He was a new face at our monthly class in Talmud and Jewish Ethics luncheon at UCI Medical Center. “Who are you?” I asked, surprised, he said, “Don’t you remember me?” He told me that he was finishing up medical school at UCI and used to come the class a year or so ago. He had just returned from a semester abroad at Mayanot, a program of college students to expand their Jewish knowledge base in Jerusalem. Mayanot is run by some friends, so my curiosity was piqued. “How did that happen?” Responding he said “it was because of you. I used to come to the class a few years ago, and you told me in college they teach you a professional skill to make a living; in Yeshiva you learn how to live.” Unbeknownst to me those words hit home, and he had dedicated a semester to learning about his Jewish heritage.
This is as important for younger kids as it is for college students. We live in a land and time of great opportunity. Kids are busy. There are computers, ballet, music, and much more. All compete for their attention and time. High school students are focused on college placement. During college it’s about earning your degree, and then on to jobs and careers. All of this prepares you for a foundation in society, to “make a living,” as the saying goes. The question is whether it prepares you for “how to live.”
The medical student realized that knowing the great wisdom of Judaism can give us the principles, ideals, and direction in life. So he took off a few months to build his skill set in Judaism, to explore the depth of Jewish learning and values.
Education is not just about gaining knowledge, earning credits, and preparing ourselves for a career. It is essential that we dedicate time to our spiritual side. Some will say, “Oh, we will teach them Judaism at home.” You don’t teach math, science, and history at home. Why should Judaism be any different? Unless the child goes to school and studies, chances are slim that he will know much or for that matter develop an appreciation of Judaism.
The new school year is looming, and parents are face important decisions about their kids education . Money is tight, so they say “let’s wait before the put him in Hebrew school.” Then we have the post-Bar Mitzvah syndrome. “Mom, I did the Bar Mitzvah. More Judaism, come on, I don’t feel like it.” Even younger kids seem to hold sway over their parents when it comes to crucial decisions. One parent of a nine-year-old told me, “My son does not feel he needs Jewish education.” I asked her whether kids that age decide about going to school or not.
There is a old Jewish staying that “Torah cannot be inherited.” You can inherit good looks, smarts, money, and personality from your parents, but not knowledge. That only comes when you open the book and study yourself. We need to realize that the goal of education is not just about acquiring knowledge and about preparing for a career, but it’s about learning how to live. For that we need Jewish education.
Rabbi David Eliezrie is at Congregation Beth Meir HaCohen Chabad. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org The UCI class meets the second Tuesday of the month at noon. Everyone is welcome to attend. For information, e-mail Rabbi Eliezrie .