Reinvigorating communal responsibility

There is reason to feel optimistic as the last page of 2018 falls off the calendar and we greet 2019. As we noted in last week’s update, the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto has publicly declared it will pursue an “affordability solution for elementary and middle school as the highest philanthropic priority.”

And as we also noted last week, we can all take heart that the Federation has put the full weight of its organization and the moral imperative of its commitment to permanently solving the crisis of affordability. Though arriving soon at the “rescue apparatus” for Jewish education is not assured, it is certainly within our collective sights as a result of the Federation’s full-force mobilization toward the same goal.

To help embrace the new year with more than tentative hope, we point to the words of the late eminent historian Salo Baron whose essay, The Jewish Community and Jewish Education, was the first essay in a seminal work entitled Judaism and the Jewish School: Selected Essays on the Direction and Purpose of Jewish Education, (Edited by Judah Pilch and Meir Ben-Horin, The American Association for Jewish Education, 1966).

The 335-page tome was published to inaugurate a wide discussion in the United States on the urgent need to restructure, refocus and re-establish a wider basis for Jewish education beyond the traditional yeshiva and synagogue-based supplementary formats.

Baron’s essay provided historical context and intellectual direction for discussion. We reproduce a mere selection of his thoughts.

“Judaism, going far beyond all its predecessors in both the intensity of its religious devotion and the democratic appeal of its basic institutions, extended the area of public education in both Palestine and the dispersion to a theretofore unprecedented degree. Generation after generation re-echoed the Psalmist’s glorification of God’s ordained strength “out of the mouths of babes.”

“The assumption of communal responsibility, one might expect, would lead to the most obvious conclusion that the community as such should allocate adequate funds for Jewish education. Since the days of Joshua ben Gamla, antedating the second fall of Jerusalem, the Jewish communities all over the world have indeed cheerfully assumed the burden of supplying instruction to children, particularly to those children whose parents could not provide them with teachers. Ever since the days of the Talmud, the legal maxim prevailed that a school was even more “sacred” that a synagogue.”

After reflecting upon the possible content of a reimagined comprehensive Jewish educational system for the American Jewish community, Baron concludes, in part, “I wish to say that the communal responsibility for Jewish education will require not only much constructive thinking on the part of educators and communal leaders, but also a great deal of hard and painfully slow persuasion of unlike-minded individuals. It will necessitate many patient negotiations with diverse factions in Jewish life.”

Community leaders in the Greater Toronto Area long ago understood, accepted and acted upon the responsibility that Baron urged upon his community more than 50 years ago.

Happily, our community leaders today are reinvigorating the principle of communal responsibility for Jewish education in light of an affordability crisis that would have been wholly unimaginable to their counterparts more than a half century ago. They have begun the process of constructive thinking on the matter and in the hard, vital work of persuasion.

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Best wishes for a happy, healthy new year in which – please God – the affordability of Jewish education for all who seek it, will start to come into view.

Shabbat Shalom.

GAJE

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