Get to Know Etan Weiss, Milton’s New Director of Jewish Life
July 30, 2019 by
We were delighted to welcome new Director of Jewish Life Etan Weiss and his family to the Milton community this summer. Etan is joined by his wife Amy, who recently accepted a position at OLAM as the Director of Jewish Engagement and Learning, and their daughters, Nava (6) and Ya’ara (9) who will be entering Milton this fall. Learn more about Etan in the brief interview below.
Tell us about yourself and your professional background.
Having grown up outside Boston, attending Jewish Day School and USY, I earned an M.A. in Jewish Education from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and a Certificate of Advanced Jewish Studies through Pardes Educators Program at the Pardes Institute in Jerusalem. Prior to joining MILTON, I served as Director of Jewish Life and Hebrew at the Heilicher Minneapolis Jewish Day School, and as Chair of the Jewish Text Department at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School. I continue to contribute to the Hadar’s Standards for Fluency in Jewish Text and Practice, co-facilitating the Day School Educators Institute and mentoring partner schools in adapting the Standards for their community. Throughout my career, I have worked extensively on developing standardized and spiraling curricula that ensure day school graduates have both the knowledge and skills to be active citizens who espouse and promulgate our shared Jewish values. I am committed to inclusivity as the focus of community day school education, ensuring all Jewish perspectives and practice are equally valued and that students are exposed to the spectrum of Jewish thought and ritual as a means of articulating and refining their own beliefs and practice.
What inspired you to work in the field of Jewish education?
My own experience in Day School led me down the path of Jewish education. Having attended denominational Jewish schools that inculcated students in particular perspectives on Judaism, I was dispirited by the lack of purpose to actively engage learners in developing their own connection, personal meaning, and relevance to their Judaism through exposure and education in the myriad of Jewish beliefs and practices.
My Jewish educational vision is that a successful program must first and foremost produce menches: Students who are committed to building community, caring about and helping others, who continuously reflect on their individual Jewish journeys and who respectfully engage with others who may not share their viewpoints. This vision is based off the principles of kol yisrael aravim zeh ba’zeh/כל ישראל ערבים זה בזה and shivim panim la’Torah/שבעים פנים לתורה. In the first principle, all of our people are interwoven and responsible for one another. Jewish education, therefore, must be committed to instilling this foundational value of being part of a community that balances meeting your own needs and helping others fulfill theirs. The second principle, holds that there are more than one valid expression of Judaism and that while individuals and denominations may have found what works for them, other paths are equally authentic. This is the concept of mahloket/מחלוקת/disagreement, where each approach is seen as one helek/חלק/part of the overall Truth. It is through respectful dialogue and inclusive experiences that day school students will refine and better articulate their own opinions while they develop the critical interpersonal skills of interacting and coexisting with people of different backgrounds, ideals and customs.
What are you most excited about in your new role at Milton?
What excites me most about Milton is the vibrant and dedicated Jewish community who are thoughtful, caring, and meticulous in the development of all aspects of the Milton program. I am inheriting a well-respected program with a strong culture, tradition, and history. My top priority this year will be getting to know students, parents, staff, and other community members so I can learn about all of the aspects of the school, curriculum, culture, and community. I am truly looking forward to the work we will do together and the many ways I will learn from all of you. I am energized to partner with all of you to build on the amazing program already in place and find meaningful, creative, and consequential improvements to Jewish life at Milton.
Share something surprising about yourself.
Because of my experience as a student in Jewish Day Schools, I’ve had a bit of an arrested development – I’m a kid who enjoys playing and games. For me, the fun of gaming is that it can be collaborative, inspiring, personally relevant, and bring joy to any experience. I utilize aspects of “gamification” – the application of game-design elements to encourage engagement – in my classroom and every interaction with students. Ask me about the “Zelda” addendum to my ketubah/כתובה/Jewish marriage contract!