Weekly Update: April 22, 2016 — 14 Nisan 5776

The next eight days provide somewhat of a lull in our work. After Pesach however, committees will resume their work, with lingering images of poignant Seder moments freshly inspiring us to do so.

•••

Eight days ago a sophisticated blogger (Relevance in the Age of Affordability by drdan) responded to a speech by American philanthropist Michael Steinhardt on March 9 in Philadelphia (see our March 18, 2016 update) in which Steinhardt decried the failure of secular, liberal Judaism to provide relevant Jewish education to this generation of young Jews in the United States.

Steinhardt lamented the absence of a meaningful non-religious Jewish Day School system in the United States. But he rejected the notion that the cost of tuition was a major causal factor. There were “more important factors” for this decline according to Steinhardt.

The blogger emphatically disagreed with Steinhardt. “One cannot have a serious discussion about relevance in Jewish education, about creating learning opportunities that speak to the next generation of Jews and foster viable Jewish identification without addressing the most pressing issue of 21st century Jewish education. Affordability.

“One cannot be alive in 2016… and not be cognizant of the fact that Jewish families, liberal Jewish families, even with the best of intentions, cannot afford to send their children to Jewish day schools.

“They cannot get their kids into the room where relevant (or irrelevant) Jewish learning takes place. Their kids cannot take advantage of the best practices and all the opportunities available in day school settings because their salaries cannot keep up with the increasing cost of day school tuition.

“But I would argue that for every Jewish family who preferred to send their child to a school with a more haimishe view on universalism (say, a Quaker school) than a parochial Jewish day school, there are at least THREE to FIVE Jewish families who would have loved to fill that open spot in the Jewish classroom but simply could not afford it.

“We cannot expect to have a viable Jewish community if vast number of us are ignorant of our history, culture, language and tradition. This is the stuff of which irrelevance is made… and extinction.”

•••

Pesach begins in a few hours, tonight.

It is the only holy day on our religious calendar whose core commandment is the coming together of family and friends and invited guests for a festive meal and for the retelling of the exodus of our forebears from slavery in Egypt.

The exodus is the defining moment of our history. It is the foundation stone of our peoplehood. We recount the miraculous departure from ancient Egypt each day, every day, in our prayers and all our ritual practices. For us, it is the beginning of who we are as a people.

Perhaps that is why the Haggadah ordains that, irrespective of the level of one’s learning and wisdom, everyone is expected to recount the great story of the Jewish slaves exodus from their oppressors in Egypt. The story is simply that important.

By providing a Jewish education for our children and for all our children throughout the generations, we will ensure that the story is retold and our sense of peoplehood preserved for all eternity. In the words of the blogger above, “We cannot expect to have a viable Jewish community if vast number of us are ignorant of our history, culture, language and tradition. This is the stuff of which irrelevance is made… and extinction.”

And that is precisely why we have all joined forces to create Grassroots for Affordable Jewish Education. The education of our children is vital. It must not be beyond the financial reach of their families.

Chag samayach.

GAJE

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