Welcome from the Dean

Shira D. Epstein, EdD

I am delighted to welcome you to the relaunch of Gleanings: “Portraits of Jewish Educational Leadership from the William Davidson School” in a fully online format. The theme of this issue, “Multicultural Pedagogies in Jewish Education,” highlights the ways in which four leaders are striving to respond to and meet the evolving needs of participants in residential summer camps, congregational schooling, and day schools. We remain true to the original vision of Gleanings, “introducing the cutting-edge principles, concepts, and programs that continue to be developed and implemented by the WDS” through profiles of trailblazers. In this issue, these professionals are enacting and modeling values of diversity and inclusion.

Some question the relevance of addressing diversity issues within seemingly homogenous Jewish communities and as a result underplay the import of training pre-service and in-service educators in multicultural pedagogies; the William Davidson School sees things differently. We espouse the perspective of multicultural education as a spiritual practice, what Dr. Kathleen Talvacchia calls a “habit of mind and heart.” It is a mindset of educating with attentiveness and connectedness to our learners. The William Davidson School trains professionals for spiritual leadership.

Our alumni, across the broad spectrum of roles and positions they hold, are the frontline Jewish educators providing just this type of leadership; they are offering online divrei Torah, organizing social justice projects, talking to students after a death or tragedy in the community, and leading havdalah. They are charged with designing access points for explored Jewish identity at congregational, day school, Hillels, and early childhood centers. The WDS has the imperative to train Jewish educators who reflect upon and think critically about their responsibility in crafting spaces where learners feel seen, heard, and welcomed in the range of their beliefs, backgrounds, family structures, and home ritual practice.

A “multicultural pedagogy” approach such as what we model at the William Davidson School explores questions such as:

  • Why is it important to reflect upon my own and my learners’ understandings of power and privilege? What are my own blind spots?
  • What are some lenses through which we should be examining who has power and privilege within Jewish learning programs?
  • How do educators respond to heightened emotions, and recognize their own emotions as engaged in this challenging work?
  • How do we foster sites of Jewish learning and engagement that value diversity in individual participants and families, alike, and what is our role as Jewish educational leaders in shaping and sustaining the conversation?

The recently released findings of the Pew 2020 survey confirm what we already intuitively recognized: North American Jewry is more diverse than ever, and this diversity requires leadership who hold a developed disposition of inclusion, a mindset and approach of fostering multiculturalism. Educational leaders need support in understanding their mandate in approaching every interaction and teaching moment as a pathway to shaping a culture of welcome and warmth—of belonging.

The William Davidson School strives to be an incubator for cultivating this disposition of inclusion, preparing educators to meet the evolving expectations and needs of increasingly multifaceted learning communities through our academic programs (MA, EdD) and Instructional Leadership projects. We do this through courses such as Multicultural Pedagogies and Jewish Education; faculty-led research projects such as “Engaging with Race in Jewish Day Schools”; and in cohort-based programs such as DSLTI, Standards and Benchmarks, and JECELI, where participants across all denominations live out this value as they study text together.

The four portraits of Jewish educational leaders in this issue of Gleanings highlight the ways in which this disposition of inclusion is enacted on the ground. We feature two recent alumni, Orlea Miller (‘19) and Yanira Quinones (‘19); one member of the JTS faculty, Dr. Meredith Katz; and one leader in the field, Rabbi Isaac Saposnik of Camp Havaya. I Invite you to read these portraits and to consider the impact and imprint of training and preparing Jewish educators both to hold the value of inclusion as well as to possess the methods and skills to design and advocate for programming, curricula, pedagogy, and engagement that will advance the agenda of welcoming communities.