/ Notes for the Field

Notes for the Field

Jewish Power, Jewish Vulnerability, and This Moment for Israel and the Jewish People

Dr. Jonathan Golden is Director of Wellspring Leadership Initiatives at and Interim Director of Boston at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America. Previously he served as the Israel Curriculum Coordinator and a history teacher at Gann Academy, a pluralistic Jewish high school in Waltham, MA where he taught since 1999. During his career at Gann, he has taught AP American History, chaired the History Department, served as Assistant Head of School and Director of

As an educator, my colleague Jonathan Golden is an expert in helping students of all ages make sense of current events, especially when those events are particularly surprising or challenging. In the piece below, he describes the Heart-Hand-Mind paradigm he has been using for helping groups process and respond to the Hamas massacre of October 7 and connects it with key lessons from Hartman’s iEngage curriculum. –Claire E. Sufrin

As educators, we are more needed than ever as the Jewish people seek to respond to the horrific events of October 7 in a multitude of ways. By nature, I am a short-term pessimist and a long-term optimist. Our work in the coming months and years will be harder, not easier than it is now. There is so little we can control about the unfolding of the conflict itself. However, we must realize the power and agency we create by being in community together and we must undertake the challenging conversations raised by the conflict.

Over the last month, I have turned to the Heart-Head-Hand conversation protocol and found it useful with groups ranging from heads of Jewish day schools and summer camp directors to Berklee School of Music students and Brookline public school parents.

The Heart-Head-Hand protocol offers students three approaches to a difficult topic. “Heart” invites student to ask themselves, “How do I feel?” “Head” asks, “What do I want to know?” Finally, “Hand” asks, “What might I want to do?” I recommend writing these three words and their associated questions on a whiteboard and inviting students to write down their feelings, questions, and possible action steps on individual Post-it notes as they enter the room. The order is intentional, as I believe that we need to be in touch with what is in our hearts first, to lay the groundwork for grappling with the complexities of intellectual understanding. Then, only with a synthesis of what is in one’s heart and mind can one act with confidence and fidelity to one’s own values.

The prompts allow students to be open and vulnerable, and they tend to see the exercise as a way of being in solidarity with one another in a challenging moment. For the teacher, it is a way to make the students’ thinking visible. Together, this protocol offers educators and students a way to create a road map for what they need and want to discuss.

Here is what I have seen. In the first two weeks after October 7, groups led with their hearts. They shared their pain, anger, sadness, worry, and confusion. They shared stories of people with whom they are connected in Israel, something I tried to model by talking about the first three Israelis I contacted after October 7: my dad’s pen pal, Dalia Dvir from Holon, whose three grandsons were called to serve in the Israeli military; my friend, Amihai Zippor, who lives in the Talpiyot neighborhood of Jerusalem with his three-year-old son, 12-year-old daughter, and teenage stepdaughter, and spent the first part of the war cooped up at home with all of them; and my Hartman colleague Tal Zmiri, the person who takes care of food, hotels, logistics, and overall hospitality for all who visit Machon Hartman in Jerusalem. She takes such good care of us, and I wanted her to know that we would be there for her.

When we share our personal connections with one another, we embody the Hartman Torah of Being and Becoming. Even as our interpretations of Judaism may differ, as well as our ideas of what to do in this moment (the Judaism of Becoming), the sharing of our stories highlights the Judaism of Being and the solidarity of one Jewish family.

During the third week after the massacre, my conversations with groups largely shifted from Heart to Head, as teachers sought deeper understanding of this moment. Who is Hamas? Why did they attack? What is the endgame of the war? How do I talk about it with my child? How do I deal with social media about this story? Groups were now ready to discuss these questions. To address them, I have turned to a key lesson of Hartman Torah, asking people to think anew about Jewish Power and Vulnerability. “Do you see Jews as powerful or vulnerable?” is the most important question we can ask ourselves and our peers as we make sense of this moment. It is always the question to ask when watching news or reading a social media post.

Are Jews vulnerable in 2023 in a comparable way to the pogroms of the 1880s, the 1929 riots in Hebron, or the Holocaust? Are Jews powerful now that they have the State of Israel and an army? David Hartman addressed these questions profoundly in his piece “Auschwitz or Sinai.” This essay, published during the first Lebanon War, concludes with these lines: “We will mourn forever because of the memory of Auschwitz. We will build a healthy new society because of the memory of Sinai.” Each of us must take seriously this call to balance memory with the actualization of Jewish values.

As this tragic moment has captivated the hearts and minds of the Jewish community, it has been remarkable to watch the Jewish people mobilize. How do the stories in our hearts and the questions in our heads lead us to work with our hands? What should we each be doing? My general advice is the following: what you do with your hands should be a natural extension of what is in your heart and what is in your head. Whether you engage in philanthropy, advocacy, or human connection, you will be most successful when you are confident and secure in your heart and mind that you are bringing the best of yourself.

At the Hartman Teen Fellowship opening Shabbaton, participants studied five models of Jewish peoplehood that could frame the relationship between North American Jews and Israel. Students were asked to ponder whether pain was the primary bond between the communities, how Israel serves (or not) as the “spiritual center” of Jewish life as articulated by Ahad Ha’am, and what the contributions of diaspora Jews to Israel might look like from afar. As our teen leaders contemplated the kind of relationship that speaks to them, they could more easily imagine the actions they want to take, now and in the future.

For me, the work of my hands is my professional role in Israel education, and while I am not sure how the field will ultimately change, I do know that my colleagues must come together in a substantive way. Historically, some of the most significant American Jewish organizations were founded in times of crisis. The American Jewish Committee, for example, was founded after the Kishinev pogrom of 1903 to advocate for Jews worldwide, and the Anti-Defamation League was established after the Leo Frank case in 1913 to fight discrimination.

On October 22, 2023, all the major Israel education organizations came together for the event Strength for Jewish Educators: Voices from the Field and I was honored to be with them. During the 40 weeks preceding October 7, Israelis were growing more and more divided over their political future and diaspora Jews were left wondering how to discuss Israeli politics and where to stand; in the aftermath of October 7, Jewish communities are being pushed to think deeply about the ties that bind us all and keep us connected as one family.

Schools are always a microcosm of society as it is and society as it might be. More than ever, Jewish education is key to opening the hearts and minds of our community to love, learn, and actualize Jewish values that strengthen our people in all our pluralism.

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