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Shalhevet was born out of a vision of Jewish educational innovation and the courage to make the vision a reality. From the outset, Shalhevet had a clear, unambiguous mission. The founders, Dr. Jerry Friedman and Steve Bailey, Ph.D., designed a school in which young Jewish boys and girls would receive a rigorous Modern Orthodox Judaic education concurrent with a challenging college preparatory curriculum, in a socially caring community, intentionally designed to have a positive impact on the moral development of its students. Graduates from such a school would be able to attend the finest universities and Yeshivot and live as ethical, observant Jews in a complex and pluralistic world. In 1992, Shalhevet opened its doors to an intrepid group of thirty boys and girls and the dream became a reality.
Shalhevet was founded on the belief that the entire school experience ought to be the vehicle for moral growth and development. This goal was actualized through the establishment of a “Just Community.” In such a model community – pioneered by the late Harvard Professor Lawrence Kohlberg – justice, fairness and social concern are the standards against which every rule and decision is measured. Matters affecting the lives of faculty and students are discussed and resolved at weekly Town Hall Meetings in which the entire community - faculty, students and staff - participates. Matters involving conflict amongst members of the community are resolved by a Fairness Committee, composed of students elected by the community. Those who believe they are not being treated fairly by teachers or peers, and cannot resolve the issue, may ask for a hearing before the committee.
Another key component of the model is student participation in moral dilemma discussions. In these sessions, sometimes at Town Hall meetings and sometimes within individual classrooms, students are confronted with moral dilemmas, some of which are hypothetical while others are drawn from current events or incidents at school. Students are asked to define the dilemma – the value-conflict between two or more equally compelling choices -- and consider how it may be resolved. At a subsequent session in the classroom, the dilemma is studied using Jewish sources and re-analyzed using Jewish ethical values.
This is the Shalhevet community. On the one hand, it is similar to other Jewish schools in that students must confront and engage general studies and Judaic curricula that are demanding and rigorous. On the other hand, it is not like any traditional school. Educators at Shalhevet believe that learning and working in a “Just Community” teaches students to cherish personal ethics and justice and, when required, to set aside personal needs for the good of community. Intellectually, spiritually and morally we are making a systematic attempt to prepare our students to assume appropriate leadership roles and to live as observant, ethical Jews in their immediate community, and in the society at large.
The faculty and staff are proud of Shalhevet’s success to date. Graduates return from college saying that they were well prepared for the academic and social demands of college life. They do well in their classes and they have become active in the local Jewish community. Equally gratifying are the memories of Shalhevet: the moral dilemmas, the debates at Town Hall and the lessons they have learned from them. Most important, they believe that as a result of their Shalhevet experience they are able to make reasoned ethical decisions, based on Jewish values, when faced with the many dilemmas posed by college life and beyond.