In his quasi-autobiographical work, Encounters with the Jewish People, the late British scholar and author, Chaim Raphael, described Jewish kinship as “a living force” that fostered in him “many special vantage points” that he “was impelled to explore.” Succinctly, he explained why. “I was responding always to a changing world and a changing self. In every situation, life was being enlarged through the interest one brought to it as a Jew.”
Raphael’s observation is remarkably uplifting. It eloquently rebuts and spins on its head the oft-heard justification from many Jewish youths for shying away from life as a Jew because they find it confining, narrow, insular, excessively particularistic and insufficiently universalistic.
In stark contrast to this easy abandonment of one’s identity, Raphael’s embrace of his Jewish connection was precisely because it “enlarged” his life.
Among the many moving insights he shared in “Encounters” was how he felt about his feeling of connection (kinship) with and for fellow Jews.
“The Jews, torn between pride and despair, have always tried to establish for themselves, where the real meaning [of interpreting the words of Torah to illuminate Jewish feeling and Jewish history] may lie: but the search presses on us today with a new intensity. As a Jew, one has been impelled by the events of our time into a recognition that the old kinship works on us now with a categorical imperative. To be casual about it, to belittle its implications, has become an act of moral indecency.”
Even though Raphael wrote these words in 1979, nearly 35 years after the end of World War 2 and some 30 years after the founding of the State of Israel, they are as compelling today as then. The Jewish population has grown only slightly since 1945. And it is likely a sad truth that “the old kinship”, as Raphael termed it, “works on” a smaller percentage of the younger Jewish generation than ever before.
It is among the chief purposes of Jewish education to ensure the everlasting connection among our children to “the old kinship”. And that is why GAJE cannot rest until Jewish education is affordable. We will never be casual about this.