In the coming weeks we will again appeal to the rabbis in our community to take up our cause, supporting it and speaking out on its behalf from their respective pulpits or places of teaching. It is our hope that when the rabbis will be ready and able to speak in support of the need for affordable Jewish education, we will have introduced to the public a number of new, re-imagined ideas for funding Jewish education.
There will actually be new options for individuals and families to consider in the effort to make Jewish education affordable.
It is our belief that the obligation to make Jewish education meaningfully accessible to as many families who seek it for their children falls upon the entire community. This belief is in keeping with Jewish history and the actions of our forebears in every generation and in every country in which they settled or which they merely “visited.”
The late Edgar Bronfman’s autobiography, Why Be Jewish?, was reviewed last week by Steve Linde in the Jerusalem Post. For many years, Bronfman was the head of the World Jewish Congress, a post that he used to doggedly and determinedly advocate on behalf of Jewish rights and advance the wellbeing of Jewish communities around the world. As Bronfman makes plain in the book, he came to an appreciation of his Jewish identity only later in life. He was not an observant Jew, but he was a deeply proud Jew who endeavoured to learn as much as he could about his people’s history, heritage, culture, traditions and faith. He was a fierce fighter for the Jewish people as many Swiss bankers and European diplomats will reluctantly attest.
Some of Bronfman’s observations and Linde’s comments bear directly upon GAJE’s work and are worthy of publishing here.
The idea of Jewish peoplehood and kinship is central to Edgar Bronfman’s life, and his last book, Why Be Jewish? is a well-crafted legacy of a modern-day Moses who surveys the critical challenges facing the Jewish people throughout its history, and issues “a clarion call to a generation of secular, disaffected and unaffiliated Jews.”
“As a Jewish leader, I am well aware that unless we win over our disinterested Jews, a nearly 4,000-yearold civilization of tremendous beauty and worth could end up in the dustbin of history,” he warns.
Bronfman views the Jewish people as “one of the many vibrant patches on the richly diverse quilt of humanity.”
“To identify with the Jewish people does not mean to care only for the fates of other Jews,” he says.
“In fact, the opposite is true. The Jewish tradition, from ancient to modern times, has always placed tremendous emphasis on protecting and caring for those who are different.”
Having said this, Bronfman is a strong proponent of Jews helping Jews. It was the notion of Jewish peoplehood, he says, that motivated him to become president of the World Jewish Congress, an organization dedicated to the interests and security of the Jewish people.
“My deep sense of peoplehood gave me the fortitude to fight the difficult battles to secure the freedom of Soviet Jews and to help recover Jewish assets stolen by the Nazis. It inspired me to relentlessly advocate with President George H.W. Bush in order to persuade him to help undo the 1972 UN resolution equating Zionism with racism.
“And it was peoplehood that fueled my quest to convince the Spanish and German governments to recognize or live up to their responsibilities to Israel.
All of these were very big battles, but as a Jew I felt duty-bound to wage them.”
The book was completed just weeks before Bronfman died on December 21, 2013 at the age of 84, and has been published posthumously by Hachette.
Although not a rabbi, scholar or educator, he says that in his roles as a Jewish activist and philanthropist, “I developed a deep and absorbing love for our traditions and people. It is this passion that I seek to pass along.”
Bronfman propagated twelve principles which he offers as advice for leading and living a Jewish life:
1. Revere godliness: the true, the good and the beautiful.
2. Ask questions.
3. Commit to repairing the outer and inner world.
4. Perform acts of loving-kindness.
5. Assist society’s weakest members.
6. Champion social justice and environmental causes.
7. Welcome the stranger.
8. Engage with Jewish traditions, texts, philosophy, history and art.
9. Study and strive for excellence in the humanities and other secular fields.
10. Promote family and community.
11. Embrace key Jewish holidays and life-cycle events.
12. Conduct business ethically.
Bronfman writes “Just as Moses brought the tablets of law from the mountaintop, Judaism, through its emphasis on ethics, morality, and human relationships, brings the divine to earth,”
“That is the heart of Jewish spirituality.”
Bronfman embraced his “Jewish” awakening at the age of 60. May our work enable Jewish youngsters to embrace their own awakenings much earlier.