Jewbilee' brings Jewish preps together|
By Stacey Dresner
Oct 10, 2003 Last November, a gathering of 50 Jewish students from 10 New England prep schools came together for "Jewbilee: A Celebration of Jewish Life at New England Boarding Schools."
The weekend conference, held at The Westover School, an all-girl prep school in Middlebury, was a time for Jewish learning, bonding and socializing with other Jewish prep students, something many of these students may be missing at their boarding schools.
"Jewish students who are away from home desperately need Jewish contact in their lives," said Rachel Bashevkin, assistant director of studies at Westover and the faculty advisor of the school's Jewish student association. "My hope is that gatherings like Jewbilee can help enhance Jewish life at boarding schools," said
The first Jewbilee was held two years ago at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire when twin sisters Sarah and Rebecca Zeidel of New York decided they wanted to get together with other Jewish private school students to explore the issues of being Jewish in their New England boarding schools.
They approached The Curriculum Initiative (TCI), a non-profit organization founded seven years ago by Jewish philanthropist Edgar Bronfman, whose son is a student at The Taft School, a boarding school in Watertown.
TCI took on the project and sponsored both the first Jewbilee at Exeter and the one held at Westover.
"Jewbilee is an opportunity for students to realize they are part of a community, gain Jewish knowledge and explore issues of Jewish identity," said Maya Bernstein, TCI's New England Regional Director.
Besides Jewbilee, TCI, funded by the Samuel Bronfman Foundation, the Jim Joseph Foundation, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation, and the Lyn P. Meyerhoff Fund, also sponsors a summer initiative for prep school teachers called, "Teaching Ethics: Text and Techniques."
This program helps teachers and school administrators of all faiths develop new ways of teaching moral development using the Bible and oral Jewish tradition, as well as Christian and Muslim texts. The Hevruta method of cooperative learning is highlighted at these sessions. The hope is that after participating in "Teaching Ethics," teachers will take what they learn back to their prep schools and share the ideas with their students.
TCI also began the Ezra Fellowship, which sends college students and graduate students who are knowledgeable about Judaism to boarding schools to help form Jewish student associations or help existing ones with programming.
"We find that advisors to these associations, often teachers at the school, are often very busy and can't always give as much time as they would like," explained Bernstein. ""The Ezra Fellows meet with the Jewish student groups and advisors and try to start programming or help out with existing organizations."
But for the students, the most popular of TCI's programs remains Jewbilee.
"It was a lot of fun," said Bekka Ross Russell, a junior at Miss Porter's School in Farmington who attended the Jewbilee at Westover in November. "It was getting to know other kids at boarding schools, networking and sharing ideas. We talked about issues we all have, like how most schools have sports or classes on Saturday and getting people involved [in the Jewish Student Association]."
If TCI is able to fund the program, a third Jewbilee may be held at Miss Porter's this spring that will include boarding school students from the New York area as well as New England.
"Jewbilee creates a network," explained Rabbi Eric Polokoff, the assistant chaplain for Jewish Students at Taft. "The Jewish communities at these schools are fairly small, and everybody knows everybody it seems after a few minutes. Jewbilee is a chance to meet Jewish kids at other schools who are wrestling with the same issues of Jewish identity. That kind of fellowship and connection is extraordinary."
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