The Teacher as Hero

This week’s update is effectively a continuation of the insights published week from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ commentary on the Torah portion Matot-Masei. From that portion, Rabbi Sacks taught that “Jews became the people whose heroes were teachers, whose citadels were schools, and whose passion was study and the life of the mind… Judaism is about learning. Education counts for more in the long run than wealth or power or privilege.”

In the portion last week, Devarim, Rabbi Sacks further developed his notion of the teacher-as-hero. According to Rabbi Sacks, Moses experienced “a career change” in the last of the Five Books. “He shifted his relationship with the people. No longer Moses the liberator, the lawgiver, the worker of miracles, the intermediary between the Israelites and God, he became the figure known to Jewish memory: Moshe Rabbeinu, “Moses, our teacher. 

“Not only does he become the teacher in Deuteronomy. In words engraved on Jewish hearts ever since, he tells the entire people that they must become a nation of educators

In Deuteronomy, a new word enters the biblical vocabulary: the verb l-m-d, meaning to learn or teach. The verb does not appear even once in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, or Numbers. In Deuteronomy it appears seventeen times.

“There was nothing like this concern for universal education elsewhere in the ancient world. Jews became the people whose heroes were teachers, whose citadels were schools, and whose passion was study and the life of the mind. Moses’ end-of-life transformation is one of the most inspiring in all of religious history.…in the full perspective of history, he changed them more than any leader has ever changed any people, turning them into the people of the book and the nation who built not ziggurats or pyramids but schools and houses of study.”

In less than three week we will place our children into the care of their teachers. The responsibility upon those teachers and the schools is vast. Rabbi Sacks points out, it originates at the very beginning of our people’s recorded history. As our minds turn to the imminent resumption of the school year, there is no worthier topic for GAJE to contemplate and to share with readers.

We owe our teachers and the immense human and resource infrastructure that sustain them an enormous debt. It can only be repaid by ensuring that our schools are affordable so that they will be filled with the youngsters who grow to be the next generation conveying and advancing Jewish civilization.

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Rabbi Sacks’ commentary can be found at: http://rabbisacks.org/the-teacher-as-hero-devarim-5779/

Shabbat Shalom

GAJE August 16, 2019

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Education counts the most in the long run

Last week’s update brought readers’ attention to the insights of Rabbi Marc D. Angel, who, in his commentary on the weekly Torah portion, urges us never to succumb to frustration or despair when the task at hand is so very difficult and complicated that is seems insurmountable.

GAJE would be unfaithful to its mission if we did not also share the insights of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in his commentary on the same Torah portion last week, Matot-Masei. Rabbi Sacks shines a blazingly illuminative light on the uniquely distinguishing importance of education to the Jewish people.

Where Rabbi Angel bids us not to despair at the enormity of our work – making Jewish education affordable, Rabbi Sacks reminds us why that work is essential to our sense of peoplehood, indeed to the very future of our people.

We provide some quotations from Rabbi Sacks’ commentary.

“The fate of Jewish communities, for the most part, was determined by a single factor: their decision, or lack of decision, to put children and their education first. Already in the first century, Josephus was able to write: “The result of our thorough education in our laws, from the very dawn of intelligence, is that they are, as it were, engraved on our souls.” The Rabbis ruled that “any town that lacks children at school is to be excommunicated” (Shabbat 119b). Already in the first century, the Jewish community in Israel had established a network of schools at which attendance was compulsory (Bava Batra 21a) – the first such system in history.

“The pattern persisted throughout the Middle Ages. In twelfth-century France a Christian scholar noted: “A Jew, however poor, if he has ten sons, will put them all to letters, not for gain as the Christians do, but for the understanding of God’s law – and not only his sons but his daughters too.”

“In 1432, at the height of Christian persecution of Jews in Spain, a council was convened at Valladolid to institute a system of taxation to fund Jewish education for all. In 1648, at the end of the Thirty Years’ War, the first thing Jewish communities in Europe did to re-establish Jewish life was to reorganise the educational system.

“In 1849, when Samson Raphael Hirsch became Rabbi in Frankfurt, he insisted that the community create a school before building a synagogue.

“It is hard to think of any other religion or civilisation that has so predicated its very existence on putting children and their education first. There have been Jewish communities in the past that were affluent and built magnificent synagogues – Alexandria in the first centuries of the Common Era is an example. Yet because they did not put children first, they contributed little to the Jewish story. They flourished briefly, then disappeared.

“For Jews, education is not just what we know. It’s who we are. No people ever cared for education more. Our ancestors were the first to make education a religious command, and the first to create a compulsory universal system of schooling – eighteen centuries before Britain. The Rabbis valued study as higher even than prayer. Almost 2,000 years ago, Josephus wrote: “Should anyone of our nation be asked about our laws, he will repeat them as readily as his own name. The result of our thorough education in our laws from the very dawn of intelligence is that they are, as it were, engraved on our souls.”

The Egyptians built pyramids, the Greeks built temples, the Romans built amphitheatres. Jews built schools. They knew that to defend a country you need an army, but to defend a civilisation you need education. So Jews became the people whose heroes were teachers, whose citadels were schools, and whose passion was study and the life of the mind. How can we deprive our children of that heritage?

“The world is changing ever faster. In a single generation, nowadays, there is more scientific and technological advance than in all previous centuries since human beings first set foot on earth. In uncharted territory, you need a compass. That’s what Judaism is. It guided our ancestors through good times and bad. It gave them identity, security, and a sense of direction. It enabled them to cope with circumstances more varied than any other people have ever known. It lifted them, often, to heights of greatness. Why? Because Judaism is about learning. Education counts for more in the long run than wealth or power or privilege. Those who know, grow.”

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Rabbi Sacks’ commentary can be found at: http://rabbisacks.org/cc-family-edition-matot-masei-5779/

We commend it to your reading and to sharing with others.

If, as Rabbi Sacks states, education counts for more in the long run, we must do everything within our power and use every reasonable tool at our disposal to make that education within the reach of the families that seek it for their children.

Shabbat Shalom

GAJE August 9, 2019

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Our hopes energize us

Summertime has just inched past the halfway point. In one month our children return to school.

Alas, we cannot yet say that for most families Jewish education for their children is more affordable today than it was last year. But nor will we say that the challenge indeed, the obligation, of making Jewish education affordable is out of reach, is beyond the collective ability of our community to make it happen. Despite the many laudable achievements of our community, until Jewish education is truly affordable, we will be less than we could be, less than we must be to fulfill the timeless aspirations and values of our people.

The community is indeed making progress toward making Jewish education affordable, though we have not yet arrived at our goal and the journey to the finish line is slower than we had hoped.

That we are still in mid-effort rather than celebrating the attainment of our objective must not discourage us. We must continue to push forward without losing resolve or determination. In his commentary on this week’s Torah portion, (Matot-Masei) Rabbi Marc Angel suggests how we can do that.

“Judaism imbues us with a sense that every day has meaning, that we can grow and attain something new and better. Life is not a rut or a routine; we are not trapped or locked in one place….

“We do not succumb to frustration or despair …. We are not here to achieve egotistical goals such as fame and power, but to serve God and humanity. Greatness is not measured by the number of lines one receives in history books, but by the myriad small deeds of kindness and charity and goodness that we have performed, by our positive impact on family, friends, and society.

“The detailed description of the Israelites’ travels in the wilderness reminds us of the importance of the past stages of our lives. It also serves to call our attention to the future, to the Promised Land, to the goals not yet attained. Just as we are strengthened by our past, we are energized by the hopes for our future.”

The goal of affordable Jewish education is not yet attained. But, as Rabbi Angel tells us, we are not locked into this place of unaffordability. Our hopes for the future energize us.

Failure is not an option.

Rabbi Angel’s commentary can be found at:

https://www.jewishideas.org/past-preludethoughts-matot-masei

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Shabbat Shalom

GAJE August 2, 2019

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Looking at Ontario’s educational system

Randall Denley, an Ottawa political commentator and former Ontario PC candidate, offered a commentary last week in the National Post on the state of Ontario’s educational system. Our system features four types of publicly funded school boards and as he noted, “only one is accessible to anyone, and all of them are straying from their core mandate.”

His jumping off point was the lawsuit recently launched against the province by Basile Dorion, a former school trustee. Dorion is challenging the constitutionality of the admissions approach of Ontario’s French-language school boards. Denley noted that some French language parents object to the fact that “45 per cent of students in Ontario’s French-language schools don’t have French as their first language.” According to Denley, these parents say that such an admissions policy “waters down the French milieu” in their schools.

The specifics of Dorion’s challenge do not directly apply to the situation of the parents in Jewish schools. Denley does note however that a decision on the Dorion challenge may directly impact the admissions policies of Ontario Catholic schools that are now admitting non-Catholics throughout the province.

The relevant aspects of Denley’s reflections for GAJE are twofold:

• There is clearly a rising tide in Ontario of new expectations among an increasingly diverse population for change and more competition in the education system.

• One of those expectations is for fairness towards all of Ontario’s citizens. In Denley’s words: “The special protection for Catholic and French students becomes more outmoded every year as the province’s demographics change through immigration. The deal to provide education in English and French made sense when almost everyone spoke one of those two languages. Now, nearly 28 per cent of Ontarians have some a different mother tongue. There are more Chinese-language speakers than there are francophones. As well, paying the full cost of education for Catholics but nothing for other religious groups is fundamentally unfair.”

GAJE is not seeking the dismantling of the current four-board structure. Rather, GAJE seeks the fairness of funding that obtains in the other five provinces – in the West and in Quebec – where independent schools receive some measure of public funding for their students too. The result of such fairer funding in those provinces yields better educational results for their students and better financial management for the respective governments.

The Denley commentary can be found at:

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Shabbat Shalom

GAJE July 26, 2019

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Parents refuse to believe they are helpless

The problem of unaffordable Jewish education in our community will be solved when the full community mobilizes to solve it. This means that men and women and families from across the spectrum of Jewish communal life must become involved or contribute in some way to finding a solution.

An example of wide community involvement in solving a pressing community problem arose last week from a small Jewish group of parents in South Manchester in the U.K. The nature of the problem facing the parents there was quite different than the tuition dilemma parents here face.

Nevertheless, it is important that we share the example because the message it sends is relevant to us as well, i.e., refuse to believe that it is hopeless or that we are helpless at finding an appropriate solution.

The London-based Jewish Chronicle last week reported that a group of parents took upon themselves the task of finding the necessary funding to ensure the North Cheshire Jewish Primary School would be able to provide sufficient classroom space for children who wish to attend the school.

The school is the South Manchester’s only Jewish primary school and had planned to restrict entry to only one class of 30 students. This would have left at least 14 children, whose parents seek a Jewish education for them, without a place at the school. Such a prospect was utterly unacceptable to the parents of these 14 children. They refused to believe that they were helpless to intervene. Thus they launched an appeal to raise £100,000 to ensure the school would be able to provide enough places for children who want to go there.

One of the parents and the campaign’s liaison manager, said, “The funds raised by the campaign would go towards ensuring excellence across the school and providing as many places as possible to the Jewish children of South Manchester in a school that embeds a love for Jewish life and Israel for today and the future”.

We commend the decision of these South Manchester parents, They got involved because their objective is to “embed a love for Jewish life and Israel for today and the future”. That is our goal too. It should be the goal of Jewish education throughout the world.

Setting aside the details of the dilemma the parents at North Cheshire Jewish Primary School faced and of the solution they devised, we learn from them:

• not to give up searching for answers.

• not to give in to the seeming intractability of a problem.

• and to seek the solutions together, as a community.

Failure for the South Manchester parents, and for GAJE, is not an option.

The JC article can be found at:

https://www.thejc.com/education/education-news/manchester-parents-launch-100k-appeal-to-finance-extra-school-places-1.486446

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Shabbat Shalom

GAJE July 19, 2019

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Strengthening society through viable independent schools

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has succinctly and pointedly expressed the deeply rooted, permanently engrained significance of education to the Jewish people.

In his collection of essays, From Optimism to Hope, he wrote: “Long ago the Jewish people came to the conclusion that to defend a country you need an army. But to defend a civilization you need schools. The single most important social institution is the place where we hand on our values to the next generation – where we tell our children where we’ve come from, what ideals we fought for, and what we learned on the way. Schools are where we make children our partners in the long and open-ended task of making a more gracious world.”

Making our schools affordable to all families who seek a Jewish education for their children has been – and is – the single motivating force driving all of GAJE’s efforts.

Moreover, and especially, GAJE is determined to demonstrate through the legal system that since the permanent viability of Jewish schools – and of other independent, publicly monitored, denominational schools too – is vital to the continued future of the smaller communities served by these schools, the viability of these schools is also vital to the continued future of Canada’s thriving multicultural, multi-religious, tolerant society.

Thus, a public educational system that is also committed to helping ensure the permanent viability of the smaller communities’ schools will also help enhance and strengthen the overall educational system as well as society itself.

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Shabbat Shalom GAJE July 12, 2019

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From common ground to the shared target

Ever since the Supreme Court of Canada in 1996 declared constitutional Ontario’s unfair educational funding policies, the community has been stymied in attempting to fulfil its historic aim of trying to ensure that every family would be able to afford a Jewish education for its children.

That sense of communal frustration was compounded a decade later in 2006, when the Ontario electorate rejected the candidacy of John Tory for premier. Tory had explicitly said during the campaign that he would introduce a pilot project to try to bring some measure of fairness and justice to the province’s educational funding.

In the intervening 23 years since the Supreme Court’s decision, Ontario’s demographics have changed: large numbers of Ontarians have indicated a preference for more competition in schooling. Indeed, the funding experience of the next five largest provinces after Ontario indicates that public funding for some portion of the general studies portion of independent schools eventually saves money for the public treasury. And during that same period of time, we know, alas, the cost of living a Jewish life in the GTA has skyrocketed. Jewish education had become out of reach for a great many young families.

Last year the community leadership committed to making the affordability of Jewish education to be their first priority. Their decision was celebrated at the time, remains celebrated today, and deserves to be commended and supported.

Individuals from all walks within the community, however, are still divided about the wisdom and propriety of attempting to have the courts reassess and perhaps reopen the 1996 decision of the Supreme Court.

GAJE believes it is the correct thing to do. Some people disagree with us.

In his commentary this week on Parashat Korah, Rabbi Marc D. Angel suggests how such a difference of approach within the community should be handled.

“When people—individually, communally, nationally—have disagreements, they can engage in serious discussion and dialogue even if the parties are critical of each other’s positions. Each can offer arguments and refutations. Both sides—even if holding very different positions—can still find a common ground and can see themselves as working toward one goal.”

The diverse and disparate efforts of concerned and interested members in the community are aimed at the same target: making Jewish education affordable. And as Rav Angel suggests, we enhance our chances of reaching the target when we all stand on common ground.

Rabbi Angel’s full article is available at:

https://www.jewishideas.org/criticism-or-contempt-thoughts-parashat-korah

Shabbat Shalom

GAJE July 5, 2019

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We would like to share personal stories about how the affordability issue has affected families in our community. We will post these stories anonymously on our Facebook page and on our website.

We will not include any personal information such as names, schools, other institutions, or any other identifying information. We reserve the right to edit all submissions.

To share your story, either send us a message on our Facebook page or email us @ info @ gaje.ca.

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