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Ma’ayanot Seniors Contemplate their Place in the World

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Toward goals of encouraging critical thinking, engagement with the world community, and an integration of Judaic and General Studies, Ma’ayanot suspends regular classes for a few days each year to provide students opportunities to learn and think about important societal issues from an interdisciplinary perspective. Specific interdisciplinary programming planned for the current school year include two grade-wide interdisciplinary days of study, one each for 10th and 12th grades, and a school-wide Book Day. The first of these days took place on November 20th when the senior grade enjoyed an Interdisciplinary Day of Study on the topic of Social Justice.

In her introduction to the program, Ms. Devorah Wolf, Coordinator of Interdisciplinary Studies at Ma’ayanot, explained that “social justice means many things, but for our purposes today, we will define it as trying to make the world more equal, more thoughtful, and more accessible to more people.” Ms. Wolf also explained that the day was structured with activities and presentations that were designed to provide students with opportunities to think about social justice in a nuanced and multifaceted manner, and she challenged the students, as they proceeded through the program, to “think of ways you might promote social justice in your own worlds.”

The impetus for choosing social justice as the theme for the day stemmed from the important work of Rachel Nordlicht, a Ma’ayanot senior. This past spring, Ms. Nordlicht invited several of her teachers to an advanced screening of Watchers of the Sky, an award-winning film about genocide on which Ms. Nordlicht served as a production intern. The teachers were so impressed with both the film and with Ms. Nordlicht’s involvement in its production that they decided to make social justice the topic of this year’s 12th grade Interdisciplinary Day and to make the film a centerpiece of that day.

The day started out with the screening of numerous excerpts from Watchers of the Sky, followed by discussion group sessions led by Ma’ayanot teachers that helped the students understand and unpack the important yet difficult subject matter portrayed in the film. To segue into positive examples of the power of social justice initiatives, discussion of the film was followed by a keynote address by Rabbi Ari Hart, who shared his experiences in effecting social change by co-founding Uri L’Tzedek, an Orthodox social justice organization dedicated to work both within and without the Jewish community.

After a break for lunch, students enjoyed two additional sessions with three presentation choices per session. A popular choice of the first session was offered by attorney and Ma’ayanot alumna Ilana Levin (’03), who presented on the topic, “The Equal Rights Amendment: Social Justice from a Legal Perspective.” Students also enjoyed presentations by Mrs. Debbie Jonas, a public defender and mother of senior Tamar Jonas, who spoke on “Dignity for the Accused: How Jewish Social Justice Impacts my Work as a Public Defender”; Ms. Chelsea Garbell, an NYU graduate who, at the young age of 24, has already visited 19 countries, spoke on, “My Experiences in Ghana, Thailand and Hungary: Interfaith Dialogue and Service Work Abroad”; Mrs. Dena Levie, who spoke about her summer volunteering in Rwanda; Ma’ayanot teacher Ms. Sarah Gordon, who presented on the topic, “Is the Beit HaMikdash the Answer to all Our Problems? An Interactive Discussion”: and Mrs. Susan Fisch, mother of sophomore Chana Fisch, who spoke on “Social Justice at Home: My Experiences Working to Fight Hunger through Shearit HaPlate.”

The day was organized by Ms. Wolf in collaboration with a team of Ma’ayanot teachers who have volunteered to serve on the school’s Interdisciplinary Studies Professional Learning Community (PLC). The group will now turn its attention to planning the school-wide book day in February and the 10th grade Interdisciplinary Day of Study in April.

In summing up her goals for the day, Ms. Wolf noted that the program was designed to allow students “to hear from people who have made social justice their professional calling and from those who simply try to make the world a better place every day,” and she reiterated her hope that this program will motivate students “to rise to the challenge of becoming more empathetic, more aware of those around us, and more able to connect with others and improve the world.”

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