What Jewish education would teach (3)

In the days preceding Pesach 17 years ago, a rash of vandalism broke out in the GTA aimed at Jewish institutions and cemeteries. Such outright miscreant behaviour was relatively rare in our community then.

Not surprisingly, many people at the time attributed the vandalism to the spillover of emotions from the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. The choking dust from the suicide bomber “intifadah” unleashed by Yasser Arafat was settling by then. But Israel’s resilience and determination to fight back irritated as many people then as it does today. The same network of journalists, diplomats, celebrities, and accusing others as today inverted the moral register of the fighting. Defending against terror was cast as aggression. Unwillingness to submit to terrorism was cast as disproportionate oppression.

As was the case over the past few weeks, the accusers of Israel then also let loose a dangerous onslaught of hatred toward Jews. At the peak of the emotional distress, Prof. Marty Lockshin of York University, (today in Jerusalem) told a large gathering of high school students how to find a path through the clutter of our confusion and rage.

“No one should believe that anti-Semitism is caused by Jews,” Prof. Lockshin told his young audience. “While we Jews are the targets of anti-Semitism, it is the non-Jews who are affected by the illness. It is the non-Jews of conscience who must lead the, fight against the illness that affects non-Jewish society.”

After the diagnosis however, Prof. Lockshin also provided the prescription: “The proper reaction of Jews when we see swastikas in Thornhill or homicide bombers in Jerusalem, is for us to do more Jewish things and to dream of new ways to protect and manifest our Judaism.”

That prescription, of course, brings us inevitably and always back to Jewish education.

As GAJE has written repeatedly during these past six years, Jewish education does not mean becoming “more religious.” Nor did Prof. Lockshin likely mean that when he urged the high schoolers “to do more Jewish things.”

By Jewish education, GAJE intends, and perhaps Prof. Lockshin did as well, for our children to learn who they are as Jews, to learn the remarkable power of the heritage of 4,000 years of Jewish history that stands behind them, and how that power can be adapted and applied today to make the world a better place.

There is a deeply poignant scene in this week’s Torah portion (Shelach Lecha) from which we can – and must – learn. Ten of the twelve scouts appointed by Moses to reconnoitre the Promised Land prior to the people’s entry, provide a negative report of what they saw. They were overwhelmed with self-doubt and fear that the task at hand was unachievable. In sad, even pathetic, self-deprecating language they explain to Moses that the inhabitants of the land saw them (the scouts) as “grasshoppers”, small inconsequential individuals.

But far worse, the ten scouts saw themselves as “grasshoppers”. “We were as grasshoppers in our own eyes.” (Numbers 13:33) One need not be a psychologist to understand the defeat that will inexorably result from such low self-esteem. If we see ourselves as tiny, incapable, weak, flimsy and frail, others will too.

Whether standing up to the haters of the Jewish people and the disparagers of Israel or trying to ensure that Jewish education is affordable for all who seek it for their children, we emphatically do not see ourselves as grasshoppers. Nor will we allow others to see us grasshoppers.

Failure is not an option.


Be safe. Be well. Shabbat shalom.

GAJE, June 4, 2021

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