Over 700 people from the United States (including one woman from Hawaii) and Canada attended the Second Conference on Alternatives in Jewish Education, held at the Rochester Institute of Technology August 24-29, 1977. Participation focused on the Jewish teacher in the broadest definition of the term—youth movement leaders and community center workers, teachers and administrators from day schools and afternoon schools.
Sex-role stereotyping was the only feminist issue covered directly by the conference. The workshop on “Male/Female: How to Avoid Role Stereotyping in Jewish Children,” was led by Annette Daum, Coordinator of the Religious Action Department of the New York Federation of Reform Synagogues.
Discussing how to work with religious-school teachers, Daum said, “They’re doing the best they can. It’s our job to help them do better. It’s a matter of sensitizing.” Daum emphasized the importance of choosing instructional material, such as Bible stories, which show active, heroic women to balance the way “males are always shown as brighter and more active than females.”
[Annette Daum’s six-page summary of a May 1976, conference on avoiding role typing in the Jewish school curriculum, which includes examples from different grade levels and sources, is available free from the May conference’s sponsor, the Committee on Religious Education of the New York Federation of Reform Synagogues, 838 Fifth Ave. Dept. L, New York, NY 10021, attention Ms. Daum.]
While it was surprising to see on the program only one workshop dealing with a specifically feminist issue, many of the other workshop leaders had woven these concerns into their formats. Ruth Pinkerson, a doctoral candidate at Temple University in Early Childhood Education, stressed the necessity for helping young children become comfortable with eliminating the traditional male/female roles in reciting blessings. Ruby Strauss, a media producer from South Orange, N.J., described her careful attention to eliminating sex-role stereotyping in her Jewish films and filmstrips. Helping family relationships accommodate new developments in male/female roles was one of the topics discussed by Molly Charter, a Boston therapist and family education specialist. Cherie Koller-Fox of Brookline, Mass., a key conference planner, observed that people have begun to integrate issues such as role-stereotyping and equal participation of women into their general outlook.
Noticeably absent in a field in which women predominate was discussion about women in administrative positions, salaries, benefits, unions and other job-related issues.
An outstanding feature of the conference was the Child Care Center, led by Sandy Walters, Director of Early Childhood Education at the Jewish Community Center of Rochester. The program included making havdalah (post-Shabbat) candles, and producing and videotaping a play with the help of Portable Channel, a local media group. When asked about the child-care program, several of the children affirmed their interest in attending another such conference next year. The conference was made possible by grants from the Jewish Community Federation of Rochester, as well as many other local and national Jewish organizations and individuals.
At its closing plenary session, the conference adopted resolutions establishing a permanent organization, to be known as the Coalition for Alternatives in Jewish Education, with membership open to all concerned with Jewish education. Among the goals of the Coalition is a commitment to remove sexism from schools and curricular materials. Voted down was a resolution recommending the promotion of unionization.
Anyone interested in more information (or a Conference tee-shirt) should contact: The Conference on Alternatives in Jewish Education 15 East 26th Suite 1350 New York, New York 10010