The aim of this activity is to examine the question of Jewish education in a modern community and to get the students to confront the issue of what Jewish education today means.
For the first part of the class, you want the students to imagine that they have been sent to a traditional Jewish community five hundred years ago. One excellent way of doing this is to use a guided fantasy technique. In the paragraphs marked by a diamond, we give details of this technique that may be useful. If you do not wish to use this technique, however, continue the activity after the end of the following description.
- A guided fantasy is an attempt to transport a group of people imaginatively into a different time or place. It depends on the abilities of the educator to use the right language in order to work on the imaginations of the group.
- The educator must prepare a script for the fantasy, neither too long nor too detailed. The idea is to let the minds of the participants do most of the work and fill in all the details. A script should convey the participants along a certain route and suggest vague physical contours of description that can be filled in by their imagination.
- Guided fantasies are aided by a suggestive musical background; it may be worthwhile to look for a suitable piece of music. The task of the music is to help create the atmosphere into which the educator wants to project the participants. Atmospheric New Age pieces often provide interesting possibilities. In this particular case, because the plan is to project them into a traditional Jewish community of a previous generation, it may be best to start looking in the area of traditional music. Instrumental music is almost always advisable, as words can detract from the participants’ ability to concentrate.
- When all the preparations have been done, take the group into a dark room and ask them to lie down. Play the music as you take them through a series of exercises that should help them to relax their bodies and open their minds.
- After a minute you should introduce the scripted scenario. Each one (you address them as individuals in the second person) has been sent to a community several centuries ago. You will decide whether you want them all to go to the same community or whether you want to leave that open. The more specific the choice, the more this must be clarified by the script; the more open the choice, the more careful you must be not to close them in with script details. For example, if one is going back to medieval Germany and another to medieval North Africa, the scenery will be totally different, so that you must tell them to pay attention to what scenery they see without telling them what it might be. Wherever they go, you should ask them to notice details like the scenery, the roads, the population etc. We suggest guiding them on a walk around the community, looking through windows, listening for sounds, and seeing what people are doing. You may want to guide them to a large building - clearly important for the community - to see what is going on there. You specify the time of day and so on. They are there to observe and to drink in as much detail as they can regarding what is happening.
Note carefully: the fantasy should not proceed too quickly and there should not be too much speaking. The script reader should not be afraid of silence. Give the participants’ imaginations time to work.
- The whole fantasy should not take longer than seven or eight minutes. At the end you should slowing bring the participants back to reality. To finish off the exercise, bring the group into a circle and invited the participants to share their impressions and their experiences. Ask them what the large building was and what was happening inside. Note: this entire section is a trigger for what is to follow. It must not take too much time because the main discussion is still to come.
- Whether or not you use this technique, ask the students what sort of institutions they might expect to find in a traditional community. List them. Which would be the most important? The most prestigious? Which individuals would be the most respected? Why? Guide the discussion around to the question of scholars.
- Give the group the three Talmudic quotes about the place of the scholars in the traditional community. What do they tell us about the way in which the scholars were perceived? Why would they be seen in this way? Why would the scholars, in particular, and the study of Torah, in general, be so central to the life of the community? Explore the idea that many communities are remembered more for their scholarship than for anything else. Why has the Jewish historical memory chosen to single out scholarship as the central attribute of a community? Why has the educational level of a Jewish community been seen as a key factor in the health of that community?
- Who do they think should be honored in contemporary communities? Put seven large pieces of poster paper around the room. On each one, write one of the following professions:
- Torah scholar
- university professor of jewish history who contributes to adult education in the jewish community
- teacher of computer studies in a jewish school
- teacher of the hebrew language in a jewish school
- university professor of middle east studies who contributes to adult education in the jewish community
- teacher in a jewish kindergarden
- youth leader in a zionist youth movement
- Explain that all of these figures are Jewish. Ask the students to write on each poster to what extent they consider these individuals contribute to the educational level of the Jewish community, whatever that may mean to them.
- Divide the class into seven sub-groups, each of which receives one poster and sorts through the comments. Each group should then prepare a one-minute presentation to persuade the class that ‘their’ person contributes the most to the educational level of the Jewish community and ensures its survival.
- Use the seven presentations to begin a discussion about the educational level of modern Jewish communities. Does this play a role in the survival of the community as a Jewish community? How should the chances of survival to be maximized, in educational terms?
Finally let us return to the three statements about the honor shown to Torah scholars in the traditional Jewish world. If we accept that one of the reasons for this respect is that the scholars were seen as the key figures in ensuring the survival of the community in the future, who should be seen as filling that role in the contemporary community? Ask each student to rewrite at least one of the statements about the respect and honor shown to Torah scholars in terms of their contemporary community. Whom should the community most respect as those that best ensure the survival of the community in the future? Why? Let this lead into a discussion in which they must defend their choices and their statements.