by Josh-Mason Barkin
Old magazines can surprise you.
In 1994, CAJE published an edition of its Jewish Education News dedicated entirely to Jewish heroes. Fifteen years later, flipping through dusty papers on a bookshelf, that issue of JEN inspired us to publish our new book on heroes, Eizehu Gibor: Living Jewish Values.
None of the many articles in that issue explicitly mention it, but there’s a tension throughout the Spring 1994 edition’s pages. On one hand, esteemed thinkers of Jewish education argue that we need to introduce our students to the mythological characters of Jewish history like Samson and Herzl. On the other hand, equally esteemed thinkers argue that we need to teach our students about everyday heroes, normal people who can show us how to live mitzvah-filled Jewish lives.
We teach Jewish values not because we want our students to know the Hebrew names for a bunch of ethical principles. Rather, we teach Jewish values because we want our students to live moral lives informed by the Jewish tradition and their connection to God. Knowing that kavod means respect is useless if you’re not a respectful person.
Recently, educators have been telling us a lot about this struggle to have the Jewish values they teach in the classroom translate into the way students treat each other. Suffice it to say that we hear a lot of frustration in those educators’ voices. We think Eizehu Gibor can help.
How do heroes fit into the equation of values internalization? And why are we publishing a new heroes book this year? Perhaps the best way to explain is to explore the tension between the “big heroes” and the “everyday heroes.”