The shock of the news of the passing last week of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks still resonates, still leaves an aching sorrow. His teaching and wisdom will echo through the generations even as his memory will bring countless blessings to those same generations.
It would be morally unthinkable therefore not to republish at least one of Rabbi Sacks’ many stirring statements about education. The following were his remarks in the House of Lords on Friday 7th December 2017, during a debate on the role of education in building a flourishing and skilled society.
“My Lords. I am grateful to the most Rev Primate (The Archbishop of Canterbury) for initiating this debate on a subject vital to the future flourishing of our children and grandchildren. My Lords, allow me to speak personally as a Jew. Something about our faith moves me greatly, and goes to the heart of this debate. At the dawn of our people’s history, Moses assembled the Israelites on the brink of the Exodus.
“He didn’t talk about the long walk to freedom. He didn’t speak about the land flowing with milk and honey. Instead, repeatedly, he turned to the far horizon of the future and spoke about the duty of parents to educate their children. He did it again at the end of his life, commanding: “You shall teach these things repeatedly to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk on the way, when you lie down and when you rise up.”
“Why this obsession with education that has stayed with us from that day to this? Because to defend a country you need an army. But to defend a civilisation you need schools. You need education as the conversation between the generations.
“Whatever the society, the culture or the faith, we need to teach our children, and they theirs, what we aspire to and the ideals we were bequeathed by those who came before us. We need to teach our children the story of which we and they are a part, and we need to trust them to go further than we did, when they come to write their own chapter.
“We make a grave mistake if we think of education only in terms of knowledge and skills – what the American writer David Brooks calls the resume virtues as opposed to the eulogy virtues.
And this is not woolly idealism. It’s hard-headed pragmatism. Never has the world changed so fast, and it’s getting faster each year. We have no idea what patterns of employment will look like in 2, let alone 20 years from now, what skills will be valued, and which done instead by artificially intelligent, preternaturally polite robots.
“We need to give our children an internalised moral Satellite Navigation System so that they can find their way across the undiscovered country called the future. We need to give them the strongest possible sense of collective responsibility for the common good, because we don’t know who will be the winners and losers in the lottery of the global economy and we need to ensure its blessings are shared. There is too much “I” and too little “We” in our culture and we need to teach our children to care for others, especially those not like us.
“We work for all these things in our Jewish schools. We give our children confidence in who they are, so that they can handle change without fear and keep learning through a lifetime. We teach them not just to be proud Jews, but proud to be English, British, defenders of democratic freedom and active citizens helping those in need.
“Schools are about more than what we know and what we can do. They are about who we are and what we must do to help others become what they might be. The world our children will inherit tomorrow is born in the schools we build today.”
Paul Bernstein, CEO, Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools, wrote a poignant acknowledgment of Rabbi Sack’s dedication to Jewish education. It was published by ejewishPhilanthropy.
These words are from Bernstein’s article:
“What is the greatest honor that we can possibly confer on anyone in the Jewish community? The greatest Jew we ever had was Moses. We called him Moshe Rabbenu, Moses our teacher. For us, teachers are the most important people there are.”
“Rabbi Sacks believed not only in the need for great educators – he spoke passionately about the need to support schools with resources as well. He told me, “The people who build and support Jewish day schools – they are the heroes of the Jewish world, because they are the builders of the Jewish future. … The very success of the Jewish people and surviving and thriving through all circumstances, some good, and some not so good, was due to the fact that we put education as the first of our [communal] priorities… The Mesopotamians built ziggurats. The Egyptians built pyramids. The Greeks built the Parthenon. The Romans built the Colosseum. Jews built schools. That’s why we’re still here, still strong, and still young while all those super powers in their day have been consigned to history.”
The best, most everlasting way we can repay Rabbi Sacks for all the goodness and inspiration he imparted to us is by ensuring the everlasting permanence of Jewish education.
In last week’s update we urged readers to pay close attention to the contents of Ontario’s 2020 budget in relation to remediating the structural unfairness in educational funding for the children attending independent schools.
The province did announce once again pandemic payments to Ontario families of $200 per child aged 12 and under and up to $250 for children who have special needs and are 21 years old or younger. The payments are intended to help parents cover costs like workbooks, school supplies, and technology. Education funding for this year will be $31 billion including COVID-19-related funding.
The question of funding fairness, however, is still unanswered.
Be safe. Stay safe. Be well. Stay well. Be strong. Stay strong.