Clinging to the Blessings of Jewish Education

August 1, 2022Rabbi Stacy Rigler and Marisa Kaiser

At the end of the Talmudic book of Yevamot (121a), Rabban Gamliel tells a story of a shattered boat that he sees in the distance. He knows it contains a great Torah scholar and he grieves for the loss. Later, he sees the scholar alive and Rabban Gamliel, asks, "how did you survive?" The scholar says, "I took hold of the boat, and I rode the waves."

For the past two years, it has felt like much of what we have valued was sinking and all we could do was watch and grieve. But if we really look back, we realize that there is so much we've learned. Like the scholar who took hold of the boat, we had our previous experiences, our learnings, our sense of community, and we rode the waves. Just like the Torah scholars of old, Torah was a source of light when darkness fell.

Jewish educators are having daily conversations with families about their hopes and desires for their children's Jewish education and the value of synagogue membership. When we ask parents why they want their children to have a Jewish education, the answers bring us hope!

The answers are not "to become b'nei mitzvah" or "because I had to go." One parent responded with "I want my son to feel connected to his community." Another said, "so my daughter has a safe space where she is embraced, accepted, and encouraged to be her authentic self." A third said they want their child to "understand what it means to be a mensch (a good person) and how to help make the world a better place."

During the months of lockdown, each of us was able to stop and reflect on what we do and why we do it. For many families, raising Jewish children with the ability to be connected physically and spiritually with other Jewish children was transformed from something they "had to do" to something they longed to do. This past year, we saw the joy of having a place where we could celebrate holidays, learn about our tradition, and mark life's most sacred moments. As many Jewish communities come back to sacred spaces and learning programs, we know that there is hope in our broken world. Our religious tradition provides the framework to ask big questions and lift up momentous occasions. We saw what life looked like, and we understood the gift we have inherited.

The stresses of living in a pandemic sometimes cloud the joy and gratitude we feel. Too often in recent years the stress felt by families and communities around logistics and protocols has led to tensions, negative reactions, and challenging behavior. The demands on our educational leaders for creativity, flexibility, and compassion have increased exponentially, all while trying to care for themselves, their families, and their communities.

We, as Jews, are lucky - at the start of each year we are called by the sound of the shofar to awaken.

This year we have a chance to awaken and ask:

  1. What about Judaism and Jewish learning feels especially meaningful at this moment?
  2. How can I share what I value about Judaism with someone starting a new year of Jewish learning? How can I remind them of the gifts of our tradition?
  3. Who do I know who is involved in Jewish education, and how can I thank them for the work they are doing to help nurture our children?

As we begin to turn towards another school year filled with Jewish learning and living, let's recommit to focusing on why we have chosen to belong to communities that invest in educating our children, why we have made the sacrifices of time and money to engage in Jewish education, and celebrate our ability to live and learn as an ever-evolving Jewish community.

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