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From Holy Grail to Kryptonite: Integration and the American Jewish Day School

Tue, December 17, 8:30 to 10:00am, Hilton Bayfront San Diego, Aqua Salon C


Few concepts in Jewish day school education have enjoyed the longevity of “integration” and few have been more ambiguous. Employed by modern day school practitioners and advocates as early as the 1930s, “integration” retained its currency for the next half-century. It was only in the mid-late 1980s and 1990s that some school leaders began viewing integration more critically. Bennett Solomon, who traced its usage, correctly noted the impossibility of pinpointing a consensus definition or interpretation. In response, he employed content and linguistic analysis to ascertain the various meanings of integration in select writings of Jewish educators of differing religious orientations.

This paper aims to apply historical methodology to the same conundrum and to extend the period under analysis to the end of the 20th century. I will argue that the changing discourse around integration reflected day schools’ ongoing projects of redefinition in response to societal and cultural changes within the Jewish community and American society more generally. To this end, I will trace how the changing discourse around integration mapped onto the consolidation and increasing assuredness of the day school movement over the second half of the 20th century. My evidence base includes a variety of published and unpublished sources from a variety of Orthodox and liberal schools, including mission statements, publicity materials, trustees minutes, and internal reports. I will also compare Jewish day school discourse to contemporaneous conversations in Protestant and Catholic educational settings. I contend that the currency and positive valence of integration within the Jewish community as a sociological phenomenon combined with its fuzzy definition and conceptual imprecision in an educational context rendered it a useful vehicle for educators who could project their own meanings onto it. Integration only lost its allure when “continuity” replaced cultural integration as a Jewish communal preoccupation and Orthodox day school stakeholders became increasingly disillusioned with American secularization, influenced by the discourse of the ascendant Christian Right. Thus, in all but the most liberal Jewish settings, integration was reconceived as a process of attenuation, and enthusiasm for integration was replaced with concern for boundary maintenance.


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