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02/01/2013

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Privilege, Perspective, andModern Orthodox Youth
Rivka Press Schwartz 
My qualifcations or discussing this topic are experiential ratherthan academic.  have no particular expertise in
tikkun olam
or therelationship between Jews and the broader world. My academic trainingis in the history o science.  have been teaching Modern Orthodoxhigh school students or seven years, teaching American history with adistinct social history emphasis at a school that encourages the GrandConversation—drawing connections between disciplines, betweenorah and all other areas, between our learning and our lives. And indoing so,  have made some observations—about who our students are,and who they are not, when it comes to relating to the broader world. will share those observations, discussing both the psychologicalphenomena that underlie, as well as the American history that belies,some o their assumptions about their place in the world and how they have gotten there. And fnally, this paper will begin to sketch out howwe might move our students past those acile assumptions to a morenuanced understanding.
 
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Rivka Press Schwartz 
his session was ramed by a series o questions, includingone about how well prepared our students are to unction in thebroader non-Jewish world. My students have no difculty whatsoeverunctioning in the broader non-Jewish world. he modern Americancultural and social milieu is one they inhabit ully and with perectcomort. Whenever  ask my students whether they eel that they aremore undamentally like a non-Jewish Horace Mann student a ewblocks away or a hasidic teenager in Williamsburg, they invariably tellme that they are much more like a non-Jewish prep school studentwhose concerns and pressing issues are most similar to their own thanthey are to their ellow Orthodox Jew. (hat raises a dierent issue,perhaps the topic or another Forum, but it indicates that my studentshave no difculty identiying and eeling comortable with the non-Jewish world.)As long, that is, as that non-Jewish world is like them: largely white, upper middle class (at least), ocused on college admissions andacceptances as the greatest challenges o teenage lie. he question isnot, then, whether our Modern Orthodox high school students areprepared to engage with the non-Jewish world. t is whether they areprepared to engage without condescension (or at best, a sense o thewhite man’s burden) with those who come rom culturally and, moreimportantly, socio-economically dissimilar backgrounds.o the extent that most o our students encounter the reality o poverty, it is in the ramework o 
esed 
activities.
1
At SAR HighSchool, students can, through the advisory 
esed 
program, spend aew hours at a ood pantry or a soup kitchen in New ork City. Whilethis may help raise their awareness o the problem o hunger even inthis wealthy city in this wealthiest country in the world, it exacerbates,rather than eliminates, their sense o distance rom the people they arehelping. We do not, ater all, see ourselves in the patrons o the JCCo Washington Heights and nwood’s ood pantry. Some o my highschool students participate in
esed 
activities that have them travelingto a ar corner o the globe to do charitable work among disadvantagedpopulations. n this mode, too—as the white Westerners helping thepoor people o color—they are inhabiting a role that does not pushthem to discomfting examinations o privilege, class, race, and justice.
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Privilege, Perspective, and Modern Orthodox Youth
25
 have no interest in bashing “kids these days.”  don’t think thatthere is any new aw o character separating today’s teenagers romthe armies o teens that came beore them. ut our kids are, overall,better o than, and thereore more distant rom, those who struggle tomeet their most basic needs. hese are not the Jewish kids o the 1930s,attending CCN, the poor man’s Harvard, and debating rotsky in thecaeteria. hese are students groomed at least rom ninth grade ortheir eventual entry into the vy League and thence, the white-shoe lawfrms and investment banks that are now the markers o a successulModern Orthodox lie.
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he more cushioned their lives are rom theharsh realities o the struggle or survival, the more challenging itbecomes or them to make the imaginative leap to seeing onesel inanother’s position that is the prerequisite or empathy.And being successul creates a powerul psychological dynamicthat urther distances those who have rom those who do not, andwhich makes that empathy all the more difcult to achieve. We desire,indeed we need, to see our success as the product o our own eortsand achievements, rather than our good ortune. t is this phenomenonthat Jim Hightower was pointing to when he mocked then-PresidentGeorge H.W. ush as “someone who was born on third base and thinkshe hit a triple.” Jews have, as a community, enjoyed great success in theeconomic, social, cultural, and political realms. A ull accounting o the reasons or the success o Jews as a group would include a powerulimmigrant work ethic, an intense emphasis on education as a meanso advancement, and a ferce commitment to “making it” (whichbecame the title o Norman Podhoretz’s book describing just such atrajectory).
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ut the balance sheet would also have to include that alongthe way we have been the benefciaries o certain broader patterns inAmerican lie, which have helped enable Jewish immigrant populationsto achieve success. hat success is then compounded through thesucceeding generations. (A amily with assets can provide its childrenwith the opportunities and the start-up capital that will enable themto amass still more. A Jewish boy who got into Columbia University inthe 1960s not only made good or himsel, he made it that much easieror his children to secure their own coveted berths in the vy League.)

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