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Jewish learning Hebrew College Masters Theses 2021

By Hebrew College

On June 3, students in Hebrew College’s Master of Arts in Jewish Studies, Master of Jewish EducationMaster of Jewish Liberal Studies program, and Master of Jewish Education-Pardes Educators Program will present their master’s theses during Zoom panel discussions.  Below are the abstracts. 

Caleb Adams: A World Apart: COVID-19 and a Jewish Educator Preparation for Teaching

Becoming a Jewish educator is the culmination of my passion for Judaism for more than half of my life. I came to the Pardes/Hebrew College Educators program with the desire to share my passion for living Jewishly and studying Jewish texts with the next generation. COVID-19 ushered the world into new challenges and opportunities while offering unique ways to engage students as a budding educator. As I look to begin my career as a Jewish Educator, I feel the same sense of hope and anticipation we all share as we look to return to “normal life”. As the future unfolds the opportunity to build a better and more inclusive “new normal” awaits us all. Pardes and Hebrew College have emphasized the necessity of addressing neurodiverse needs in every classroom as well as paying special attention to each student beyond subject matter comprehension. Covid has highlighted for many the importance of human connection and the wholeness of each individual. Together we can design classrooms that fully welcomes each child.

Ilene Aube: Unpacking Jewish Symbolism and Imagery in Arthur Szyk

The artwork of Arthur Szyk has been analyzed and enjoyed for over a century.  Szyk works in so many different styles and mediums that it may be impossible to pigeonhole the type, the style, and the dynamics of his oeuvre.  He is classically trained, and through this training he excelled as an illustrator, caricaturist, illuminator, theatre designer, painter, and commercial artist.  His paintings are beautifully and meticulously rendered. Szyk’s art is best known in this country for his illustrations of the Passover Haggadah.  We can analyze his work in detail, but to do so in these pages, I will limit the analysis to one specific genre and a few specific paintings.  The term ‘Unpacking Szyk’ is the current phrase used to do an in-depth examination of his art.  Much like Shakespeare, his work can be explored on many levels.  This paper will examine several pieces from his Jewish illustrations to investigate the basic structure of each piece and to analyze the Jewish and Mystical Jewish themes which abound in these works.

Laura Berry: The Evolution of The Cross Symbol in Christian Faith and Christian Anti-Judaism  

This thesis reviews historical research on the evolution of the cross symbol from a pre-Christian “mark” to a principal symbol of the Christian faith.  The cross was a recognizable symbol among Christians by the fourth century largely due to the Gospels that were published and circulated throughout Christendom. All four of the Gospels include the story of Jesus’ last week of life, including accounts of the crucifixion and resurrection.  These accounts, known as the “Passion,” were written in response to the death of the Jewish-Christian messiah who was executed and died as a common criminal under Roman law.  This paper will show the authors of the Passion, who wrote many decades after the actual crucifixion and death of Jesus, were motivated to reframe the events of the Passion in a way that would characterize the Jews as the “killers of Christ” in order to make a distinction  between Christianity and Judaism, and set in motion the eventual “parting of the ways.”   Ultimately, the cross, a first-century Roman execution device, would emerge over time as a central symbol representing Jesus’ Passion in Christian liturgy and anti-Jewish polemics.  This paper will show the cross symbol grew out of the Passion narrative to become a “logo” that would inspire Christian faith and identify Jews as the enemy of Christ, and used as justification for the violence committed against the Jewish community.

Emily Brocks: Framing a Four-Part Teaching Identity for the Jewish Educator

The Jewish supplementary school setting establishes learning goals spanning personal and public spheres, teaching values, beliefs and skills. In this setting, creating an effective space demands attention to the needs and values of the community, the beliefs of the educator, and sensitivity to the spiritual and developmental needs of students. Recruitment and retention of experienced, skilled educators to supplementary education is often hampered by the part-time nature of the work, low pay, and limited availability of qualified applicants. This study aims to elucidate the pedagogy and approach of one highly regarded Jewish educator currently teaching in supplementary and day school environments. Data gathered through an in-depth semi-structured interview and teaching observation process were then woven into a portrait of the educator. From the portrait, a quadripartite teaching identity was described, comprising theology, Jewish passions, teaching stance, and “pedagogic home.” A four-part identity articulation tool is offered to be used jointly by teacher and supervisor at the time of intake, and on an annual basis. The process of rendering visible the priorities, understandings and assumptions which guide a teacher’s work make it possible for teachers to align their practice with their values, and for administrators to support teachers in professional development.

Joe Brophy: The Evolution of My Personal Pedagogy in the Shadow of the Coronavirus Pandemic

The Pardes Day School Educators Program (“PEP”) has been around for over two decades. And yet no single cohort has had this formative educational experience so deeply shaped and directed by global events beyond our control than Cohort 20, my cohort. The COVID-19 pandemic has left an indelible imprint upon my professional training and upon my experience in PEP. At this writing in May 2021, we have lived through an unforgettable period of global history––and we have had the opportunity to grow and evolve as educators during an international pandemic unprecedented in living memory. Many ordinary and consistent elements of education were entirely upended, such as school buildings, shared physical space for class, casual interactions with students, and use of technology in the classroom. This paper explores and reflects on my growth as a student at Pardes and Hebrew College, and as an aspiring educator, beamed into classrooms thousands of miles away for student teaching, striving to make connections with young students experiencing zoom fatigue and much more. As a student of education, I have learned from the content of my experience and from the way in which skilled pedagogues around me reacted and responded to these unfamiliar shared circumstances. And as the global pedagogical landscape underwent a massive upheaval, I had a front-row seat: watching the day school I was supposed to student-teach in switch to virtual learning almost overnight and observing up close as experienced Jewish educators there, and at Pardes, adjusted to the new normal.  Amidst all this chaos, I have grown into this powerful and creative profession, and I have found my voice and identity as a teacher. In this paper I explore the interplay of the pandemic, the PEP program, and my evolving understanding of the field of pedagogy and of my own practices as a teacher.

Sherri Carignan: The Evolution of the American Reform Sabbath Worship 

Public Sabbath worship in the American Reform Movement experienced substantial change and development beginning in the 1960s to the present. My thesis will explore the history of Reform worship practice in the U.S. until the 1950s and 60s, and the changes from the 60s to today. Upon formation of the movement in the nineteenth century, worship style was very formal and performance oriented. A fundamental change began in the 60’s and was driven by American popular culture’s impact on music and worship elements disseminated through a national network of the Union summer camps and youth movement. Distinct local customs emerged while retaining consistent liturgy as the camp experience expanded into synagogues over time when campers and staff became congregational leaders.

Bridget Connor-Feldbaum: Guided Meditation: An Educational Tool to Inspire Emotional Connection to Jewish Holidays

Mediation has an ancient history in many religious and spiritual traditions, including Judaism. Today, meditation techniques are increasingly used in classroom settings, including Early Childhood Education. Can this contemplative practice help children connect emotionally to Jewish Holidays? This paper explores this topic by examining the history of meditation in Judaism, as well as the effects of meditation and mindfulness techniques in various classroom environments. Two guided meditation recordings were created for use with children aged 4-7. One guided meditation was on the topic of Shabbat, and the other was on the topic of Tu Bishvat. Adult facilitators played the recordings for children in both home and classroom settings and recorded their physical and verbal reactions. Children as young as 4 years old were consistently able to engage fully in the exercise, and expressed positive feelings associated with both the meditation practice and the Jewish Holiday.

Tyler Dratch: Unlocking the Mythic Torah: Examining the use of Mythology in Education in developing exegetical meaning for middle school students

How does learning about mythology and the Torah impact middle school students connection to the Torah text and transform their understanding about the text’s “truth”? Middle school students are encountering a major moment of spiritual development in their lives, and synagogue educators have a unique opportunity to journey with their students through this process of growth and change. This spiritual transformation affects all part of student’s lives including their relationship to Torah as a sacred text.  This research project examines the impact of mythology education on students understanding of the “truth” Torah and the ways they find meaning within the text. This project reviews literature on theory of myth and its inclusion in scripture. It examines pedagogy related to teaching Torah to middle school students and wider examination of the “truth” of scripture. In order to test the hypothesis that middle school students understanding of Torah would be enhanced by understanding aspects of mythology, a four-week curriculum was designed called “Unlocking the Mythic Torah.” Nine- 6th and 7th grade students in a Boston area supplementary religious school participated in the unit in order to explore some of the features of myth and symbolism and to develop an idea of a mythic vocabulary. The unit used the Noah’s Ark story (Genesis 6-9) as a Torah case study.   The results of the study show that while the unit did not dramatically change students reported connection to Torah study or the Noah’s Ark story, it did impact the way they related to the truth of the story and helped them relate to its symbols in a far more sophisticated way.

Max Edwards: Living Grief: Education & Meaning Making in Jewish Death Rituals

Judaism is replete with practices and rituals for when a loved one dies. There are daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly opportunities to honor the deceased and to actively surround the mourner’s grief in ritual and tradition. These rituals are transmitted to individuals through multiple methods. This paper seeks to respond to the following research question: In what ways are Jewish rituals around death and mourning learned, and does the mode of transmission affect how meaningful a ritual is to an individual?  This project sampled 130 individuals from a variety of Jewish backgrounds, asking respondents to identify the setting in which they became familiar with 13 different Jewish death rituals. The survey also asked participants to rank the level of meaning they associate with each ritual on a 1-5 scale. The research for this paper correlates learning environments with meaning scales, bringing to light the importance of observational and experiential ritual learning as it relates to both ritual knowledge and spiritual significance.

Shawn Eyer: Noachidæ in the Holy Place: The Adoption and Transformation of the Jerusalem Temple in the Traditions of English Freemasonry

Utilizing a thematic comparison of Jewish and Masonic ideas in relation to the Biblical tradition generally and the Jerusalem Temple in particular, this study examines how early English Freemasonry adapted and transformed Jewish traditions about the Temple of Solomon during the long eighteenth century. Conceiving themselves at times as Noachidæ, adherents of speculative Masonry crafted initiation ceremonies, artwork, and explanatory lectures that allowed them to enter a symbolic Lodge that was imagined to parallel both the Jerusalem Temple and the heavenly or Supernal Temple. Employing sometimes transgressive themes of access to sacred places—Eden, Jacob’s Ladder, and spaces within the Temple, such as the Porch, the Winding Stairs, and the Holy of Holies—Freemasons of all faiths promoted lofty ideals and profound philosophical speculations. The Judaeophile tendencies of Freemasonry during this era are reviewed, including its fascination with the discovery of deeper meanings through the Hebrew language. By a wide-ranging survey of key parallels in mishnaic, talmudic, midrashic, and kabbalistic literature, this thesis aims to shed valuable light upon the complex question of Freemasonry’s cultural affinity with Jewish symbols, traditions, and texts.

Mimi Farb: Education is Life, for Teachers Too! 

Throughout my time in the Pardes Educators Program, I focused on lesson planning, ensuring that my learning activities would match my goals for students’ understanding in a given lesson or unit. Throughout my teaching experience, I found that while this framework was helpful, the true key to my success resided in my sense of purpose that my teaching the class would make a positive and profound difference in the way that my students think, feel, or act. As John Dewey writes, “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” When my teaching conditions were life itself––when I was affecting real people in their true identities–– rather than a simulation, I showed the most growth.

Aviva Frank: Rabbi? Rav? Teacher! 

I sought a Masters in Jewish Education to strengthen my Talmudic skills in order to be a sound resource for my students. Yet as I reviewed and prepared my graduate portfolio, I saw my greatest takeaway of the program was not from my Talmud skills gained but rather the connection between driven students, human development and compassionate learning. If the last year has taught us anything— empathy, boundary setting and emotional intelligence are necessary for children to grow into well-rounded and resilient adults. Pairing Project Based Learning with Social and Emotional Language empowers individuals with healthy identities and critical thinking skills. I am excited to integrate these newly learned components into my future endeavors and rabbinical aspirations.

Rebecca Good: Social Emotional Learning and Jewish Education: A Perfect Partnership 

This research seeks to examine how social emotional tools focused on self-awareness foster student engagement while learning remotely in a Jewish supplementary school setting.  Currently there is a great deal of research dedicated to social emotional learning in secular education, but very little has been published about social emotional learning and its application in Jewish education.  The research utilized three social emotional tools: a mood meter, a community circle, and a moment of mindfulness to examine how these tools foster student engagement over the course of eight class sessions.  Participants included 26 fourth and fifth grade students enrolled in a Reform supplementary school. Students completed an online survey before implementing the aforementioned social and emotional tools, and then again post implementation.  Data showed that these social emotional tools do foster student engagement while learning remotely in a Jewish supplementary school by providing a space and time in which students are able to “check in” with their own emotions and that of their peers and teachers. The implications of this research include strengthening student engagement in Jewish learning in supplementary schools and the creation of an environment that values and inspires individuals that are both intellectually, as well as socially and emotionally intelligent.

Justin Held: Story Based Learning: “Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor” as a Tool for Teens and Young Adults to Learn about Judaism, Zionism, and the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict

In the 21st century, many communities have seen Israel become a wedge dividing Jews, rather than a uniting force. Over the past four years at the University of Minnesota, two resolutions (one supporting BDS and one defining anti-Semitism) have caused a rift amongst the Jewish community, with Israel as the “culprit.” Instead of hearing each other, each side has withdrawn further into their own cocoon. This struggle has led me to ask, how can engaging with diverse narratives about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict bring people together and allow for students to learn about Zionism, the conflict, and their own Jewish identity? Two populations participated in six-week book clubs reading and discussing Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor. The participants were asked to fill out an entry and exit survey, as well as write a response letter to the book’s author Yossi Klein Halevi. A surplus of qualitative data shows the book is a fantastic medium for learners with a variety of previous experiences to learn about Israel, the conflict, and their own Jewish identities. Learners were forced to engage with a diverse set of opinions, some which they inevitably disagreed with. Students left with a greater appreciation for stories and narratives that contradict their own and a skill set to continue engaging with diverse opinions.

Deborah Sarna: Identifying Factors That Support Neurodivergent Learner Inclusion in Reform Jewish K-6 Supplemental Religious Education

Neurodivergent learners are enrolling in Reform Jewish supplemental religious education programs across North America. This research identified factors influencing educators’ abilities to successfully support neurodivergent learner inclusion in K-6 Reform Jewish supplemental religious education programs. An online survey was distributed by electronic mail to supplemental religious education administrators from congregations in the Union for Reform Judaism and made accessible to members of social media Facebook groups JedLab, ARJE – The Association of Reform Jewish Educators and Religious School Reboot 5781. One hundred twenty supplemental religious education administrators completed and submitted their responses over a 14-day survey period in February 2021. Both quantitative and qualitative data examining factors such as educator and specialist credentials, budget considerations, access to professional resources, school-home collaboration, and inclusion promotion were collected and analyzed. Factors that emerged from the unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 pandemic were also examined. By identifying and understanding all of these factors, Jewish supplemental religious education educators will be better equipped to successfully support neurodivergent learner inclusion and evolve their communities’ overall inclusive culture. 

Jeanne Snodgrass: Representations and Performance of Jewishness in Social Justice Spaces

Primarily focusing on contemporary spaces and events, this paper looks at the relationship between understandings of Jewish identity and presentations of Jewishness in social justice spaces, from both an organizational and individual level. When we speak of the performance of Jewish identity we are confronted in our contemporary society with the reality of an excess of acceptable presentations, often determined by the particular social or denominational circles in which one travels. This is further complicated by the multitude of ways in which Jewish identity and Jewishness are defined: religion/religious observance, ethnicity or race, culture, or all in combination. What does it mean therefore to perform Jewishness in the context of social justice movements and spaces? What are the public signifiers that are used and how does the symbolism read differently in different settings or to different segments of society? Related, why is one performing Jewishness at all in this public sphere? For most American Jews religion and Jewish expression is a private function. This paper’s examination of the forms of Jewish public performance in contemporary social justice work and spaces also makes a connection to the variety of ways in which contemporary Jews view and claim their personal Jewish identities.

Jana Schachter: Targum Onkelos 

During the Second Temple period and after its destruction in 70 CE, the Jewish communities in Israel and Babylonia began to lose their knowledge of Hebrew since Aramaic had become the spoken language of the region. As the synagogue came to replace the Temple as the central religious institution, the public chanting of the Torah became a way to hear and understand the word of God. Since the Torah is written in Hebrew, much like today, translations of the Tanakh were necessary for understanding the text. In both Israel and Babylonia, during public recitations of Torah, a person would translate each verse of Torah into Aramaic from memory, while another person chanted from the scroll in Hebrew. The most authoritative of all the Aramaic translations, or targumim, is Onkelos, a very literal translation of the Torah, which was used primarily by the Jewish community in Babylonia. Targum Onkelos, as well as Targum Jonathan, a translation of the Prophets, are the only targums given official status by the rabbis. This paper will explore why Targum Onkelos is the most respected of the Aramaic translations of the Torah.

Lynn Wilson: Estrangement and Fragmentation in the Jewish Family

An estimated 64 million American  families are dealing with a condition labeled by social scientists as “estrangement”. The Jewish family has been deeply affected by this phenomenon. Jewish families have a deeply rooted sense of responsibility for the continuance of Judaism. When these transmissions are disrupted through rejection, conflict and estrangement may ensue. In my study, I examined current research on the subject of fragmented families in general and Jewish families in particular. I also interviewed eight people of Jewish descent who had some form of estrangement in their family. The purpose was to uncover common trends of family fragmentation.  I found several common sources of conflict; religion, rituals, customs, unresolved conflict, and money to name a few.  I also discovered common consequences to the families of these individuals; multigenerational estrangement, depression, envy of intact families, sadness over loss of contact with grandchildren, and a desire to change the trajectory of the fragmentation for future generations.The implications of these findings provide a gateway for Jewish institutions and clergy to deepen their understanding of Jewish family fracture and to provide proactive ways to support these families. 

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