The Federation of Teachers in Hebrew Schools of Toronto on May 24 held a celebratory dinner event in honour of the 70th anniversary of modern Israel’s independence. It was a festive yet thoughtful evening in which numerous speakers delivered remarks on the remarkable phenomenon that is the Jewish state as well as on the remarkable contribution of our teachers in developing, nurturing and sustaining Jewish identity and belonging among the students in their care.
The president of the Federation of Teachers, Aviva Polonsky, invited GAJE to deliver short remarks as well. The following is an excerpt of those remarks.
“This evening we celebrate our precious State of Israel. Most of us here are the privileged ones for we were born into a world where the Jewish state already existed. Merely 70 years after its birth, Israel is at the forefront – on behalf of humanity – in beating back disease, in advancing all manner of technology, in planting and in harvesting, in replenishing water systems, beating back the desert, in saving life.
“The lead articles on Israel21c.com this week were deeply illustrative of Israel’s forward looking ways. For example, we read: “Ten breakthrough health technologies emerging from Israel”, “Training the disadvantaged to fill Israel’s high-tech gap”, “Converting chicken bones and diapers into chairs and pails”, and “Mobileye’s self-driving technology going into 8 million cars.” This is just a small sampling of the headlines this week alone. They are typical of the sense of mission and purpose and concern to improve the world that drives the entrepreneurial and humanitarian spirit of our young state.
“There is indeed a great deal for us to celebrate about Israel. It is morally imperative that we do so. For its own sake. For our sake. For the sake of the people in Israel. And especially as a rebuke to the haters who wish to cause Israel harm.
“But tonight we also join the celebration of the Jewish state with the celebration of the teachers in Hebrew schools.
“Thus, in gathering here tonight to say “thank you” to and for the State of Israel we also say “thank you” to and for you – the teachers who play such a vital role in ensuring our future as a Jewish community, even as Israel plays such a vital role in doing the very same thing.
“In a very real sense, Israel is the front line of Jewish survival.
“And so too are you. You work on the front lines of Jewish communal survival. Jewish civilization – actually all civilization – depends upon the work of its teachers. It has always been thus.
“Without our teachers, we fail. Without our teachers – and the supportive hearth of the family – we cannot and will not sustain the permanence of the sense of our peoplehood. Wherever and whenever in the past we have lived as Jews, we have always acknowledged this profound truth.
“The Jewish people has a long history of respect for teachers and scholars and for support of education. Let us not forget that a system of free, public, compulsory education was established among the Jews of Eretz Yisrael as far back as 64 CE.
“The Talmud records a conversation in which a teacher whose prayer for rain was answered promptly was asked to explain why his prayers seemed to be so quickly received and not those of others. The teacher responded: “I teach children of the poor as well as of the rich. I accept no fee from any family that cannot pay.”
“To emphasize the absolute importance of teachers and of schools, our sages were recorded to have said: “A city that does not have a school for children is deserving of destruction.” Similarly, “One does not cancel school for children even to build the Holy Temple.” Of course they made the point in an exaggerated manner but with an unambiguous purpose.
“Pirkei Avot urges us to “revere our teachers as much as we revere Heaven.”
“Nor is it an accident, that the very first Kaddish we recite each morning in the company of a minyan, i.e., a community, is the Kaddish d’Rabanan – a testament to our teachers. It is an acknowledgment that it is through teaching our children that our peoplehood – our Jewish heritage – is transferred from one generation to the next.
“As all the teachers here tonight know, by helping impart and transmit Jewish knowledge locally, we also serve, support and strengthen the State of Israel.
“Nearly 50 years ago, then Foreign Minister Yigal Alon, alav hashalom, urged an American audience “to invest in Jewish education. You’ll do more for Israel’s future if you raise your generations of Jews and invest your money in Jewish education.”
“That very same message was delivered in December 2011 to community leaders in Toronto and indeed, Canada, by then Foreign Minister of Israel, Avigdor Lieberman. His plea was published on the front page of The Canadian Jewish News.
“Most of us have read, or know from our own experience, how the majority of Jewish youth in the United States – and increasingly in Canada too – is incapable and unprepared to respond to the anti-Israel sentiment they hear, read and see on campus or elsewhere.
“It is therefore no overstatement to say that you, our teachers, are the first line of the battle to raise and sustain everlasting generations of knowledgeable, caring, giving, proud Jews.
“So in celebrating the State of Israel we also celebrate you, our Jewish school teachers. Israel and our teachers is truly a match made in Heaven, for the sake of Heaven.