Endangered Species by Rabbi Moshe Herson
Volume 3 , Issue 1 (Sept, 1989 | Tishrei, 5750)
We are still horrified and devastated by the Holocaust. Its searing memory is intensified by time, not diminished. Ominous threats confront Jews today; Arafat and his infamous intifada is merely one of many. Dire predictions have been projected by distinguished sociologists and statisticians. Among them is Harvard sociologist Elihu Bergman who predicts only 900,000 Jews remaining in American at the end of the next century. To ignore the importance of this estimate is dangerously foolhardy.
The major problem facing Jewish survival and growth is ignorance. The answer? Jewish education. For without it there can be no true appreciation of our rich history and heritage. Jewish education must be given impetus today, for tomorrow may be too late. And we cannot resort to either clever slogans or pious expressions of regret.
The need for a Jewish education on the part of our youth cannot be taken lightly; it must be a major priority. Make no mistake about it, Jewish education and the reverence for traditions are at the very foundation of our people and are the sacred pillars upon which rests the secret of Am Yisrael.
I talked recently with parents who were shattered by the fact that their son, a bright medical student, was contemplating marriage to a gentile student nurse. They didn't know where to turn and were mystified as to why this was happening to them. We talked for many hours and finally I contacted their son who had this to say. ?Rabbi Herson, I fail to understand the reasons for the grief on the part of my parents. Please study my religious background. I was given a very limited Jewish education. We hardly ever attended shul except, perhaps, on the High Holidays and we did not maintain a kosher home. What do my parents expect at this stage of my life? Can I be expected to disregard everything? Am I computer‑programmed to maneuver a complete turn‑about upon meeting a non‑Jewish girl? All I am actually doing is moving one step further than my parents ??
Yes. Without Jewish education Judaism is indeed under siege. Intermarriage, the total absence of pride in our 3300 year‑old heritage and the frightening loss of Jewish identity are the direct products of insufficient and improper Jewish training. Our children will continue to search in foreign vineyards unaware of the treasure available in their own backyard. They will never know the beauty of the Torah and its teachings which represents the bedrock of all civilization. Children need not forsake other pursuits, for they can certainly be given a Jewish education and still participate in sports and secular subjects. However, let us at least provide equal time. Judaism's complex teachings demand the intense degree of care, scrutiny and rigor applied to other diverse subjects like science, economics and history, to name a few.
Jewish education should be taught by teachers who are respected role models: individuals with the ability to impart to our children not only knowledge, but also appropriate devotion to values, proper conduct and regard for the attributes and achievements which have always characterized Jews as the People of the Book and Israel as the Land of the Bible. What children learn at school is not always printed in textbooks; the most effective and lasting lessons are often taught inadvertently. Yiddishkeit, character, and values are not simply a lesson plan. It is a way of life and children will learn much from the manner in which the respective teachers around them conduct their lives.
Need for Affordable Education
It is most important that we strive to make Jewish education affordable to all children. We cannot afford to lose those who may be turned away for economic reasons. Every Jewish child must be given a full Jewish education. The total Jewish community, individuals, organizations and indeed Federations throughout America and the free world must make Jewish education one of its priorities if not its highest priority. Lacking this sacred partnership, some of these worthy institutions and our beautifully appointed edifices will either cease to exist or become museums in less than a century.
Golda Meir once told a group of visiting American leaders, ?Go back to your county and keep an alert eye on the Jewish education of your children.? This education cannot be accomplished by a sprinkling of Jewish subject matter, but must be based on the teachings and principles of our Torah.
The process of attrition by ignorance and lack of Jewish education is infinitely larger and yet less visible than the mass slaughter of six million Jews. When we lose Jews through ?benign neglect,? there is rarely an outpouring of anguish and there is no helmeted enemy to abhor and defeat. ?Benign neglect? is insidious in its inevitable effect and its danger signals are often too deep below the surface of recognition to be corrected.
It is, therefore, the responsibility and privilege of caring and concerned Jews with vision to analyze properly a deteriorating situation brought about by insufficient Jewish education and take whatever steps are necessary to assure the perpetuation and strengthening of Judaism.
Educate the child according to his way; even when he will be old he will not depart from it.
Rabbi Moshe Herson
is the Dean of the