Welcome from the Dean

Shira D. Epstein, EdD

I welcome you to the Summer 2022 issue of Gleanings: Portraits of Jewish Educational Leadership from The William Davidson School. 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 William Davidson School through profiles of changemaking educational leaders.” The theme of this issue, “Teaching Sacred Texts,” highlights four innovative pedagogues and the ways in which their instructional leadership and teaching practices are inspiring learners to develop personal connection to Jewish traditional written works, including Bible, Talmud, midrashic literature, liturgy, and mystical texts. 

Fiery debates continue to ignite both within general and Jewish education as to the aims and goals of literacy. At the core of these debates are strong belief systems regarding “What is literacy?” Some maintain that literacy is a state of being that is achieved via individual, cognitive study. In reflecting back to my own memories of sixth-grade humash, the high-anxiety weekends I spent memorizing long passages and the Monday morning tests of short-answer questions typify such a stance. 

In contrast to the perspective of literacy as an intake of knowledge, others view it as an experience. While written text is at the core of this experience, the educator guides learners to find their own meanings by making connections to other texts and ideas (intertextualities), to their memories, to current events, to emotions. The common thread across all learning interactions is that that there is never a final point–rather, it is ongoing, unfolding, and evolving, dependent on the context of who our learners are and what they, themselves, bring to bear on their understandings of the texts. In this way, the texts come alive within each unique social context.

One sees such an educational approach reflected across William Davidson School instructional leadership projects and academic offerings, alike. This summer, the staff of the Jewish Day School Standards and Benchmarks project will be teaching a new summer 3-credit course, Teaching and Learning Sacred Texts with Standards-Based Curriculum Design. The title reflects the William Davidson School stance that we, as educators, utilize methodologies that intentionally and mindfully support learners to be in conversation with the written word, with all of the complexities and, sometimes, the problems. We want our learners to engage in equal measure with what is inspiring and what is troubling, with what brings joy, and what feels dissonant:

  • Through 1:1 havruta, as well as group discussion 
  • Through arts-based activities
  • In reading through contemporary lenses of social justice and change
  • Through verbal and written reflection

The four portraits in this issue of Gleanings highlight these approaches to Jewish literacy and sacred text study: Laynie Soloman, alumn of our in-house MA program, associate rosh yeshiva and director of transformative leadership at SVARA; Shira Forester, recent graduate of our in-house MA program and Judaics teacher at Luria Academy; Dr. Barry Holtz, professor of Jewish education at JTS; Rabbi Adina Allen, cofounder and creative director of the Jewish Studio Project. I invite you to read these portraits and hope that they will serve as inspirations to your own teaching and leading.

Shira D. Epstein, Ed.D, Dean, William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education