Alumni Series 2018-2019 at BaBayit

This year, in collaboration with BaBayit (a Bnei Akiva organization) and the SAR Alumni Association, Machon Siach convened a series of conversations with a diverse group of young adults entitled “Jewish and Democratic: Dilemmas in Jewish Education.”

Rabbi Tully Harcsztark was the first speaker in the series, which drew some 60 Upper West Side young professionals. The conversation focused on the obligations and challenges of citizenship as a religious minority in America and compared and contrasted them with the challenges and responsibilities the state of

Israel has towards its religious minorities. In the fall, Dr. Rivka Press Schwartz continued the conversation in her well received presentation on the interplay between American citizenship and Judaism. Other speakers included Dr. Gillian Steinberg, from SAR’s English Department Faculty, who engaged the audience in conversation about her research on homosexuality and Judaism. Dr. Steinberg commented about the evening, “ I loved introducing our alumni and other program participants to the new ideas that have grown out of my Machon Siach work. Their comments were so thoughtful and provided me with new perspectives that will help to shape my Siach project moving forward. “

Building on the success of the Jewish education series, Ms. Shuli Taubes led an all women’s event at BaBayit in late February, which was framed as a guided study and open conversation about Jewish approaches to sexual ethics. Attendees observed that the evening fulfilled a need for safe space to explore what are at times uncomfortable conversations about gender relations in the Modern Orthodox community. The BaBayit alumni series was organized by Ms. Lauren Katz, SAR Director of Alumni Relations and High School Faculty member and alumnus, Mr. Yarone Tokayer (AC ‘05, HS ‘09). According to Tokayer, “This is an important demographic for Siach research because the young professionals age group is a segment of the Modern Orthodox experience. The faculty benefit from engaging in conversations with [young professionals] which informs the research and the participants get to participate in really relevant, important conversations.” As an active member of Bnei Akiva he also observes, “these events at BaBayit are very natural. The purpose of BaBayit is to enrich the Jewish cultural aspect of the Upper West Side Side with value driven programming and to give opportunities for community leadership.”Planning is underway to convene more conversations this year.

Makom B’Siach - February 25, 2019

What happens when parents are the students in high school instead of their children? On Monday, February 25, Machon Siach, SAR High School’s research institute, explored that model during an exciting evening for the Makom B’Siach parent program. Makom B’Siach, (literally, a place in the conversation) is an intensive learning initiative developed by Dr. Tammy Jacobowitz in 2017 and taught in conjunction with Ms. Shuli Taubes. The program is comprised of approximately 20 parent learners who meet monthly throughout the year to discuss topics in Jewish Thought and Bible. On Monday night, Dr. Jacobowitz led a session on “Avraham: the Early Years” while concurrently, Ms. Taubes taught on the topic of “Chosenness.” Some of the same topics and themes from the high school curriculum are explored with the parent learners by design. As Dr. Jacobowitz notes, “Makom B’Siach affords a parallel experience for parents: time and space to think more deeply about Jewish texts and learning, and the opportunity to play an active part in the wider community of learners.” Makom emphasizes discussion as an integral part of the learning process. Sometimes that discussion involves unexpected aspects for the group, allowing them to challenge their belief system in a safe space of dedicated learners. As Ms. Taubes notes, “We come together to explore a doctrine that is at once both foundational and uncomfortable. As a group we navigate the nuances of traditional interpretations, the complexities of modern approaches and how we want to educate our children.”

This year, Makom also introduced a second session for students from last year’s cohort featuring research topic presentations by SAR faculty. The sessions on February 25 allowed students from 2017-2018 to meet the cohort from 2018-2019. About 30 parents participated in the evening, which included a special joint dinner with both groups. Judy Federbush, a member of the 2019 cohort, commented that,” Makom B'Siach has been a wonderful experience learning Jewish texts with some of SAR's most talented teachers and an engaging group of parents. The course has pushed my thinking in many ways,especially regarding the friction between traditional Judaism and modernity. I have a much greater understanding of the different pedagogical choices and how they impact SAR's curriculum. The Machon Siach research institute at SAR High School was founded in 2017 with a landmark gift from the Lindenbaum Family, honoring the memory of Belda K. Lindenbaum, z”l.

Machon Siach visits U Chicago - Feb. 2019

SAR Alumni at UChicago enjoyed a visit from Dr. Rivka Press Schwartz in February 2019. Dr. Schwartz discussed Machon Siach research and projects currently underway at SAR. The alumni were particularly interested in the substance use initiative (read more here) and the survey administered to the 10th and 11th grades on February 27. UChicago is known worldwide for its economics department and many alumni were intrigued by the statistical implications of data collected by the survey.