Day School Students Speak on Pluralism

Photo via CESJDS Facebook alumni page

Recently in this space, Yocheved Sidof, shared a moving and personal reflection on her experience with pluralism in the Jewish community. I appreciated Yocheved’s thought-proving piece but felt that it did not represent the feelings I hear from students and graduates of my pluralistic school on an everyday basis. Rather than write about what I see at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, I invited a few current and former students to share their reflections on Yocheved’s article as an opportunity to expand the conversation around pluralism within the Jewish community.

Rabbi Mitchel Malkus is the Head of the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School.


What makes Jewish pluralism so special is that, at its core, it is about much more than tolerance. Tolerance, as Yocheved Sidof points out, is about learning to coexist in spite of our differences. Pluralism is about leaning into those differences and understanding how they strengthen our individual Jewish practices and appreciation for Jewish life.

My passionate commitment to Jewish civilization came from my pluralistic education. The tensions and schisms of Jewish history are as much a part of our identity as our triumphs and moments of unity. They animate Judaism into something mutable and adaptable. My own Jewish practice is this tendency in action.

I came to this place by learning to love the differences in Jewish expression, not just tolerate them. These different perspectives keep Judaism alive and relevant. They, more so than any single denomination, provide a framework for me and countless other young Jews to forge ahead in our own struggles with Judaism. They remind us that to question, rebel and reinvent – in big ways as well as small – is an essential part of the Jewish tradition.

Benjy Cannon is a graduate of Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School. He lives and works in Washington, DC.

This article operates under the core assumption that pluralism is about emphasizing differences. The author takes the viewpoint that we should be working to unite around our similarities, and, therefore, any movement that serves to emphasize our differences is missing the point. And, I agree with this, strongly – we should be working to unite across denominations, and emphasizing our common Judaism. However, the thing is there is no way to do this without pluralism.

I come from a relatively secular family, at least compared to many of my friends at my Jewish Day School. My family identifies as Conservative, but we rarely attend synagogue, nor do we keep strictly kosher or follow many traditions that have come to identify how “religious” a Jew is. I would have very little exposure to religious Judaism besides the occasional High Holiday service if it were not for my education at a pluralistic Jewish day school. The opportunity to receive a pluralistic education has allowed me to learn about other types of denominations of Judaism, and to recognize the similarities between myself and all Jews, no matter how observant.

I understand the urge to distance oneself from an approach that is centered on differences and not similarities. Nevertheless, the fact is that our similarities can never be recognized if there are not spaces in which the various Jewish denominations can come together. As a relatively secular teenage girl attending a proudly pluralistic Jewish day school, I feel that my education is the key aspect of my life that has given me this broader connection to Jews everywhere, and therefore the notion of pluralism cannot be discounted so quickly.

Amelia Davidson is a junior at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School. She has been an active member of the DC Jewish community for as long as she can remember, and loves playing volleyball and debating current political events

I credit the person I am today with the values I learned as a “lifer” in the pluralistic Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School community. Sitting next to my peers during classes, pluralistic values floated around us like the air we breathed, teaching us to listen, understand, and respect differences of opinion and practice. These values did not have to be chanted daily – they were a given. Now, only one year out of high school, I understand that the comfort and ease I felt in my school community are not confined to the inside of a school building. I am a spending a gap year at the Hartman Institute in Israel, another center of pluralism and tolerance, and I could not have been better prepared for this unique opportunity. The Judaism I practice here in Jerusalem is synonymous with the values modeled for me at CESJDS. I celebrate my Jewish passion and spirituality, and at the same time, I revel in the opportunity to explore and understand those who may express their commitment differently from how I express mine. That understanding, in my eyes, is how I demonstrate my commitment to the future of the Jewish people.

Avital Krifcher is a proud 2017 graduate of the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School. She is currently living in Jerusalem and is taking part in the Shalom Hartman Institute Hevruta gap year program. She is excited to attend New York University next fall.

Pluralism cannot be defined in a paragraph describing shared values, diversity and acceptance of everyone. I believe pluralism does not even have just one definition. You must experience pluralism first hand in order to truly build your own definition. At CESJDS, one of our core values is pluralism. What does that really mean to the individuals who attend the school? Does that mean that each Reform Jew must uphold Orthodox values or that females are not allowed to daven and layn Torah? No. In short, pluralism at my school is defined by the wide variety of choices that they offer for Jewish practices. Depending on your beliefs, you are able to choose a morning service that fits YOU, not your parents’ or family’s values. Pluralism at CESJDS has allowed me to explore my own Jewish identity and has given me the option to explore different denominations and values. This is what the definition of pluralism is to me and I feel lucky to be in such a welcoming pluralistic community.

Hannah Wandersman is a senior at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School. She is co-president of the senior class and serves as president of Seaboard Region USY.