What Jewish education would teach (2)

Only the guns and the screams of smashing rockets are silent in Israel and in Gaza. But public spaces on the streets and on the internet here and abroad are overwhelmed with a waterfall of shrill, disgusting expressions of hatred against Israel and Jews.

Though we feel rage and outrage, we know that our emotions are but the starting point in marshalling the proper individual and communal response to the attempt by the haters to take control of our society and of our lives.

Bari Weiss, the writer, thinker and author of How to Fight Anti-Semitism succinctly tells us how to respond in situations such as the one so many Jews throughout the western world face now. In an article she wrote in 2019 entitled “To Fight Anti-Semitism, Be a Proud Jew”, she wrote:

“There has not been a single moment in Jewish history in which there weren’t anti-­Semites determined to eradicate Judaism and the Jews.…

“But the Jews did not sustain their magnificent civilization because they were anti-anti-Semites. Our tradition was always renewed by people who made the choice in the face of tragedy that theirs would not be the end of the Jewish story, but the catalyst for writing a new chapter.

“The long arc of Jewish history makes it clear that the only way to fight is by waging an affirmative battle for who we are. By entering the fray for our values, for our ideas, for our ancestors, for our families, and for the generations that will come after us. This is not an exhortation to embrace religion in all its strictures. It is a reminder that Judaism contains multitudes, and that those who point the finger at other Jews as a way to keep the target off their own backs — insisting that the real problem are those with their kippot or their Zionism — at once distorts our history and the fact of our peoplehood.

“In these trying times, our best strategy is to build, without shame, a Judaism and a Jewish people and a Jewish state that are not only safe and resilient but also generative, humane, joyful and life-affirming. A Judaism capable of lighting a fire in every Jewish soul — and in the souls of everyone who throws in his or her lot with ours.”

Weiss has written a profound formula for how to wrestle with the monster. To take her clarion words to heart – that we build a Judaism and a Jewish people and a Jewish state – requires that we know our Judaism. To know our Judaism, in turn, requires that we teach our children what that is. And to teach our children requires a system of affordable Jewish education.

Jewish life always returns to its irreplaceable core: Jewish education.

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Bob Dylan celebrated his 80th birthday this week. After the First Lebanon War in 1982 he released a song called the Neighborhood Bully. It is generally regarded as Dylan’s paean to Zionism and to the right of Jews to our own sovereign life. Although Dylan is generally considered to have a somewhat opaque relationship with his Judaism, Neighborhood Bully shows that he could see with laser precision the true nature of Israel’s situation.

A review of Dylan’s life appeared this week on the website of The Jewish Insider. As the article notes, Barry Shrage, a professor in the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program at Brandeis University and the former president of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, said Neighborhood Bully is “so right for this moment, with the whole discussion of Israel being totally hypocritical.”

The following is the song’s quasi-chorus. It a meaningful response to the self-righteous critics of Israel or to the critics who try to hide their malevolence toward the only sovereign Jewish state on earth.

“The neighborhood bully just lives to survive
He’s criticized and condemned for being alive
He’s not supposed to fight back, he’s supposed to have thick skin
He’s supposed to lay down and die when his door is kicked in
He’s the neighborhood bully”

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The words of Neighborhood Bully can be read at:

•••

Be safe. Be well. Shabbat shalom.

GAJE, May 28, 2021

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