Sunday, October 18, 2009

Doing Jewish

Jewish text does not have a monopoly on wisdom or ethics. It does, however, contain both in great abundance. One of the valuable lessons our learners ought to take with them forever is that the foundations for what many see as universal values are embedded in Jewish thinking. Some of the greatest ideas of our civilization are in large part based on the great ideas of Judaism, and we can take justifiable pride in that concept.
This post is a suggestion for using media and popular culture to support learning of Jewish ideas.

Big Ideas:
  • People have the capacity to choose freely between good and evil
  • Everything one does is part of who s/he is
  • Jewish wisdom insists we take responsibility for our decisions and actions

Question our learners should be able to answer:
  • What evidence do we have in Jewish texts to support these ideas?
  • Which of the stories below is, in your opinion, the story of a hero? What supports your opinion

Learning Activities:

A book has just been released in which Capt. Sulllenberger tells the story of his life and the events we know as the "Miracle on the Hudson", the safe landing of the jet he was piloting and rescue of all aboard.
One of the statements quoted in the Wall Street Journal's article by his co-author has within it the following quotation.

'Sully has heard from people who say preparation and diligence are not the same as heroism. He agrees.

One letter ...came from Paul Kellen of Medford, Mass. "I see a hero as electing to enter a dangerous situation for a higher purpose," he wrote, "and you were not given a choice. That is not to say you are not a man of virtue, but I see your virtue arising from your choices at other times. It's clear that many choices in your life prepared you for that moment when your engines failed.

"There are people among us who are ethical, responsible and diligent. I hope your story encourages those who toil in obscurity to know that their reward is simple—they will be ready if the test comes. I hope your story encourages others to imitation."

Sully now sees lessons for the rest of us. "We need to try to do the right thing every time, to perform at our best," he says, "because we never know what moment in our lives we'll be judged on."'


Dr. Tina Strobos is 89 years old and lives in Rye, NY. During World War II she lived in Amsterdam and was part of a family that saved many Jews by hiding them in their home. You can read about her here.

Why would she take such gambles for people she sometimes barely knew?

“It’s the right thing to do,” she said with nonchalance. “Your conscience tells you to do it. I believe in heroism, and when you’re young, you want to do dangerous things.”

'... such an outlook has an origin, what Donna Cohen, the Holocaust Center’s executive director, calls “learned behavior.” Dr. Strobos comes from a family of socialist atheists who took in Belgian refugees during World War I and hid German and Austrian refugees before World War II. Dr. Strobos had close Jewish friends and, for a time, a Jewish fiancé, Abraham Pais... . '


Here are some quotations from Jewish sources to read and think about. What does each quotation mean? How are they similar? How are they different? Choose one and use it to explain why Captain Sullenberger and Dr. Strobos did what they did.

from Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of the Fathers:

"Hillel says that in a place where there are no 'humans', try to be 'human'"
,ו ובמקום
שאין אנשים, השתדל להיות איש.

from Proverbs:
י בְּנִי-- אִם-יְפַתּוּךָ חַטָּאִים, אַל-תֹּבֵא. 10 My child, if sinners attract you, don't follow them.

כז שֹׁחֵר טוֹב, יְבַקֵּשׁ רָצוֹן; וְדֹרֵשׁ רָעָה תְבוֹאֶנּוּ.11:27 One who seeks good will find it; but one who searches for evil, it will come to him.

Culminating/Assessment Activity

Create a bulletin board on which you post articles which illustrate any and all of the 3 quotations you learned. For each article be sure to specify which idea it illustrates, and a short paragraph explaining why it does so.

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