It’s that time of year of again. School is opening soon and the question being asked in many households in Orange County is, “Are we giving our kids a Jewish education?” There is a lot of competition what with soccer, guitar lessons and homework. Kids are burdened today, and parents think, “We’re Jewish; they can learn about Judaism at home.”
Then there are the parents who somberly say, “Let’s ask the kids; if they want to go, we’ll send them.” It is quite strange how parents are willing to abdicate such a crucial decision to the wisdom of a nine-year-old—as if the child understands the value of imbuing life with ethics, religious belief and spirituality as he pauses for a moment in the midst of a video game.
The blessing of America is that we can make choices. We are generations removed from the oppressiveness of the Czar and despot who dictated to a Jew how he should make a living, how he should educate his child and if he can observe his traditions. Our destiny is in our own hands.
When children grow up understanding the great ideas of Judaism, when they are taught the profound philosophical underpinnings of our religion, when they experience the beauty of Shabbat and traditions, they remain loyal to those ideas. When Judaism is relegated to an occasional visit to services on the High Holidays with the attendant kvetching, “When will this service end?” most lose interest. It comes down to one fact: if Jewish education is not important, then the next generation is more removed from our heritage than the one before it. Unless young people are educated and understand the depth of Judaism and create a connection, it has little relevance in their lives.
Here lies the most interesting fact of all the research on Jewish life. When children study Torah, they learn to apply the profound teachings of Jewish philosophy; when they struggle in deciphering the complex logic of the Talmud, they learn about the great sages of the ages, and invariably they make Judaism an important part of their life. It is that simple.
The best choice is without question a Jewish day school, where a child can learn the wisdom of the torah and gain the tools to function in a modern society. A Hebrew School where teachers live Judaism and where children see role models for the ideals of Torah is a good second choice. The real question is one of priorities. If we as parents make Judaism a priority in our children’s lives, they will follow our lead. If we relegate learning to be equal with soccer and ballet, they too will do the same.
Rabbi David Eliezrie is rabbi at Congregation Beth Meir HaCohen/Chabad. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.