Jennifer Rudin-Sable was the Jewish life coordinator at The Rashi School in the Boston area for seven years.
Creating a Community of Learners
When you walk through the doors of The Rashi School (a Boston-area Reform Jewish day school), you enter an educational environment unlike any other. The energy in the school is palpable. The building, filled to near capacity with teachers and students working in classrooms and in hallways, is calm and quiet; students and teachers appear to be engaged in valuable and compelling teaching and learning experiences. In classrooms the interactions between students and teachers seem deep, genuine and grounded in respect for one another. Rashi is a school that strives to bring together the very best in Jewish and general studies--a community of learners grounded in the values of learning, respect, social justice, community and spirit.
As the Jewish life coordinator at the Rashi School it is my role to understand, explore and support the personal Jewish journeys of every member of the community. I am privileged to listen to parents as they grapple with how to integrate the new Jewish practices their children are experiencing at school into their own home. I am humbled by the personal conversations that I have with parents and students as they explore their own connection to God, as they ask the difficult questions that all people ask: Why does God allow terrible things to happen? Does God hear my prayers? How do I make ritual and tradition relevant in my life? What do I do if different members of my family have different answers to these and other questions?
During my first year at Rashi I facilitated a series of workshops for inter-faith (families where parents were raised in different religious traditions) and intra-faith (families where both parents were raised in the Jewish tradition) families. I learned quickly that all families were facing the same struggles: All parents need to negotiate their religious practice and belief. I learned that communication and support are key to making any family feel comfortable and welcome in a day school environment. Most importantly, I learned that inter-faith and intra-faith families are much more similar than they are different and that the key to bringing them into our community is not identifying "who or what" they are but rather identifying "where" they are and "what they need" to take the next step in their journey.
The truth is, we all approach questions of God, theology, religious belief and practice from different perspectives. At Rashi we see our job as creating a safe environment for all families to discuss the difficult questions and to engage in the conversations that move them from one place on their journey to another. Sometimes families need basic information. Whether parents were born Jewish or not, everyone has gaps in their Jewish knowledge and it is our job to help parents bridge those gaps. Whether parents were born Jewish or not, everyone grapples with the big questions about God and it is our job to facilitate the discussions that bring families closer together rather than further apart. Whether parents were born Jewish or not, each parent has a different way of expressing religious beliefs, of engaging in religious practices and of experiencing religious rituals. It is our job to help families, inter-faith and intra-faith, negotiate these differences so that a unified, clear and supportive message is articulated within the family unit. Clarity of message is key to raising children who are comfortable and confident in their own religious practice.
At Rashi we don't make a distinction between inter-faith and intra-faith families. We believe that all families need help, support and guidance as they navigate their Jewish journeys. We believe that all parents are both teachers and learners and we work hard to support parents in both of those roles. We recognize that it is sometimes difficult for adults to admit what they do not know and to discuss what they are uncomfortable about in terms of religious belief. Our goal is to create a safe environment where everyone can grow and learn. Rarely, if ever, will parents be asked to identify their religion of birth. Frequently parents will be invited to explore their religious beliefs. Rarely, if ever, will parents be asked to share the details of their religious practice. Frequently they will be invited to try new practices, rituals and traditions--just to see how they fit.
Why would an inter-faith family choose Rashi, a Reform Jewish day school, for their child? The answer is simple. Rashi offers a balanced curriculum of Jewish and general studies grounded in the values of learning, respect, social justice, community and spirit. Rashi creates an environment that is comfortable for all families, regardless of parents' birth religion, recognizing that every person grapples with questions of religious belief and practice throughout their life. That process is not unique to inter-faith families.