Ultra/Far/Extreme-Right in My School

It is no secret that France has a history of all sorts of very right-wing parties but it is one thing to know this and quite another to invigilate their offspring during an exam.

As most of my readers know I work in a French state school and part of our job, especially at the end of the school year, is to supervise candidates during examinations. The students in the exam rooms are ours as well as students from private schools that are totally independent and have no agreements with the French state.

There is such a school 30 kms from here. It is an all-girl school run by the Society of Saint Pius X. The SSPX is notorious for supporting allegedly extreme right-wing political positions, particularly in France, and statements by some of its members have been widely interpreted as antisemitic.

Each year a group of girls come to our school to take exams. Last week, a colleague and I supervised them during a science exam. Most of these girls have family names that indicate that their ancestors were members of the French nobility. Being curious after the exam I took a photo of their names and “googled” them.

One surname was associated with an obscure French political party (Parti français chrétien) led by a “Zionist anti-Semite” (someone who believes that all Jews ought to live in Israel only) . One name was linked to the founder of the Croix-de-feu, a French far right league of the Interwar period. Another led to one of Jean-Marie Le Pen’s right arms.

Needless to say I felt uneasy in front of these very polite and well-behaved young girls who are brought up to abhor most of the things I believe and defend.

History of far-right movements in France

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Weekly Review with Hollyhocks

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On My Blog

Photo Meme:
After the Rain for Summer Stock Sunday

Not Less Weary

Philosophy: the 2011 Edition

Planning, Planning

Interviewing a rabbi:
Rabbi Josh Yuter
Rabbi Phyllis Sommer
Rabbi Menachem Creditor

Elsewhere in the JBlogosphere

A Mama’s Prayer for Summer Camp at ImaBima

Leora reviews The River Midnight

Eve-Olution: Jewish Education for Girls and Women in Israel, an article by Judith Landau

Half Shabbos, Half Truths, Half Solutions, a post by Rabbi Fink

Powering Down, an article by Jennifer Bleyer

Anthony Weiner, And How We Can Do Better, posted by Yosef Kanefsky

Summer Stock Sunday is back at Around the Island: “the place to share all those great summer memories each Saturday at 2pm EDT (9pm here in Israel) – post your favorite summertime shot to your blog and then come here and sign the linkie so that the other participants can find you to visit, and of course a comment here is always welcome.”

Shabbat Shalom!

Planning, Planning

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At this time of year we more or less know what groups we’ll teach next year. I’ll still teach my two business classes as well as a group of 10th graders (the first year of high school in France) and one group of 12th graders.

While I am supervising exams I am also trying to plan a few units for that group. Their textbook is a bit old-fashioned so I need to read other books, visit websites and collect ideas for next year.

Here is what I have come up with so far:

– One unit on recent black history through articles, memoirs and an NPR recording. I have chosen to focus on the following issues. Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, The Little Rock Nine, the painting The problem we all live with by Norman Rockwell and Rosa Parks. Maybe we’ll read an extract fom The Help.

– A few stories taken from True Tales of American Life. The selection is divided into various sections – animals, objects, families, slapstick, strangers, war, love, death, dreams and meditation. The idea is to get the student to read a couple of stories from the object section and then to get them to write their own about an object that is dear to them.

– An episode from The Wire, season four, an article about the series and one blog post by Rabbi Fink

I’d also like to work on the Jews who emigrated to the USA after WW2 through personal stories and/or fiction. Can anyone recommend books I could read and where I could find excerpts to share with my students?

Philosophy: the 2011 Edition

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For the third consecutive year I am sharing the philosophy essay questions that French students had to discuss today for the baccalauréat so that you can wonder what you would have written on these topics.

Philosophy is a compulsory subject for all French students at the end of the high school years unless they are preparing a vocational degree. The students have four hours and have to write about one question out of a choice of three – two in the form of a question and one text.

Is art a means to reach truth?
Does law define what is fair?
Can liberty be threatened by equality?
Is art less necessary than science?
Can a scientific hypothesis be proved?
Can one be right against facts?
Is man condemned to delude himself?
Does culture adulterate nature?
An excerpt from The Gay Science by Nietszsche
An excerpt from De Beneficiis by Seneca
An excerpt from Pensées by Pascal
An excerpt from a text by Henri Bergson

Interviewing a Rabbi – Part 3

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Rabbi Menachem Creditor of Netivot Shalom readily agreed to participate in this short series of interviews. Thank you Rabbi for your availibility and your time.

Can you introduce yourself in a few words?

My name is Menachem Creditor, and I’ve been a rabbi for almost 10 years. I currently serve as the Rabbi at Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, California, and also lead an effort called Bay Area Masorti. I blog at menachemcreditor.org, and write music and poetry.

Can you tell us about your congregation and/or job?

My congregation is an amazing place, full of ritual participation and creative energy. Netivot Shalom was founded 22 years ago by a group of Jews interested in serious adult learning and davening, and has grown into a community of 415 households, including many intermarried families, multi-generation families, single people, and many of the founders. My job is to be the public face of our community, as well as nurture the caring (chesed) committees, so that we can be there for each other in happy and sad times.

What is your religious background (if any)? Is there a rabbinical tradition in your family?

I grew up in a religious home, with Shabbat and singing, learning and teaching. My mother is a powerful Jewish educator and my father is a rabbi.

When and why did you decide to become a rabbi?

I knew for 20 years that I did NOT want to be a rabbi. This was, I believe, mostly my way of differentiating myself from my father. When the Jewish a cappella group Pizmon, from List College, visited my shul for a Shabbat during my high school years, something woke up inside of me, allowing me to dream of being the kind of rabbi I was inside, which resembles but is not the same as the (wonderful) rabbi my father is. I sang my heart out that Shabbat, and haven’t stopped since. Once that was unleashed, many moments conspired to bring me to this moment. I’ve never looked back once.

Where did you study? Any particular reason you chose this rabbinical school?

I attended the Rabbinical School at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. I chose this school because it was (and remains) the heart of a Jewish vision that combines incredible intellectual rigor and a long, rich history of Jewish yearning. There are many other places to grow Jewishly, to learn to be a religious leader, but JTS brought me to a place of clarity and historical appreciation, to a level of textual fluency and spiritual awareness I don’t believe I’d have discovered anywhere else.

Is being a rabbi very different from what you expected?

Being a rabbi is different, on a daily basis, from anything I could even expect today. Yes, I had an inkling of the world of a rabbi. But every day is something brand new, and unpredictable. Perhaps the one thing I simply could not have understood before being a rabbi is the grandeur of being trusted with people’s life-stories, being an emulsifier of the Divine in the world. I could have used those words, but the experience defies communicating.

What do you like best about your job?

I am humbled to be trusted. The ways in which relationships unfold within community are all based on being worthy of trust. When I remember that all people expect me to be is myself, then the relationships can be maintained and deepened.

What do you like least about it?

I like least that there is only one of me. I wouldn’t change a thing about my job, but will never place it above my family. More of me would, I hope, accomplish more sacred work.

What sort of misconceptions do people have about your job?

People think that I am sad when they share their hard moments with me, that I feel put upon to visit them in the hospital or conduct a loved one’s funeral. I am largely inspired by these experiences and the gift of simply being present.


Do you have some sort of contact with rabbis from other Jewish denominations or other religious leaders? Why or why not?

Yes! My Reform, Orthodox, Renewal, and Reconstructionist colleagues and I meet all the time. Sometimes at communal events, sometimes at shul, sometimes socially. So too do I meet with other religious leaders. Why do I? Because I love them. Because we need each other. Because I believe that the only way to experience God is by encountering another of God’s “masks”, human beings who shine with the Divine Image.

What are your plans for the future concerning your job and/or congregation?

My congregation is growing faster than anyone could have predicted, from 280 households four years ago, to 415 (and counting) today. My job will need to shift, and the staff will need to grow. But this is the “simpler” part of future-planning. The hardest part of my “job” and the congregation’s future is the work of evolving culture and sacred memory. Those founders of the shul who remain active have devoted their souls to the birth of a community that is reaching adolescence. That’s never easy. My role is to allow the adolescent to continue self-differentiating, to make manifest the love this precious evolving community contains as it continues to become itself, and to help the founders of the community feel their hearts connected to a naturally shifting organism. All of this is purposeful. All of this is worthy. And it is a sacred task that will require more skills tomorrow than I possess today. I will do my best to grow with the holy burden, and will look to my community to learn with me how to guide our shul well.

Do you use the Internet in your job? How?

All the time. I blog, tweet, FB, and email incessantly. The world we live in calls anyone who thinks their message is worthwhile, or important, to engage in viral communication.

Interviewing a Rabbi – part 2

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Phyllis who blogs at ImaBima kindly agreed to take part in this new series where I interview rabbis. Thank you Phyllis for your great contribution.

Can you introduce yourself in a few words?

My name is Phyllis Sommer, I’m a mom of four kids and a Reform rabbi.

Can you tell us about your congregation and/or job?

I am the associate rabbi of a congregation of approximately 950 families in the north suburbs of Chicago.

What is your religious background (if any)? Is there a rabbinical tradition in your family?

I was raised in an active Reform Jewish family. We were very involved and
observant as a family. One of my maternal uncles is an Orthodox rabbi, but I
wouldn’t call that a family tradition.

When and why did you decide to become a rabbi?

My father is a teacher, and I always wanted to be a teacher…he spent a lot of
time trying to talk me out of it! So…I made a little end-run around the idea
and I spend much of my time teaching! I had a lot of incredible rabbinic role
models when I was at Jewish summer camp and in youth group, and I saw the path very clearly for me. At 16, I was voted “most likely to be a rabbi” amongst my summer camp peers, but it wasn’t until my first trip to Israel at age 19 that I solidified my decision.

Where did you study? Any particular reason you chose this rabbinical school?

I received my ordination from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of
Religion. I never considered going anywhere else, since I’ve always been such an active part of the Reform movement. I chose to go to the Cincinnati campus primarily because I am so connected to the Midwest. In retrospect, Cincinnati was a great place to live and learn, but I would have loved to experience the “coastal” Judaism that I hear so much about…

Is being a rabbi very different from what you expected?

There are a lot more administrative details than I ever expected, but overall,
I’m living the dream!

What do you like best about your job?

I love being with people when they need me, at liminal moments in their lives. It is such an incredible honor to share important moments like births, deaths and other milestones.

What do you like least about it?

While I love leading others and sharing holidays and Shabbat with them, I do
wish that I could spend many quiet Shabbats with my family at home. (Oh, and I don’t like people who are mean…which sometimes they are.)

What sort of misconceptions do people have about your job?

The funniest is when people swear in front of me and then say something like, “oh, sorry, rabbi…” as though I have particularly sensitive ears because I am a clergy member.

Do you have some sort of contact with rabbis from other Jewish denominations or other religious leaders? Why or why not?

We have a local clergy association that consists of the faith leaders of all the
houses of worship in our small suburb (amazing how many there are in one small town!), and we have regular meetings. A few years ago, we did a “pulpit swap” and I spoke at Mass at the Catholic church. I am also a member of the Chicago Board of Rabbis, which consists of rabbis of all denominations. This group takes an annual rabbinic mission and five years ago I traveled to Russia with a group of about 25 Reform, Conservative and Orthodox rabbis. It was a great experience and gave me some wonderful connections with many rabbis all over Chicago. We’re so lucky here to have a great community of many rabbis.

What are your plans for the future concerning your job and/or congregation?

I am currently in my 8th year as the associate rabbi, and I’ve recently signed a five year extension.

Do you use the Internet in your job? How?

I love the Internet, and I am always looking for new ways to use it in my work. Much of my online life connects me to my colleagues and friends, and I feel like that has a great impact on the kind of rabbi that I am. It helps me to learn and to grow as a person and rabbi.

Not Less Weary

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Those of you who read this blog regularly know that this year has been particularly difficult in our school. The seeds had been planted for troubles and we were not disappointed; troubles we got.

We tried to overcome some of them by creating a committee, we got rid of a few students (which is not as easy in real life as it may look in writing) and we had a useless meeting with the chief school administrator. Finally last week one of his collaborators came to see how the school works and advise us on “how to do better with less”. I won’t go into this much as it was both frustrating and a total mockery of what our job is. To put it in a nutshell we were told that teaching is all about running a group and never about sharing knowledge. I ended up feeling even more disillusioned and helpless.

The last straw came on Friday evening. We had some friends over for Shabbat: the mother is a retired teacher and her daughter teaches French, History and Geography in a vocational school. Her school has an annual show run by the students with drama, songs and dances. It is a rather small school by French standards with only 300 students, a hundred of which are boarders. This year forty students were taking part but only six parents turned up, the audience consisted mainly of teachers and boarders.

Her story just made me sad about the society we have created. People who do not hesitate to call the school whenever we say something that their children do not like, people who often threaten and verbally abuse the teachers and administration but cannot drive a few kilometers when their kids are on stage.

I do no think that I can really analyze this incident but I know that I find it depressing. At a point in the school year when we are usually looking forward to the following year and trying to come up with wonderful ideas that we hope will inspire our students to learn more, I am not sure I even want to teach for the rest of my working life.

Quick Weekly Review

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On My Blog

Recipes:
Minimalist Dressing
Shavuot Recipe Roundup

What I Look Like

Interviewing a Rabbi

Elsewhere in the JBlogosphere

Treppenwitz is planning A Midsummer Night’s Dream Ride; you are welcome to help the Efrat Emergency Medical Center open the doors to its new Radiology Center

Books for Shavuot {Reviews & Giveaway}, a post by Phyllis

Leora shows some beautiful photos for Jerusalem Day 5771

My Conversion Day, Sarah shares a very special day

Shabbat Shalom!