Recommended Reading

RECOMMENDED READING….The LA Times has a fascinating feature story today by Barry Siegel about an Orthodox Jewish school in the Fairfax district named Shalhevet:

Shalhevet, which means a self-kindling flame, opened its high school 11 years ago and added a middle school in the fall of 2000; it now has a total enrollment of 370. Right from the start, the struggle to fuse a Kohlbergian ethos with Orthodox Judaism made for constant cacophony. The students and faculty challenged each other all the time, usually with gusto. Democracy, parking lot privileges, off-campus conduct, teachers’ manners ? everything was ripe for debate.

Only when Israel came up did acrimony replace gusto….

The article traces the career of Xander Maksik, a drama teacher who ended up pushing the normal cacophony a bit too far when he insisted on teaching his seventh grade class Habibi, a novel that includes “rough behavior by Israeli soldiers, and the humiliation of Palestinians.” The local community split in half:

There was no avoiding it: To some at Shalhevet, the Palestinians were equivalent to the Nazis. That became clear one day when an otherwise gentle rabbi said, “I hope they kill all the Palestinians.” To Sam Gomberg, the analogy was Germany, circa 1938.

“You’re being insensitive,” he told Maksik now as they sat in Friedman’s office. “Would you have students read ‘Mein Kampf’ at this school?”

Friedman directed the meeting from behind his desk, tilting his high-backed executive chair, inquiring but offering little comment. Maksik sat before him, Gomberg off to the side, Rabbi Gabbai at Friedman’s right. All three would later recall the encounter.

Maksik stiffened at Gomberg’s question. Yes, he’d assign Hitler’s manifesto at this school. “There would be no better place to teach it.”

“Well, then,” Gomberg said. “Then I really have nothing to say.”

It’s a long story, but it’s worth reading the whole thing. Especially for those of us who aren’t Jewish and can’t pretend to understand the culture firsthand, it brings to life much of the rawness and bitterness on both sides and does a good job of portraying everyone in the dispute sympathetically. Highly recommended.

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