What is Hevruta?
Hevruta is an ancient method of Jewish text study with origins in the Talmud
, a sixth century compendium of Jewish oral law, rabbinic discussion and analysis. The approach relies upon two people grappling together with a text and the essential ideas and issues it raises. To study in hevruta
, (the word hevruta
is linguistically related to the Hebrew words for “friendship” and “connection”), implies a level of intimacy between partners that facilitates open dialogue; such intimacy might not initially exist, but can develop through hevruta. e posting programs soon.
Hevruta is based on the “law of partial truths”: nobody has a complete understanding of any idea. We depend upon others to move toward a more complete understanding of “truth.” It is often those ideas that seem to conflict most strongly with our own, and may even seem to threaten our ideas, that have the potential to be the most illuminating.
Thus, hevruta is interactive, and traditionally takes place in a lively Beit Midrash (Study House) in which multiple study pairs wrestle with texts in the same room.
Sit face to face with a partner.
Read the text out loud. As you hear the words, mentally note anything that jumps out at you. Consider possible inconsistencies and “problems” in the text
Ask questions out loud, and consider three broad categories of questions: In Hevruta, thinking takes place “out loud” and questions are as important as answers. Ask questions, and explore the answers the text offers. General questions might include:
- What does the text say?What is the text about? How do you know? What stands out for you? In particular, are there areas of the text that appear to convey double meanings? Are there ideas that appear not to correlate? Are certain words repeated? Why?
- What does the text mean? What are the messages conveyed through the text? Do you agree with the authors‚Äô perspectives? Why or why not? What is the historical context behind the text? How might this affect the meaning of the text?Consider different interpretations of the text. What is the literal meaning? Are there deeper or more metaphorical readings?
- What does the text mean to me? Texts are often seen as authoritative, and therefore intimidating; however, we should never be afraid to bring our own lived experience to textual interpretation, and to apply the lessons of the text to our own lives. What is your personal interpretation?
Take responsibility for your partners learning. Engage your partner with questions. Encourage your partner to share their ideas. It is not enough for only one person to understand the material.
Come together as a class to share your insights. If you are studying the same text as other pairs in the room, come together to share your insights. This will add additional layers to your understanding of complex texts.
Important things to remember when you are engaged in hevruta:
- You can be right and so can your partner, even if you have different ideas.
- You do not always have to agree with your partner.
- You can be wrong and your partner has the capacity to guide you, to offer a different perspective or idea to consider.
- Your lived experience informs your understandings as much as formal knowledge - everyone has something valuable to say.
- Whatever you say is witnessed by your partner, which encourages respectful and responsible dialogue.
- Hevruta is student-driven learning, which places the responsibility for learning on you, rather than on a formal teacher.¬† The teacher acts as a guide in the process, addressing questions, helping to keep partners focused on learning and integrating insights.
Multicultural Education in Brief?
Multicultural education emerged in the 1960s when domestic liberation movements drew attention to the reality that gaps in educational achievement among Americans can be directly correlated to class, gender, and race. Multicultural educational theorists challenged the practice of teaching exclusively through the lens of the most empowered, which in the United States has meant white, Christian, heterosexual, men of European descent. As Banks and Banks write:
Multicultural education is a field of study and an emerging discipline whose major aim is to create equal educational opportunities for students from diverse racial, ethnic, social-class, and cultural groups. One of its important goals is to help all students to acquire the knowledge, attitudes, and skills needed to function effectively in a pluralistic democratic society and to interact, negotiate, and communicate with peoples from diverse groups in order to create a civic and moral community that works for the common good.Although multicultural education was primarily designed to address the disenfranchisement of people of color, the movement also had an impact on Jewish education, albeit predominantly in secular universities. In the late 1960s, a movement of “Particularist” Jewish scholars advocated for the establishment of Jewish Studies programs independent of departments of religion, history, and sociology. This movement led to the successful establishment of such departments at scores of colleges and universities nationwide.
However, opposition from more parochial Jewish quarters stunted the broader adoption of multicultural approaches to Jewish education in other sectors of the field, and certainly in Jewish education outside of the academy. Therefore, Jewish content remains nearly absent from high school curricula, and Jewish culture is largely ignored by student services offices. Support systems in schools, and particularly diversity professionals, tend to focus on supporting students from the most disempowered communities, who are the most academically and socially vulnerable; Jews are rarely designation as such. Consequently, in isolated locales or historically Christian schools, the absence of Jewish teachers and the presence of insensitive school policies sometimes render life for Jewish students uncomfortable. Given the absence of Jewish content and the occasional discomfort of being Jewish in schools, the place where most American Jewish kids and teens spend a majority of their time, it is no wonder that Jewish connection is often lost to so many American Jews.
On the flip side, Jewish educational institutions such as day schools, supplementary schools, and camps, long ignored multicultural theory and practice as well. This ignorance can have grave consequences for Jewish students of color, LGBTQ Jews, Jews from blended families, and others who sit on the margins of the community. Curricula in these settings often make assumptions about the identities of learners, and teach a male, heterosexual, Europeanized version Jewish history that alienates many learners in our rapidly diversifying community.
There are varied approaches to multicultural education; however, most approaches are rooted in the belief that educational content, pedagogy, practice, policy, and personnel should be representative of the cultural diversity of learners, and that the self-esteem and achievement of learners is enhanced when learners see themselves represented. Competent multicultural analysis incorporates several key concepts:
- Culture is broadly understood to mean the array of identity categories that people embody including-but not limited to-age, class, color, ethnicity, gender identity, national/local origin or ancestry, physical or mental ability, place of birth, race, religion, sex, and sexual orientation.
- Individuals’ identities embody multiple intersections of the aforementioned categories.
- The aforementioned categories should also serve as lenses through which to analyze and understand educational content and human experience.
- Power and privilege are additional lenses through which to understand educational content and human experience, and which directly impact educational achievement.
It is these principles that allowed TCI to successfully work with Jewish students, friends, and allies among both students and faculty at partner schools, and to develop content that spoke to the very real needs of TCI’s teens and their families.
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Student Empowerment Toolkit
Engagement rests at the heart of TCI's work and that of the students and groups that we support. To engage someone is to attract, involve, or win them over. Engagement, then, refers to efforts to involve individuals and excite them about a particular activity or initiative - in this case, Jewish programming on campus.
The activities and resources included in this module are designed to help students:
- understand the importance of peer engagement;
- identify those they hope to engage;
- understand the way those they hope to engage might see their efforts; and
- communicate more effectively with those they seek to engage
Included in this module is a handout called "How can I be interested, not interesting? "The title speaks to the common misperception that engagement work can only be done by those with the most outgoing personalities. In truth, effective engagement rests largely with the ability to make it about the person being engaged rather than the person doing the engaging.
Activity A. Why Do / Don't People Get Involved?
This facilitated conversation is designed to help students think about why their peers may or may not get involved in various activities.
1. Brainstorm around the following question: Think about the activity or activities in which you are most involved. Why did you get involved?¬† What do you get out of your involvement?
2. Brainstorm around the question: Why do you think people don't get involved in certain activities?
3. Discuss: What can we learn from this? How do we position our club/initiative to maximize the things from our first list and to minimize those from the second?
Activity B. Acquire For Yourself a Friend (Text Study)
This text study draws on Jewish tradition to highlight the importance of proactive engagement.
1. Introduce the practice of chevruta learning using TCI's Guide to Chevruta Study.
2. Break students into pairs and pass out text study sheets for Ethics of the Fathers 1:6 (see Module 3: Resource A). Give groups 10-20 minutes to examine the text and discuss the accompanying questions.
3. Bring the full group together to share highlights from chevruta conversations. In discussing the relevance of the text to peer engagement, the facilitator may wish to highlight:
- the text's emphasis on active acquisition of friends, just as student leaders must actively engage their peers;
- that every new friend or group member teaches you something by bringing his or her unique perspective to the table; and
- the importance of judging everyone - and their potential interest in participating in an activity - favorably, rather than assuming that they would not be interested.
* See Module 3: Resource A for the text study sheet.
Activity C. Be Interested, Not Interesting
This activity helps students become proficient in using open ended questions.
You don't have to be the most interesting person in the world - or even the room - to engage someone effectively. Engagement isn't about being interesting, it's about being interested - showing a genuine interest in someone else.
We all like to talk about ourselves. Effective engagement involves controlling that desire and allowing the other person to be the focus of conversation.
1. Define an open ended question: An open ended question is one that requires a substantial answer beyond just "yes", "no", or something similarly simple. While closed ended questions often begin "Do you..." or "Are you...", open ended questions often begin "What do you think about..."
2. Discuss: Why are open ended questions frequently better than closed ended questions?
3. Students divide into pairs. For 5-10 minutes, one member of each pair will only ask open ended questions and the other will only answer. The questioner should not speak unless s/he is asking a question or providing a simple demonstration that s/he is listening ("right", "okay", "absolutely"). The person asking questions should strive to have each question build on the other person's previous answers.
Student A: What do you like to do in your free time?
Student B: I read a lot and watch a lot of movies. I love baseball. Umm...
Student A: What is it that you love about baseball?
* See Module 3: Resource B for a handout related to this activity.
Activity D. Role Playing
Role playing exercises can help students to feel more comfortable with engagement-oriented conversation
These simple role playing exercises can be conducted simultaneously by several pairs of students or in a fishbowl set-up, with the larger group watching a pair of students conduct the role play and then discussing it together.
Scenario 1: Student A is a leader within his/her school's Jewish Culture Club. S/he is seeking to engage Student B, who is not a member of the club, to get him/her involved.
Scenario 2: Student A is the current leader of the Jewish Culture Club at his/her school. S/he is seeking to engage Student B, who is a moderately active member of the club, in its leadership.
Scenario 3: Student A is a leader within his/her school's Jewish Culture Club S/he is seeking to engage a new teacher as an advisor or supporter of the club.
Activity E. Community Mapping
This activity introduces a tool that students can use to focus their engagement efforts.
Engagement efforts are most effective when they are conducted in a strategic way.¬† We often do not want to engage just anyone but, rather, specific people or institutions who we hope will participate in or support our efforts. For example, a Jewish student club might want to engage a diversity club since the two groups potentially share certain interests.
Community mapping is a way of identifying groups or institutions to focus on engaging. Community mapping can serve as a sort of illustrative brainstorming tool.
Option 1: Students are given or agree upon a question or challenge, such as: How do we increase visibility for our club? Individuals or pairs map out groups and institutions at their schools that might help and hinder their efforts, clearly noting which are which. Maps are shared out with the full group and a facilitator guides the group in agreeing upon and/or prioritizing those they should seek to engage and how they might do so.
Option 2: Students are given or agree upon a question or challenge, such as:¬† How do we increase visibility for our club? A facilitator then leads the group in creating a community map together on a white board or flip chart. The facilitator might challenge students to consider linkages between the entities they put on the map or to suggest the relative size which each is given on the map based on its significance or influence in the community.
* See Module 3: Resource C for a sample community map.
Activity F. Social Network Mapping
This activity introduces a tool that students can use to focus their engagement efforts.
Engagement efforts are most effective when they are conducted in a strategic way. We often do not want to engage just anyone but, rather, specific people or institutions who we hope will participate in or support our efforts.
Social network mapping is a way to broaden our thinking about what individuals we might seek to engage in a particular activity or initiative.
1. Students individually identify three or more social networks of which they are a part, drawing overlapping circles for each.¬† These may be formal or informal networks. For example:
2. Students fill in each circle with as many names as they can think of, noting where people are a part of multiple networks.
3. Discuss: What can we learn from our social network maps?
Possible takeaways include:
- identifying new people to focus on engaging;
- getting a better sense of where a particular population (i.e., Jewish students) can be found, what their interests are, and how to go about engaging them;
- identifying individuals who could be important connectors; and
- devising an organic way of dividing up engagement targets among student leaders.
* See Module 3: Resource D for a social network mapping handout.
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perachya says: Make for yourself a teacher, acquire for yourself a friend, and judge everyone favorably.
- Ethics of the Fathers 1:6
Ethics of the Fathers, or Pirke Avot, is a collection of Jewish aphorisms and maxims to live by. It was compiled between the first and third centuries C.E.
- How do you "make for yourself a teacher" and "acquire for yourself a friend"?
- Why did Yehoshua ben Perachya say to "acquire" a friend, rather than to meet a friend or become friends with someone?
- How does “judge everyone favorably” relate to the first two parts of this statement?
- How does this statement relate to the work of engaging new students in your club, programming, or activism?
How can I be interested, not interesting?
Being interested, not interesting means that when having a conversation, you are focused on actively listening to what the other person has to say, not spending your time thinking about what you are going to say next.¬† When doing any engagement work, it's important to be present and to pay attention to what the other person has to say.
Here are some tips to help you:
- Ask open ended questions
- Make eye contact
- Monitor your body language
- Let the other person finish their thought before responding
- Keep personal judgments to yourself
- Ask follow-up questions; demonstrate genuine interest
- Avoid distractions; silence your phone, don't check text messages, etc.
Adapted from Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life
Sample Community Map
Social Network Map
TConnect Student Empowerment Grants: A Funding Opportunity from TCI
TCI invites 9th-12th grade independent school students to apply for a TConnect Student Empowerment Grant.¬† Grants of up to $500 are available to support creative student-driven projects that:
- Broaden appreciation for Jewish culture in a school
- Establish or strengthen a Jewish club
- Integrate a Jewish voice into an existing school program or club
What is TCI?
TCI is the premier organization providing Jewish resources and cultural programming at independent schools. We work in partnership with students, teachers and administrators to catalyze meaningful Jewish opportunities and to enrich school communities’ multicultural life.
What types of programs will TCI consider for a grant?
We encourage students to put their creativity to work for Jewish-themed programs that build on schools’ diversity efforts and benefit students of diverse backgrounds. Past projects include:
- Freedom Seder co-sponsored by the Jewish, LGBT, and student of color clubs at Cambridge School of Weston, MA
- Screening of the film “Punk Rock in the Holy Land” and discussion with the director at Marin Academy, CA
- Installation art piece for a remembrance project designed by the Literature of the Holocaust class at Rutgers Prep, NJ
- Purim carnival game booth at Woodside Priory School, CA
Other programs might include:
- Visits to Jewish-oriented cultural institutions, such as the Yiddish Book Center
- An interschool Jewish holiday celebration or Shabbat Dinner
- Jewish-themed community service projects
- A luncheon to jumpstart a Jewish student club
Grant funds can be applied to project materials and supplies, food, transportation, speaker/educator fees, educational tools, and related items. TCI typically serves as the purchasing agent for all grant-related expenses, but reimbursement can be arranged if necessary for pre-approved purchases. In this case, all receipts must be kept and delivered to the TCI staff.
Who can apply for a TConnect grant?
Two or more students can apply for a TConnect grant. TCI will give preference to projects that involve a greater number of students in planning and implemenation. A project must:
- Be student-driven
- Have teacher support
- Have a student-written proposal
A TConnect Grant can support a one-time event or a series of activities, such as programs for several club meetings.
Two students should be designated project leaders. Applicants should select a teacher to inform and guide their project design, and to liaise with TCI regarding program development and implementation. Teachers, along with student leaders, must sign-off on the project.
TCI will meet with students as they formulate and develop their project ideas. We can also meet with students who might be interested but have not yet decided on a particular project.
How will my grant application be judged?
TCI staff will meet with you when we receive your proposal. We review grant applications based on the following criteria:
- Capacity for successful implementation
- Capacity of the project to enlighten participants about Jewish culture and heritage
- Number of students involved in planning and implementing the project
- Realistic budget
What happens if we receive a grant?
TCI will notify grant winners within three weeks of receiving your proposal. All grantees will be invited to attend the retreat formerly known as Jewbilee, taking place at Harvard University from January 16th to 18th, where they will be publicly recognized. TCI will work closely with grantees to develop and implement their project, and to provide appropriate resources to ensure success.
What are our responsibilities after the program has taken place?
A brief summary and evaluation must be submitted to TCI after the program has taken place.¬† This should include a description of the event, the number of attendees, photos and any publicity or educational materials that were distributed.
When do I apply? Who do I contact?
The TConnect grant application is due at least six weeks prior to your program. We encourage you to talk with the TCI Regional Director before you submit a proposal to maximize your chance of success.
Email your application to your TCI Regional Director.
TCI will contact each applicant to learn more about the proposed programs and gain additional clarifying information, where necessary.
Examples of past programs:
Ethical Culture Fieldston School (NY)
Class project on Judaism and ethics
Jewish students from Fieldston’s science and ethics class conducted an independent study to document the trials of a New York City resident trying to navigate the heath-care system without insurance. As part of this project, they examined Jewish values related to medical ethics and caring for the needy. They presented their project at a school assembly.
Mercy High School (CA)
Series of school-wide programs
One hundred juniors attended an assembly with Rabbi Arik Ascherman of Rabbis for Human Rights, in which he discussed the Jewish prophetic tradition and how he applies it to his contemporary activism in Israel. The second program, led by local educator and former TCI Regional Director Maya Bernstein, was a lesson and text study on Purim for Mercy’s World Religions and Scriptures classes. The final program was a Yom HaShoah assembly with a survivor that included follow-up discussions with guest speakers in seven classrooms.
Westover School (CT)
Westover’s seder was a version of the TCI ‘Freedom Seder’ focused on a discussion of current racism, prejudice, and oppression.¬† These themes were incorporated through the four questions, the fifteen “steps toward liberation” and other aspects of ‘The Liberation Seder.’ Westover’s seder theme provided a contemporary context for the ancient bondage of the Jews.¬† In this way rather than only discussing the historical oppression of the Israelites in Egypt, tables broke-off into discussions of current oppression and prejudice experienced throughout the world. The seder was co-hosted by the Peer Support Group, a student proctor-run group that meets once a week and is open to all students to discuss issues of student life at school and in the world.
TConnect Grant Application
TConnect awards grants to independent high school students to develop and implement programs that bring Jewish culture and heritage to their schools. Grants are a maximum of $500.