January 2016The kids squinted to examine the Hebrew text. Around them others gawked in amazement, surprised to see a group of children, ranging from 8 to 12, deciphering the Hebrew words on the ancient parchment of the Dead Sea scrolls. I had taken some of my grandchildren on a visit to the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the California Science Center. Looking for a way to make the scrolls relevant, I suggested the children identify letters on the parchment. Then they started to find words. They were excited to find out they could read the ancient texts and even discover an actual verse in the Torah they recognized.
For these kids, Jewish history came alive. In the writings of millennia ago, they saw the Torah they study every day. In modern parlance, they told, me, “it was cool.”
The problem today, is that most Jewish children lack the tools to understand the depth of the Torah and the wisdom of Judaism. Very few actually study the classical texts of the Torah, Talmud and the sages. It is a closed, mysterious book on a shelf, and sadly some Jewish homes today do not even have the books on the shelves. In the rush to modernity and success, generations of Jews have left behind the teachings that can bring meaning and purpose into their lives.
The solution that is tried and true is quite simple – Jewish education. When we give kids the tools to explore Jewish learning and tradition, they invariably discover its depth and relevance. Sadly, this may not be true for many Jewish kids. If you are lucky, it is a break in a busy week, for a few hours of Hebrew School, sandwiched between soccer and homework. And for many, even that is not happening.
The best way to connect kids with Judaism is to send them to a Jewish day school. There, they can acquire the skills to truly be able to study Judaism properly; to discover Torah, Talmud and Jewish learning and how Judaism is a Divine wisdom, whose relevance is just as important now as it was thousands of years ago.
Progress comes in the micro, not the macro. If you want to change Jewish destiny, help send another kid to a Jewish school; if you are a parent, sign up your child for Jewish programming; if you are a grandparent, sponsor the tuition. And if you are a friend, encourage someone to give their kid a Jewish education.
And then, in a few years, take them to see the Dead Sea Scrolls and you will be amazed as they read the scrolls themselves and tell you “that’s what we learned in school.” Α
Rabbi David Eliezrie is a Congregation Beth Meir HaCohen/Chabad. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.