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Portland Jewish Academy is a beneficiary agency of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland and is proud of our partnership with them in strengthening our local Jewish community as well as the global community.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

By Merrill Hendin

Every person is created from the stamp of the first person, yet no two people are exactly alike." Mishna Sanhedrin 4:5
At PJA our mission and middot (core values) guide our community in viewing the world through a Jewish lens. We recognize, respect, and teach the importance of the vast expansiveness of human diversity. Members of our school community represent a multitude of backgrounds, identities and religious observances and are committed to the values of limmud (study), kavod (respect), akhrayut (responsibility), kehillah (community), hodayah (appreciation), and zehut (identity). We are committed to creating and sustaining a safe, supportive, welcoming and compassionate environment for all. We recognize and respond to individual and institutional prejudices, both overt and subtle. We demonstrate our commitment to diversity in our program, policies and Jewish culture.

As we prepare to work more deeply in the area of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), I look back at the Diversity Statement our community drafted a few years ago when we began to embark more seriously on this work. We have always (PJA) prided ourselves on being a community Jewish day school that welcomes all. We are a school with families spanning the spectrum of Jewish practice in addition to families of other faiths. We “strive to honor the whole child” and work to differentiate appropriately so that the needs of all of our students are met and all students thrive. And I ask myself all the time, “Are we doing enough? What else can and should we be doing? How can we be sure we are as inclusive as possible while remaining mission aligned?” The task of meeting the needs of all of the children, families and faculty in our school is, at times, daunting as we look at DEI not just as a catchphrase that has become popular in so many organizations, but as a mission to fulfill and live daily. 

Having begun the work with intention a few years ago with professional development in Anti Bias Curriculum, gender diversity, and differentiation, we are well aware of the fact that we are just scratching the surface and need to look much more deeply into this work. We continue to provide important professional development in neurodiversity and other areas, so that we all have the tools necessary to meet the needs of all of our students and families. And again, we know that we need to do more. To that end, we will begin working with Heather Clark, Phd, who will become our DEI consultant over the next year or more, and will help us answer difficult questions and assess who we are and where we want to go. You can learn more about Heather here.  

I am struck almost daily by questions that come up that seem to fit under the DEI umbrella. Questions about hiring, tuition, neurodiversity, gender, race and so much more. I find myself saying almost daily “now that is a DEI thing that we should talk about with Heather!” Questions come up all the time regarding mission alignment, Jewish ritual and practice, pronouns, affordability. What does DEI mean in our community Jewish day school? Are we truly a school that welcomes all? How can we be? Do we provide the services, both social emotional and academic, that any child who is currently in our school, and any child who might want to be in our school, needs? Do we provide the financial support that any Jewish family needs in order to send their child/ren to PJA? It feels good and right to be grappling with these questions and having the deep and important conversations that these questions generate. 

While it is, at times, daunting, it is also a tremendous privilege to be able to do the important work of raising mensches, supporting families, and learning every day right along with our students. It is our work as educators in a Jewish school that serves families with children from 6 weeks old to age 14, to have our eyes, hearts and minds wide open to the idea that indeed, Every person is created from the stamp of the first person, yet no two people are exactly alike." Mishna Sanhedrin 4:5

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The Sack Lunch Challenge

On May 22, dozens of PJA families brought boxes and bags full of supplies for some of the most vulnerable populations of Portland. These bags contained sandwiches, fruit, and granola bars. Together, we collected 2500 sack lunches for Blanchet House...

Read More about The Sack Lunch Challenge