Reflector News

JCRC educating with local public schools on Jewish Issues

(From left) Basya Gartenstein, JCRC Director; Jason Kamras, Superintendent of Richmond Public Schools; and Larry Goldman, JCRC Education Subcommittee co-chair.

In anticipation of the 2023-2024 school year, the Jewish Community Relations Committee is making strides in guiding public school educators in Powhatan and Hanover counties, and the City of Richmond, about Jewish needs, heritage, and the persistent issue of antisemitism.

By collaborating with educational institutions, the JCRC aims to foster a more inclusive learning environment and raise awareness about Judaism, Jewish culture, and the challenges faced by the Jewish community.

We look forward to meeting with leaders in Goochland, Chesterfield and Henrico counties soon.

(From left) Basya Gartenstein, JCRC Director; Dr. Beth Teigen, Superintendent of Powhatan County Public Schools; and Larry Goldman, JCRC Education Subcommittee co-chair.

During August, Larry Goldman, the co-chair of the Education Subcommittee led impactful discussions about the following matters:

  1. Promoting Cultural Understanding:

Complementary to combatting hatred toward the Jewish people, and other marginalized communities in our midst, the JCRC is fostering active appreciation of Jewish heritage – within and beyond the Jewish community.

This past legislative session, Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, with the support of the Virginia Jewish Communities*, introduced HJ543 that enshrined May as Jewish American Heritage Month (JAHM) in perpetuity.

Ultimately, we fight Jewish hate, so that we can celebrate our identity, and JAHM carves out space for just that.

Our public schools are excited by the prospect of introducing curriculum through our partner the Institute of Curriculum Studies (ICS), and educational opportunities through JCFR PJ Library.

Such resources provide students and teachers the opportunity to learn more about, and ultimately support, the Jewish experience.

  1. Holiday Awareness:

As you may have read in the June Reflector, we worked with the public schools to create a “high holiday” floating date in the calendar.

This is an adjustable date pertaining to either Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur. That way, if one falls on a weekend, the other becomes a day off.

Complementary to this work, we distribute a calendar that lists all Jewish holidays until the year 2026, so that schools can responsibly plan.

When classes are scheduled, we request that exam dates avoid holidays. We also offered letter templates that superintendents can send out to all of their public schools with words of awareness about the holiday period.

Such a letter raises general awareness of sacred times outside of the Christian calendar, and allows Jewish students and faculty to have their observances respected.

Should an exam or assignment due date overlap with any holiday, such letters are presented and they ensure that students won’t be penalized for observing the High Holy Days.

  1. Addressing Antisemitism:

The rise in antisemitism incidents across the nation, with Virginia in 13th place according to the Anti-Defamation League, highlights the urgency of addressing this issue.

Without defining a problem, providing a solution is futile.

This past legislative session, Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant and Del. Anne Ferrell Tata introduced the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism.

Thanks to the support of the Virginia Jewish Communities, we have a mechanism to train, educate, and track hate crimes.

On this basis, the JCRC is working closely with our public schools to develop comprehensive programs that educate students about antisemitism and its roots.

We are working with superintendents and curriculum directors to equip students with the knowledge and tools to recognize, challenge, and combat antisemitism in all its forms – ethnic and religious.

We explored topics such as ways to ensure home school curriculum promoting white supremacy does not get approved, schools have internet software that blocks hate sites on school computers, review processes are in place for bullying and hate crimes, and teachers and students are familiarized with the Federation’s incident reporting form that goes to our Regional Security Officer Dave Brackins.

We thank the Virginia Holocaust Museum, the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities, and the Anti-Defamation League for their critical work and collaborative educational efforts to create a culture of belonging for Jewish students.

This work includes training educators to recognize the multifaceted forms of Jewish-hate through the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism.

What’s next in education?

JCRC leadership worked this fall and past winter to ensure that Judaism, antisemitism, and the Holocaust are justly represented with the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs) approved by the Virginia Department of Education.

Over the next year, our education subcommittee, led by Miriam Davidow and Larry Goldman, will work to create SOL-conforming lesson plans related to Jewish American Heritage Month as well as Holocaust and antisemitism education.

This effort ensures that our schools can seamlessly adopt lessons on these topics that meet state requirements.

We continue to serve as a resource to our community partners of all kinds, especially our schools.

Our educator meetings took place on the heels of Richmond Jewish Coalition for Literacy’s recent school supplies drive and many years of support for City of Richmond and Henrico County public schools.

If you would like to be involved in JCRC’s Education Subcommittee, please reach out to Larry Goldman If you have an issue or concern for your Jewish student, please do not hesitate to contact:

*an umbrella organization for mutual advocacy efforts by the JCRCs and Jewish Federations throughout Virginia

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