Local educators explore Jews’ role in Civil Rights

Local educators explore Jews’ role in Civil Rights

Women’s archive institute introduces ‘Legacy’ curriculum

At the Jewish Women’s Archive Institute for Educators in mid-July, Judy Sandman of Temple Emanu-El in Westfield, left, talks with oral historian Dr. Jayne Guberman after a workshop on how to conduct oral history interviews. Photo by Gus Freedman
At the Jewish Women’s Archive Institute for Educators in mid-July, Judy Sandman of Temple Emanu-El in Westfield, left, talks with oral historian Dr. Jayne Guberman after a workshop on how to conduct oral history interviews. Photo by Gus Freedman

Two teachers from New Jersey recently added stories of their own to the massive collection being put together by the Jewish Women’s Archive in suburban Boston.

Judy Sandman of the religious school of Temple Emanu-El in Westfield and Wilma Solomon of the Jewish Center of Princeton were among 24 colleagues from across North America who attended JWA’s Institute for Educators, held July 11-15. The two women declared both the telling and the learning an invigorating experience.

The archive was established in 1995 to gather and disseminate material on the lives and achievements of American-Jewish women. Since then, it has developed a range of in-person programs and on-line resources dealing with everything from culture and religion to cooking and conflict, sexuality and cinema.

Participants in the institute — this year titled The Power of Our Stories: Jews and the Civil Rights Movement — attended sessions designed to introduce JWA’s Living the Legacy social justice curriculum.

Sandman said that at the institute, “I charged my batteries. I am full of new ideas for my classroom, my school, and my community — not only about Jews and the civil rights movement but about Jewish women and our place in every discussion.

“It was a tremendous privilege to attend,” she continued. “I’m really excited about combining biblical and other traditional Jewish texts with contemporary texts, primary sources, and photos from the Living the Legacy curriculum to help my seventh-graders draw connections between Jewish historical events and the civil rights movement — and the Jewish values underlying our responses to these events.”

Solomon was equally enthusiastic. In addition to her teaching, she serves on the board of Not In Our Town Princeton, an interracial, interfaith social action group. She said the program “reinforces how key Jewish values underlie powerful change in making lives better.” It’s important, she added, to teach content like this in order to “reignite partnerships between whites — particularly Jews — and blacks to continue that change and to educate our youth on how relevant and important their Jewish traditions are.”

She added that at the JWA gathering, “it was beneficial and revitalizing to meet Jewish educators from a variety of settings who were so committed to exploring the curriculum and to advancing social justice with their students and communities.

“It was a lot of fun too.”

‘Making a difference’

The participants had been asked to bring with them an object of particular significance. The program began with each person briefly relating the story behind their object and the woman connected to it. Among the items brought to the gathering were rolling pins, jewelry, recipes, photographs, and prayer books. One of the objects was edible — blintzes left over from a participant’s breakfast that morning with a beloved grandmother.

Sandman brought an object associated with a woman who wasn’t Jewish but who nevertheless inspired her intellectually. It was the silver cup that appears on the back cover of the book Tiffany Taste. “Many years ago I worked at Doubleday as an editorial assistant to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who edited Tiffany Taste,” she told NJ Jewish News. “When the book was published, Tiffany sent Jackie a set of those silver cups. She gave one to me. Jackie was the most well-read woman I have ever met, intelligent, and passionate about history.”

Solomon brought a cherished bracelet. “It belonged to my mom, who was an army wife,” she told NJJN. “The bracelet was given to her by a military officer from Thailand who took a course at an army information school where my dad was director of instruction. The bracelet reminded me of how my mom helped us to adjust to each move, every two to four years, and created a wonderful home for us each time.

“She made sure that my brother and I had strong connections to Judaism, regardless of the circumstances,” said Solomon. “We celebrated Passover seders and Hanukka with soldiers, studied Hebrew with the army base chaplain, connected with other Jewish military families. My brother and I both celebrated becoming b’nei mitzva in South Korea.”

After the story-telling came a formal program with presentations by Dr. Debra Schulz, author of Going South: Jewish Women in the Civil Rights Movement; Rabbi Jill Jacobs, director of Rabbis for Human Rights and author of There Shall Be No Needy: Pursuing Social Justice through Jewish Law and Tradition; and Vicki Gabriner, who talked about her experiences as a civil rights worker in the South.

JWA executive director Gail Reimer said, “Every day we hear from educators who tell us what a difference Living the Legacy is making in their classrooms. We see how appreciative educators are of stories told in ways their students relate to. These are stories that have rarely been told before. They inspire students to recognize that they too can make history.”

The JWA material can be accessed for free at jwa.org. For more information about the JWA, call 617-232-2258 or visit the site.

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