Mr. Rudavsky, author of this argument for a new approach in Jewish education, is principal of the Florence Marshall Hebrew High School and member of the executive staff of the Bureau of Jewish Education
Pupils in the average Hebrew or religious school classes are generally able to relate, in their own childish ways, the stories of the patriarchs, of Moses, David and other heroes of biblical days. Should you, however, inquire of these same children who Weizmann, Sokolow, Warburg or other contemporary Jewish leaders are, you would be amazed at the meagre response.
So many of the children in our Jewish schools who may be able to tell the story of the oppression of the Israelites thirty centuries ago, know so little of present day conditions of the Jews in Rumania, Poland, Hungary or Germany. The Balfour Declaration, Jewish Agency and the Chalutz movement are obscure terms of Jewish school children to whom the exodus is, comparatively speaking, an event replete with life and meaning. Surprising though it may seem, the average Jewish school permits its pupils to grow up in ignorance of present day Jewish life.
CURRICULUM ROOTED IN PAST
This situation may be attributed, in great measure to the fact that our present curriculum is based upon the traditional Jewish school curriculum, in which history played a very small part and contemporary Jewish history or current events occupied practically no place whatsoever. The Jewish school curriculum has always been rooted in the past. To this day biblical literature occupies a place of primary importance in the week day Jewish school. In their study of Jewish history, few of our pupils acquire any appreciable knowledge of post-biblical Jewish history and fewer yet get a glimpse of modern Jewish history.
Current history was not considered of sufficient importance to be given a place in the curriculum of even the secular school until about two decades ago; and it has not yet been accorded the dignity of a regular subject, on a par with the others in most of our Jewish schools.
The shortcomings of a curriculum based mainly on the past, and omitting the present are quite evident to the modern educator. The pupil is left with the impression that Jews have only a past, and that Jewish history ended with the destruction of the Second Temple.
MUST TEACH PRESENT AND FUTURE
If we have faith in the continued survival of the Jewish People, we must equip our children with a knowledge and understanding of the Jewish present; we must stir up in them an interest in the Jewish future. Important as the study of the Bible and the Jewish past may be, it does not furnish the pupils with the significant and vital facts necessary for an acquaintance with the Jewish world of today, nor with Jewish aspirations for the future. This can be accomplished only through a study of current Jewish history, otherwise known as Jewish current events.
Our modern theories of education call for a more vital curriculum than that afforded by the traditional course of study. One of the main criteria for the choice of subject matter of instruction is its relation to real life. On that basis, mere academic material that has not a sufficient bearing on actual life would be discarded. The study of current events meets with this criterion of utility. As study of Jewish current events brings the pupil in close contact with real situations in contemporary Jewish life, it provides an excellent point of vantage for an intelligent examination and study of all phases of dynamic Jewish life; cultural, social and economic. Thus, an item about the Joint Distribution Committee calls for an explanation of the activities of that organization and for a study of conditions which created the need for the ameliorative and reconstructive work of that organization. The sense of responsibility of American Jewry towards their brethren in Eastern Europe takes on a vital meaning to a pupil who reads of the tremendous assistance rendered through the Joint Distribution Committee. His own Jewish sympathies are likely to be aroused. From such consciousness may spring a desire to participate in this work. This instance may be multiplied many times.
A NATURAL APPROACH TO JEWISH LIFE
Jewish current events provides a natural avenue of approach to Jewish life. It introduces the pupil to the vital problems confronting the Jewish group; it helps to develop that understanding and that appreciation of Jewish activities and movements which may eventually lead to participation. Jewish current events thus serves as an important and effective socializing agency in Jewish education and helps to integrate the child in Jewish life.
The teaching of current events has another important concommitant benefit. It is an important factor in inculcating in the pupil the habit of reading a Jewish periodical. Our schools might accomplish a great deal, if only by developing potential readers of Jewish periodicals, for the periodical is one of the most important channels through which Jewish influence flows. In the same measure that we succeed in developing in our pupils an interest in reading a Jewish newspaper or periodical, can we hope to be effective in overcoming the apathy of our youth to Jewish affairs.
The trend of contemporary education is toward the full exploitation of the child’s natural interests. A child’s natural concern is in the present rather than in the past. Current events, the “living edge of history” adds the most recent and hence the most interesting chapter to Jewish history. Moreover, it motivates the study of the past, in that the past can frequently be used as an explanation of the manner in which present day conditions or institutions came about.
The study of Hebrew is made more vital by the interesting and inspiring story of Hebraic life in Palestine. Current archaelogical discoveries make the study of the Bible more real and more alive. In sum, the teaching of Jewish current events is indispensible in the progressive Jewish school curriculum.