Machon Siach: The Actualization of the Grand Conversation

Maybe you’ve read the emails. Maybe a previously unheard of location suddenly popped up on your class schedule. No matter how you first heard about it, at this point, you've probably heard of Machon Siach. However, many students are unclear about what exactly Machon Siach is.

Machon Siach is a supplementary research institute started by Rabbi Harcsztark. The program aims to bolster SAR's curriculum and culture and enhance the larger Jewish community through insightful papers and informative lectures.

Ms. Lebowitz, the Machon Siach program coordinator, explained the initiative as a combination of Rabbi Harcsztark’s “love of learning and care for mentoring teachers.” She added that the program was conceived under the administration's belief that “the kind of work that goes on in high school could really change in a very beneficial way if they adopted the model of a college setting, which is to allow teachers time to learn themselves to grow their minds, to develop their thought processes, to become better speakers, and to really develop ideas and write.”

Funded by a $1 million endowment from Marcel and Belda Lindenbaum z”l, the project primarily focuses on uniting cohorts of teachers and administrators to address contemporary Jewish topics, including gender and sexual diversity, citizenship, and Israel education.

Rabbi Harcsztark explained his inspiration for the program in a recent video, saying he hoped to transform “our high school and perhaps high schools in general into more of a ‘thinking institution’ by providing teachers the time and space, with the support, to explore large cultural questions that are centrally important to Jewish education.” He explained that teachers' blend of teaching experience, religious practice, and interactions with high school students endows them with great potential to tackle issues within the Jewish community.

Machon Siach cohort members discuss liturgy and modern culture and use their engagement with the text to produce papers and talks on their topic for online postings and Machon Siach events.

Additional Machon Siach programs include Bogrim, a learning program for SAR alumni, and Makom B'Siach, a course taught by Dr. Jacobowitz directed towards SAR parents.

Thus far, many teachers have enjoyed participating in Machon Siach. Rabbi Hain, who is in the Sexuality and Gemara Education cohorts and oversees the program, explained that, “[Machon Siach] has already begun to provide us with the space to think about cultural and educational challenges and we are beginning to see the impact it will have on curricula and policies.”

Many teachers have already begun to implement ideas from Machon Siach in their classrooms. Machon Siach “made me more conscious of the range of opinions available on the topic of sexual identity and, I hope, more sensitive to students' experiences,” said Dr. Steinberg, a member of the Gender and Sexual Diversity cohort.

At the moment, SAR students are not really involved in Machon Siach programming. However, the ultimate goal is for students to become a bigger part of the program as it progresses.

Machon Siach is meant to raise the potential of our education by involving faculty, students, and the Jewish community in discourse surrounding critical questions, building a scholarship that has the capacity to inspire.“To keep our schools deeply relevant,” Rabbi Harcsztark said, “we must invest in thinking big.”