what context might have been lacking from the other videos they’d watched. This is one example why JCDS believes strongly in learning from people, not about them, embodying JCDS’ intentional pluralism.
The elective culminated with a visit to the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center in Roxbury, where they were welcomed warmly and given a tour. The students had a basic understanding of Islam from watching a video, but the tour and first-hand experience deepened their context and understanding. They were struck both by the similarities and differences between Judaism and Islam, noting the familiar charity box at the mosque labeled “Sadaqa,” and observing the separation of men and women during prayer. Our students noted that the prayer space in the mosque seemed spartan compared to most synagogues, which one student found very peaceful.
Upcoming visits from the German International School Boston and the Epiphany School will provide additional opportunities for middle school students to engage with differences and build mutual understanding.
The School Sparks blog appears periodically by various writers among the JCDS educational team. Learn more about JCDS, Boston’s Jewish Community Day School.