We all beam with pride when we consider our history of varied and extraordinary Jewish artistic talent, past and present: Franz Kafka, Gustav Mahler, Marc Chagall, Leonard Bernstein… and of course don’t forget Mel Brooks, Barbara Streisand and George Gershwin…the list seems endless! Although, as parents, we are often bogged down in the mundane tasks of finding that missing left shoe, we must take the time to carefully consider a deeper question: what unique characteristics are found among these artists, and how do we curate the next generation of creative Jewish thinkers?
Remarkably, the traits with which these successful artists are endowed are also shared with our most accomplished scientists and entrepreneurs, including: innovativeness, creativity and perseverance. And, conveniently, educational research now shows that these universal traits are effectively fostered through arts education. Yet, although it is an accepted reality that success in the 21st century depends on our ability to be inventive, imaginative, expressive and resourceful (each one a skill fostered directly through the arts). Across the United States, arts education has been dealt a heavy blow, being drastically reduced, or even cut from public schools.
As I observe our own students discover their own creative voices, connect with each other through collaboration, and explore complex concepts with unyielding positivity, I am reminded of the essential need for the arts in a truly holistic education. This experience becomes even more powerful when it includes the exploration of Jewish concepts, texts and traditions. Irvine Hebrew Day School has taken an innovative approach to arts programming, weaving the arts into all aspects of education, including Jewish learning. Whether it be a multi-generational Jewish-themed drum circle exploring themes of Lag B’omer; an acoustical tefillah (prayer) session evoking personal expressions of appreciation; “Parsha Performance” dramatic arts exploring human behavior and the motivation behind biblical characters’ choices; or hands-on exploration of Israeli art masters and biblical architecture, our innovative education is an experiential one, using the arts to support all areas of growth and learning.
So, how can we continue to add to the long list of creative Jewish thinkers? It begins with an integrated, experiential arts program, which helps set the foundation for a truly holistic educational experience. Who knows, maybe the owner of the missing left sneaker has a place saved on that distinguished list?
Tammy Keces M.A. is the principal of Irvine Hebrew Day School and a lead Certified Positive Discipline Trainer.