Thursday, October 07, 2010

An Educator Par Excellence

Rabbi Shmuel Jablon (pictured left) is a Baal Teshuva. Perhaps that is what makes him so great. Rabbi Jablon is someone I know from Chicago. He received Semicha here from the Hebrew Theological College (class of '97) and married the daughter of a friend of mine. He visits Chicago quite often. I count myself as one of the lucky people who knows this remarkable young man.

Rabbi Jablon is the principal of an Orthodox Jewish Day School in Philadelphia - the Torah Academy of Greater Philadelphia. This school - under Rabbi Jablon’s leadership - is a model for all other day schools of heterogeneity and love of one’s fellow Jew. One of the primary focuses of his school is Ahavas Yisroel. It teaches an appreciation for the views of all segments of Orthodoxy. This goes well beyond mere tolerance. It is a love for fellow Jews that becomes part and parcel of a student’s psyche. It permeates their souls. That is precisely what Rabbi Jablon does. He instills it in every student.

He has written an article for Cross-Currents. I at first was disappointed that he didn’t submit it to me. I would love to have published it here as a guest post. It is a rare upbeat and positive article and exactly represents my own views on the subject.

But upon further reflection, I’m glad that Cross-Currents got it and published it first. They need that perspective since they often reflect one that is heavily biased to the right. This one is biased to what IS right. I recommend it to all. Why do I feel this so strongly about it? Here is an excerpt that will explain why:

This past winter, I had the honor of spending some time with HaRav Aviner at his Yeshiva I talked to him about our school. I described to him how in our school everyone is Orthodox. However, under one roof we have different kinds of Orthodox Jews. We have families and faculty members who identify as Modern, Centrist, Dati Leumi, Charedi and Chabad. Naturally we have both Ashkenazim and Sephardim.

In our school, nobody is told which kind of Orthodoxy is “better.” Rather, children are taught to follow the customs and philosophies of their families. For example, prior to Yom HaAtzmaut, our students are told to know whether or not their family says Hallel on that day. Those families (and faculty members) who do, sing Hallel. Those who do not say Tehillim for Israel. Therefore, in one room one can see different children and adults doing something different. But all are together and all learn that their classmates are both Orthodox and love Israel, even if they do things slightly differently.

Because of this approach, teachers focus on meeting the educational, spiritual and emotional needs of every child- rather than on trying to create clones of themselves. One result is that every child is prepared for the Orthodox high schools of their family’s choice. Another result is that children learn that there are different kinds of Orthodoxy, and that all are legitimate and to be honored. Sometimes this even results in breaking down the stereotypes that endanger the unity of the Orthodox community.

For example, our Sgan Menahel, Rabbi Naftoli Eisemann, is a product of the Yeshivot of both Philadelphia and Lakewood. He was a rebbe in our school for 24 years prior to my promoting him to his role.

Last Yom haZikaron he movingly addressed our students about visiting Har Herzl and asking to visit the grave of the soldier most recently buried there. He was taken to see the grave, and read of the Hesder Yeshiva graduate who died for Israel. He told our students that he cried more at that grave than at the funeral of his own father. Our students saw that, indeed, one can be a “Charedi” and still be very much in love with Israel.

Similarly, one of our shlichim, Rabbi Elad Asulin, is a graduate of a Hesder Yeshiva. Rabbi Eisemann has noted many times that his level of learning and care in mitzvot is the same as one might expect in a Charedi Yeshiva. Thus our students learn that one can be a “Tzioni” and still be very much in love with Hashem’s Torah.

Students in schools where everyone is the same never have the opportunity to truly experience that stereotypes are often wrong, and there is more that unites us than divides us.

I could not agree more!