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If Not Now, When? The Next Step in the Free Jewish Education Movement

September 8, 2011 – 9:51 pm33 Comments

By Jonathan Schauder

Almost 8 years ago, when my wife and I were deciding whether to have a 3rd child, I went to seek counsel from my Rabbi. I posed him a difficult choice:
I asked, “Should we have a 3rd child… or stop now in order to afford Private Jewish School fees… you call it Rabbi… because it is unlikely that both will be possible.”

He didn’t even allow me to finish my question…

“Go forth and multiply! It is the first commandment. The rest you will work out. There is only one central Book and it will be learned over a lifetime and in every different way!”

We now have 5 children under 11 years old, who are likely to travel their education journey in the Public School system augmented by the wonderful Jewish community services on offer. So you can understand my motivation to fulfil this mission for myself and for all the families who face, or will face the same complicated choices as they plan their futures.

So on that note, I’d like to thank everyone who considered and commented on my first article proposing a new Jewish Community vision for Glen Eira College as our foundational central community State School.

Whilst respecting the separation of Religion and State, and protecting the needs of the majority school community, the vision was to establish some core elective subjects of relevance to Jewish students within the school. And to fill out the model, the Community would also establish a neutral coordinating office that could tailor out-of-hours spiritual and community activities to meet each individual’s needs – across the board, for everyone.

Well… as Hillel says, if not now, then when?

I’m please to inform everyone that a formal proposal was submitted on August 31 2011 to the School and the Education Minister. It has been formally received and the first few procedural steps outlined.

So what is proposed? … “AJILE@GEC”

The first step was the vision that was published. On-the-whole the model was well received by its target group. To reiterate, this movement is targeted at the Generation X parents whose children are currently in Kinder to grade 6 at various primary schools. This group is the next “wave of Jewish children” that will hit the secondary education system. As the baby boomers’ children (Gen X) hit 40 years of age and their eldest children hit 12, the need for services will be higher than ever.

A full copy of the proposal is available on request from the author or the editors.

In brief the proposal describes ‘AJILE’:

The Australian Jewish Identity and Language Education Centre.

AJILE is proposed to be a program within the brand new Glen Eira College Language and Culture centre. If successful, AJILE will deliver 3 streams of activity:

1.       VCE Hebrew: as an elective language subject from years 8-12 in school hours.

2.       VCE Religion and Society (Judaism): as an elective comparative analysis subject from years 8-12 in school hours.

3.       The coordination and administration of the full range of out-of-school hours religious, cultural and language programs that students may wish to access, including a wide range of Bar and Bat Mitzvah options for year 7 students.

The expectation is that Community sponsors, a user pays model, or Government subsidy – or a combination of all of the above – will fund these activities.

AJILE is not going to directly deliver services like Spiritgrow, Mizrachi, Chabad, UJEB, Lamdeni, Maccabi, or Temple Beth. Rather AJILE will interview the child and their family. Work out their specific needs and objectives, and point them in the right directions for full services delivered through others. We already have great services, shuls and activities resourced and running! There is no need to duplicate anything.

In playing this role, AJILE will also hopefully improve community collaboration generally. For example: bring together Spiritgrow, Chabad Glen Eira, the Blake Street Shul, and Central Shul to deliver a breakfast “Shacharit Club” for Bar Mitzvah boys from anywhere to attend. Or help Ajax football, netball and cricket, or Maccabi Soccer to recruit players. Or assist UJEB, Lamdeni or Millies to ensure that their Hebrew students are ready to go straight into year 8 VCE Hebrew having completed their Primary years’ education.

I hope this is exciting for the community generally.

The process from here?

From the moment the Israelites were first informed that would leave mitzrayim there were infinite negotiations, set backs, miracles, plagues and decision points. They needed faith and patience. And of course there was some wandering in the desert. I’m hoping our process of change will be easier!

And critically we have to remember that throughout all of that challenge for change there was so much achieved: the definition of a community, the alignment of a people and the development of a core vision that continues to inspire.

Without being so dramatic, we will now have to travel a similar metaphorical journey.

The first step was the vision that was published.

Step 2 was the formal submission of the proposal and it entering the system for assessment.

At a minimum we have the following steps ahead of us:

3.       Consideration of the concept by the GEC Principal (she is away until October)

4.       School internal review

5.       School Board review

6.       Dialogue and discussion with all stakeholders

7.       Refine and design process

8.       Detail finalisation and plan

9.       School authorization and funding

10.   Confirmation and implementation plan

11.   Publicity and launch

Miracles happen and this process may only take 4 months! At the same time its likely to take longer even though we can make massive in-roads and commence aspects of the model. In the original strategic plan discussed by the proponents of this concept, it was expected to take until the start of the 2013 academic year to launch the full plan.

How can you get involved?

Firstly, please get involved! My original call to action stands. Don’t assume we can do this without you! We can’t. We need you: Contact the school, contact the Minister, spread the word, generate momentum, generate unity, get your mates on-board.

Second, if you’d like to be more directly active, please contact me via my website www.thechangeagentnetwork.com.au. Everyone is welcome.

Jonny Schauder is one of Melbourne’s leading consultants in the area of Change Management, High Performing Teams and Leadership. He is a Psychologist and has lectured on Negotiation and Influence in the Monash Business School MBA, and is managing director of The Change Agent Network.

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