Weekly Update: May 6, 2016 — 28 Nisan 5776

Back to work.

The Funding committee is refining and organizing a series of new funding options to present to the public.

The Marketing committee is working on the details of a community event to be held, it is hoped, in the autumn.

The Political and Legal Action committee is proceeding with two items on its agenda.

Full reports on the committees’ work will be submitted in due course.

•••

Last month, Elliot Abrams, the former American diplomat and currently a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote a thoughtful, if provocative essay in Mosaic Magazine, “If American Jews and Israel are Drifting Apart, What’s the Reason?

The essay evoked considerable response and especially interesting elucidatory support by three scholars, Daniel Gordis, Martin Kramer and Jack Wertheimer, each of whom echoed Abrams’ thesis but for different reasons.

Subsequently, in response to the responders, Abrams suggested that there was a path that offered a way to mitigate if not entirely avoid the looming divide between the two largest Jewish communities in the world. That path, Abrams wrote was Jewish education.

Abrams wrote specifically about the Jewish community in the United States. But the Jews of Canada should take his observations to heart as well. For our ethnic-religious situation might soon mirror that of our American co-religionists.

“But [full integration into American society] is now a fact, and staring the American non-Orthodox in the face is the prospect of Jewish assimilation leading to Jewish extinction. That being the reality, is it possible that day schools might be re-examined?

“One critical barrier here, even for the moderately affluent, is financial: on top of the other burdens of engaged Jewish life—synagogue dues, summer camps, kosher food, and so forth—day schools are an expensive proposition. Especially in localities boasting excellent public schools, they may seem either beyond reach or unnecessary, or both. And here, to make things worse, the organized community’s priorities are upside-down. Rather than making sure that a day-school education is affordable and available to all who want it—as Jack Wertheimer has tirelessly advocated—Jewish agencies have not only undervalued the relative worth of such an education but have often led the fight against extending any help at all to religious schools in general, even in the form of vouchers, tuition tax credits, or other tax breaks that are clearly constitutional.

“The day-school movement in America is one of the proven secrets of continuing Orthodox strength and solidarity. As Wertheimer has written, a day-school education ‘greatly increases the chances of children learning the skills necessary for participation in religious life, for living active Jewish lives, and for identifying strongly with other Jews.’ One can only hope that non-Orthodox Jews and Jewish organizations seeking to survive in America will reconsider its benefits and relax their visceral and ideological opposition to communal and other forms of support for non-public schools.

“Whether or not they do, however, I join my three respondents in fearing the near-irreversibility of the underlying trends contributing to the weakening of the American Jewish community. All the more reason, then, to keep front and center in one’s consciousness the single key fact of modern Jewish existence: for the first time in 2,000 years there is a Jewish state, it is growing and thriving, and it is becoming the center of world Jewish life. Would we want it otherwise? American Jews today may be declining in strength and centrality, but they are also witness to and can actively participate in the miracle of the Jewish state. In Daniel Gordis’s words, Israel is ‘the Jewish people’s last remaining hope.’ It is also something more: something, in Martin Kramer’s words, that we should always regard just as a hundred generations of Jews before us would have done—with “pure wonder.”

•••

With the commemoration of Yom Hashoah v’Hagvurah this week, we have entered a uniquely poignant period of collective history that inspires profound feelings of peoplehood. Next week we commemorate Yom Hazicaron. Then, as evening falls on Yom Hazicaron, we switch emotional gears to celebrate Israel’s 68th Yom Ha’atzma’ut.

When the day arrives that Jewish education is affordable in perpetuity, we will then see that these feelings of Jewish peoplehood will also be assured in perpetuity.

Shabbat shalom.

We urge you to commemorate Yom Hazicaron and to celebrate Yom Ha’atzma’ut!

GAJE

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