Rabbi David Lau’s condemnation this week of Naftali Bennett’s visit to the Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan was shortsighted and inaccurate in many ways. Most close to home for me, it denigrated the vital work we are doing at Schechter Manhattan to nurture positive Jewish identity in our students, the future leaders of the American Jewish community.
Lau, the Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, said that Bennett, a minister in Israel’s government and leader of the Jewish Home Party, should not have visited us. In his view, at Schechter Manhattan “the education distances Jews from tradition, from the past, and from the future of the Jewish people.” That’s apparently because Schechter Manhattan is affiliated with the Conservative movement while Lau is Orthodox.
As Bennett experienced when he visited, this could not be further from the truth. Everything we do at Schechter Manhattan brings our students and their families closer to Jewish tradition and connects them to their shared heritage.
Celebrating Hanukah this week at Schechter Manhattan, the strength and depth of Jewish connections our students are making was obvious. We started our days singing the ancient words of hallel, joyously and proudly. We studied about Hanukah in our classes.
The elementary school students learned about the customs, rituals, and themes of the holiday. Middle School students studied selections from classic texts such as the Talmud, Mishne Torah, and Siddur about the history and practices of Hanukah, grounding their observance in the sacred texts of the Jewish people. We came together with parents and friends for a beautiful Zimriya, song festival, filled with Israeli favorites, connecting us to the culture and people of Israel.
As is clear from these examples, at Schechter Manhattan we live a vibrant Judaism, marked by commitment to serious engagement and joyous expression; grounded in our holy texts and practices and also situated firmly in the modern world. At the same time, we respect the diverse Jewish backgrounds, choices, and practices that are represented in the families in our community.
We believe that the combination of the knowledge and experiences that students are afforded at Schechter Manhattan with the deep respect for each student’s relationship with his or her Jewish identity empowers students to find the Jewish commitments that will be most meaningful to them. And that is what will ensure the future of the Jewish community, young people who have integrated and strong Jewish identities.
I commend Bennett for seeking to learn from and with different types of Jews and I am proud of what Schechter Manhattan represents to the larger Jewish world, a committed community of Jews that is enriched and strengthened by our differences.
Benjamin Mann is Head of School at Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan