Home October 2012 Education and Principles

Education and Principles

Educating children is a daunting task.  Inspiring the next generation to have a passion for Judaism is even more challenging in the diverse and open society that we live in.  They are pulled in many directions: the Internet and Facebook instantly connect them to anyone anywhere.  It’s a far cry from the European village of past centuries where Jews lived in a closed society with little outside influence.  It’s different from a generation ago, when many Jews lived in neighborhoods that tended to be full of family and friends.
How do you instill a loyalty to Judaism?  First, you must live what you teach.  When kids see that Jewish observance is not important to an adult or a teacher, they will conclude that it has little value to them.  Second, you must be consistent.  If you tell a teenager you don’t really have do this, or that wearing a yarmulke is an issue of personal preference, they will not value it.  This is particularly important for teens who are beginning to become independent.  If they see you stand up for ideals, they will emulate you; if not, they will say to themselves that it has no significance.  If you tell them Judaism is optional, then they will choose in many cases to opt out.
My formative years were spent in an Israeli yeshiva located in Kfar Chabad on the edge of Tel Aviv.  I arrived there as a student at the age of sixteen and spent more than five years immersed in a world of scholarship and spirituality.  We were uniquely blessed with outstanding role models.  Most of the rabbis who taught us had lived through the horror of the Communist purges in Russia, serving time in prison for their steadfast commitment to Judaism.  The most amazing personality was that of Reb Mendel Futerfus.  Arrested in 1948 for smuggling Jews out of Russia to freedom, he spent almost a decade in the Siberian prisons.
Reb Mendel was renowned for his story telling; he would draw important life lessons from the stories.  One day he told us of a great celebration in the prison.  “One of the prisoners had been a tightrope walker in the circus.  He had agreed to put on a show on the day of his release.  Everyone was excited.  The circus act would break the boredom in the prison.  They tied a thick rope between two large trees and the he walked across it.” Reb Mendel was a curious person; he asked the tightrope walker, “What was the key walking on the rope?” He responded, “Look up and move forward.”
Reb Mendel turned to his students. “The lesson for us as Jews is to always look up to G-d above, and move forward.”
When we tell a teenager, “You don’t have to wear a yarmulke,” then what we are really saying, is that this ideal is not important.  You don’t have to remain connected to G-d above.  You don’t have to move forward in your spiritual development.
To the students in the yeshiva, Reb Mendel was a person we all wanted to emulate.  He was full of joy, never compromised his principles as a Jew and always strived to accomplish more.  If we want our children and students to retain their loyalty to Judaism, then we need to be their role models and live Judaism to its fullest, to stand firm on our ideals and educate them to love Judaism for its inner beauty.
Reb Mendel passed away in 1995.  For many years he would come to California to raise money for Soviet Jewry.  He would visit Long Beach and the Hebrew Academy.

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