Students with a vibrant Jewish future can help build a better world

GAJE’s mission to try to make Jewish education more affordable is based upon the premise that a Jewish education at its best, the “gold standard” of which is day school, is exceptional as well as essential.

Rabbi Jethro Berkman, the Dean of Jewish Education at Gann Academy, a pluralistic Jewish high school in Waltham, Massachusetts, posted an article this week that artfully and substantively makes this very same point. Entitled, Day School Education for Student Thriving, the article is addressed primarily to families that are not “highly-Jewishly-engaged.” All families interested in Jewish education, however, can benefit from his insights.

When parents ask “what is the value-added of Jewish day school education?” Rabbi Berkman suggests the following answer.

“Jewish day schools offer students access to Judaism’s unique tools for human thriving – and Jewish tradition has some powerful tools. With more and more young people struggling with anxiety and depression, and with a growing body of research demonstrating the importance of spirituality for mental health (see Lisa Miller’s The Spiritual Child), students need Jewish tradition’s powerful resources for social, emotional and spiritual growth more than ever.”

Rabbi Berkman offers a number of areas where Jewish day schools (and other educational institutions) might leverage Jewish wisdom and practices to help their students to thrive:

Developing character strengths: The Jewish ethical tradition of Mussar offers a powerful tool for personal growth.

Engaging in conversations of meaning:Recent research highlights the importance of developing a sense of meaning and purpose for human thriving.

Cultivating a sense of intergenerational self:Research by Drs. Marshall Duke and Robyn Fivush of Emory University suggests children’s knowledge of their parents’ and grandparents’ stories – their sense of being part of a family extending back in time, is associated with resilience, positive self-esteem and overall mental health.

Cultivating self-knowledge and emotional awareness: Judaism has a long tradition of meditation practices, and a number of Jewish texts emphasize the importance of awareness of our inner world (particularly in the Hasidic tradition).

Rabbi Berkman integrates personal, individual student thriving with a sense of responsibility to the Jewish people and the wider world. In the words of Gann Academy’s mission statement, “we want our students to thrive so that they can “create a vibrant Jewish future and build a better world where human dignity will flourish.”

Thus it is for our children’s sake and as well as for the sake of a better world that we must all strive to make Jewish education affordable to the families that seek it.

Rabbi Berkman’s article is available at:


Shabbat Shalom

GAJE, November 15, 2019

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