Our first responsibility as Jews…

Since writing last week’s update, the Government of Ontario has provided official guidelines for the return to school in September. As of this writing, parents await official instructions from Jewish day schools to advise them how their respective school will apply the province’s requirements.

It is our hope, if not also our expectation, that the transition to September teaching will be safe for all concerned, effective and conducted in a manner that exemplarizes civic and social order and mutual respect.

Such is not the expectation, alas, in the United States.

The Great Disruption, as many there have taken to calling the human, social, economic, cultural and medical impact of Covid-19, has inspired educators and thinkers of diverse disciplines to reflect upon and re-imagine the Covid-altered future of their society.

Last week Eric Cohen, executive director of the Tikvah Fund and the author of In the Shadow of Progress: Being Human in the Age of Technology (2008), published a comprehensive article in Mosaic Magazine entitled The Jewish Schools of the Future.

The article is far-ranging in its scope. It examines Jewish schools, Jewish education for young and for older, and the place of meaningfully expressed Jewishness within a culture and society pulling individuals ever more strongly away from traditional roots. Cohen offers suggestions for “marrying Jewish classical education and novel technology, and confronting the cultural crisis with Jewish exceptionalism.”

Despite the fact that Cohen is addressing fellow American Jews, core observations of his cri de Coeur apply also to our Canadian context. Therefore, inasmuch as we part of mega-North American culture, we should pay close attention to Cohen’s essay, then adopt and adapt its relevant principles. The essay is long, some 7,400 words. But it may likely prove to be a seminal document along the currently cluttered path to future Jewish life in North America.

We reproduce but two key passages from the introductory portion of the article.

“To weather the current storm, the Jewish community needs to focus nearly all its energy—and philanthropic resources—on American Jewish schools. There are many worthy recipients of Jewish dollars: hospitals, orchestras, myriad social causes. There are also many seductive misuses of Jewish money, including donations to most American colleges and universities (more on this later). But under duress, Jewish day schools should come first, in the belief that only American Jews can sustain these indispensable institutions, and that our first responsibility as Jews is the perpetuation of Jewish life one school-aged child at a time.

“Yet even as we rally—rightly—to sustain our existing Jewish schools, the current moment invites us to think anew about some long-standing challenges. Can we build viable schools that prepare traditional American Jews to live in an untraditional age? Can we integrate modern technologies of learning while opposing the excesses of modernity? Can we lower costs while promoting Jewish excellence? Can we win access to public funding without succumbing to the deforming regulations of the administrative state? And will we resist the progressive, anti-religious, anti-Zionist wave of elite American culture, or will we capitulate to our own gradual demoralization and demise? These are not easy challenges, but as the wealthiest and freest Diaspora community in Jewish history, we can take solace in knowing that Jews have faced much grimmer circumstances before.”

Cohen’s key statement is worth repeating:

“Our first responsibility as Jews is the perpetuation of Jewish life one school-aged child at a time.”

GAJE shares his view.


Be safe. Stay safe. Be well. Stay well. Be strong. Stay strong.

Shabbat shalom


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