July 13, 2024
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Race and Religion Among Topics Explored at Ma’ayanot Book Day

On Monday, March 28, Ma’ayanot hosted its fourth annual Book Day, an event where all Ma’ayanot students and faculty read the same book and then participate in a day of interdisciplinary programming aimed at exploring issues and topics related to that book. This year’s book, “The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother” by James McBride, was chosen because it explores issues that are contemporary, important and of interest to Ma’ayanot students. As the title implies, the book explores issues relating to race, but it also delves into issues relating to religion, as the author describes his mother’s journey from ultra-orthodox Jew to practicing Christian.

This year’s Book Day was coordinated by Mrs. Shalvi Isseroff and Mrs. Chani Rotenberg, Co-Coordinators of Interdisciplinary Studies at Ma’ayanot. In her introduction to the day of programming, Mrs. Isseroff challenged the students to detach from their cell phones, open their eyes and “think, question, listen, and speak, because that’s what books and reading make you do —they make you look around and ask questions about your world and yourselves.”

The keynote address was delivered by Mr. Ariel Ennis, Senior Multifaith Educator at NYU’s Spiritual Life Center, on the topic: The Hows and Whys of Multifaith Dialogue on College Campuses. Mr. Ennis explained that, despite the fact that a full 81% of American college students self-identify as religiously affiliated, most American universities do not yet provide a safe space for directed programming aimed at fostering multifaith dialogue and collaboration on the college campus. One major goal of such dialogue, he explained, is to allow religion to serve as a uniting, rather than divisive, force on college campuses and beyond.

For the remainder of the day, students chose from a variety of sessions on topics relating to the book, some of which were given by guest speakers. One particularly moving guest session included a panel of three Ma’ayanot mothers, Mrs. Nancy Siegel, Mrs. Shera Dubitsky and Mrs. Neshama Kutin, who shared their stories of becoming observant Jews. Students were also fascinated by presentations given by representatives from Project S.A.R.A.H. on Addressing Domestic Abuse in the Jewish Community.

Also popular were sessions aimed at providing opportunities for students to explore religious identity and the role of religion in one’s life, including “Questions and Struggles with Religion” by Rabbi Jay Goldmintz (Tanach and Jewish Philosophy) and Mrs. Suzanne Cohen (Tanach); “I Never Went to the Jewish Side: How Two Jewish Sources View Christianity” by Mrs. Shifra Schapiro (Tanach); a session in intermarriage by Mrs. Chava Berger (Talmud); “What Causes Teenagers to Leave Judaism” by Mrs. Yael Weil (Halacha), and “How Do Experiences Influence Your Identity” by Mrs. Nachama Becker (Guidance).

Numerous other sessions showcased the unique talents and/or experiences of Ma’ayanot faculty members. For example, Mrs. Leebie Mallin (College Guidance), who spent a summer as an intern in the American Embassy in Amman, Jordan, delivered a fascinating session on “A Jew and a Christian Encounter Islam, the Arab/Israeli Conflict and Each Other”; Ms. Samantha Kur (English) led an art session titled “Finding Yourself in Color”; Mrs. Joyce Heller (Math) gave an interactive session on “Expressing Yourself: Telling Your Stories through Drama”; and Mrs. Enid Goldberg (English) ran a session entitled “Understanding the Memoir Style.”

As the book is an autographical memoir, numerous sessions explored the topic of family relationships, including “Kibbud Av V’Em: Who is Obligated” by Rabbi Zev Prince (Talmud and Halacha); “Ma’asei Avot Siman L’Banim: Tanakh Family Dynamics” by Mrs. Leah Herzog (Tanach); “Who am I? How Telling our Family Stories Can Impact Who We Become” by Ms. Sarah Gordon; and “Understanding Confrontation” by Mrs. Ora Schier (Tanach).

Finally, for students with a particular interest in history, Mrs. Adele Katzenstein (Student Services) offered a session on “We’re All In This Together: How Jews Built Positive Relationships in the South During the Civil Rights Era”; Ms. Deborah Mark presented on “An Exploration of the History of Jews in the South”; and Mrs. Dena Block (History and Talmud) explored “When Our Leaders Fail: The Danger of Hero Worship.”

The day concluded with a film festival comprised of five viewing choices, including “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “West Side Story, Mississippi Burning,” “The Butler” and “Fill the Void,” all of which allowed students to explore a relevant Book Day theme through the important medium of film.

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