Author Archives: Malkie Schwartz

Malkie Schwartz

About Malkie Schwartz

Malkie Schwartz is the Director of the Institute of Southern Jewish Life’s (ISJL) Department of Community Engagement. Malkie joined the ISJL staff in 2009 to complete the mission of the ISJL by ensuring that in addition to educational, cultural and rabbinic opportunities, the ISJL can be a resource to Southern Jewish communities wishing to elevate the role that service plays in Jewish life. Since the department’s launch, the ISJL has introduced T.A.P. (Talk About the Problems), a conflict resolution/peer mediation program; Read, Lead, Succeed, a cross age reading program; and The Health Express, a peer-to-peer health education program, to schools in the Jackson, Mississippi metro area. In addition, the ISJL recently began partnering with a cohort of congregations to begin replicating these initiatives in their own communities. Malkie’s position at the ISJL was preceded by 5 years of experience serving as the founding executive director of Footsteps, a New York City based non-profit organization that provides educational, vocational, social and emotional assistance to people who are seeking to transition from an ultra-orthodox lifestyle into the mainstream world. Malkie is a graduate of Hunter College and Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. She is a Repair the World Fellow and currently lives in Jackson, MS. Malkie serves on the board of Jackson 2000, an organization that promotes racial harmony in Jackson.

Because Education is a Jewish Value

msFor most Jews, education is a top priority. That’s one of the reasons our community engagement efforts are often focused on issues related to education—including the fact that throughout the nation, public schools are woefully underfunded.

Right now, there is an effort underway in Mississippi to make an “adequate” education a constitutional right. In 1997, the legislature passed the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP), a law that creates a formula to distribute adequate funds to school boards to be used to ensure an adequate education for all Mississippi children.

While the formula remains the law in Mississippi, there is no requirement that the legislature fund education according to that formula. In fact, this formula has only been fully funded twice and, in 2014, the gap between the funds necessary to adequately fund education and the funds that are designated by the legislature for education has widened starving Mississippi’s educational institutions.

Mississippi’s registered voters have the power to put an important issue to a vote through a ballot initiative called Better Schools Better Jobs-a petition to place a referendum on the 2015 ballot that will require the Legislature to fully fund education according to the formula set out in MAEP. If the 110,000 required signatures are collected, voters will be empowered to decide whether to amend the Mississippi constitution to require the adequate funding of education.

For Mississippians who can potentially take part in this effort, you can learn more about Better Schools Better Jobs here.

That’s what’s going on where I live, and one way my fellow citizens here can keep the activist spirit of Freedom Summer alive. Do you know whether education is adequately funded in your state? Please let us know what people in your state are doing to ensure that all children receive, at minimum, an adequate education.

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Posted on July 10, 2014

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May This Phenomenal Woman’s Memory Be a Blessing

maya_angelouThis morning, the world learned that we lost a great voice in literature and civil rights.

Maya Angelou was born in St. Louis, but raised in rural Arkansas. She lived many lives in many places, and died peacefully in her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. In its memorial to her published this morning, the New York Times hailed Angelou as a “lyrical witness of the Jim Crow South.” She was so much: a Southerner, a traveler, a poet, a dancer, an activist, a leader, a reader, a teacher, a champion. She used her words as a tool to inspire change.

Many of her quotes talk about how we approach service, and how we think about those “in need” in a more human, nuanced way. I chose this quote to think about today:

“My mother said I must always be intolerant of ignorance but understanding of illiteracy. That some people, unable to go to school, were more educated and more intelligent than college professors.”

May Maya’s memory be a blessing.

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Posted on May 28, 2014

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Give ‘Em a Hamsa!

You might have seen these adorable pictures on our Facebook page of smiling children with a Hamsa in the background. We thought we’d lend a Hamsa—er, hand—and share how we put our class Hamsa together!

hamsa1

The author in Humble, TX, with proud Hamsa makers!

First, we discussed the root of the word Hamsa, which shares the three Hebrew letters that can be found in the word Hameish, meaning “five” in Hebrew. A hand has five fingers. We also talked about how we use our hands. In addition to holding or taking something, we give with our hands. In addition to giving things to people, we may consider helping others fulfill their needs.

To better understand what these needs might be, we took some time to consider our own needs. We found that in addition to food, clothing and shelter we all share some universal needs. We pointed out that even the rabbi of a community and the religious school teachers have these needs.

To start, we considered the universal need of belonging, meaning to feel connected to and accepted by others. Each student received a sticky note and was asked to do one of two things. The students could either draw a picture of a situation where they feel a sense of belonging OR they could write a word or sentence that describes how it feels to have the need of belonging fulfilled. The students drew pictures of themselves with people who gave them a strong sense of belonging and wrote what the experience of belonging felt to them. Each student then came up and stuck their sticky to one of five fingers that was labeled belonging. We repeated this part of the activity four times, each time for a different cluster of needs including power, the needs to feel important and respected; security, feeling safe from put-downs and other harm; fun, enjoyment of life; and freedom, the ability to make choices.

The students had the chance to talk about when they each felt most content and assured that their needs were met. We talked about what it must feel like not to have some of the needs. If we weren’t having such a great discussion we might have had some time to work on a Hamsa of how we can give to others as they seek to fulfill their universal needs. Instead we brainstormed ways in which we could do something if we notice that someone doesn’t seem to feel like they belong. We could invite them to play with our friends or spend some time talking with them individually.

Please feel free to try this activity in your community and let us know how it goes!

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Posted on May 23, 2014

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy