Refocus on Jewish education

May 2009 religion column

By Rabbi Samuel Fox, Rabbi Emeritus, Beth Jacob Synagogue

Rabbi Samuel Fox

The colorful, exciting and jubilant march of the graduation season is rapidly approaching. High schools and colleges across the country are preparing for this important day in the lives of students, parents, relatives, and friends with great pageantry, pomp, and ceremony.

For many, a college degree can be translated into a more promising career, but in today’s gloomy economic downturn there is no guarantee of that.

From time immemorial our priority and focus has been upon Jewish education, but we have embraced secular education as well.

We know that early Jewish immigrants from Europe would scrimp, save, and sacrifice in order to give their children a good education.

But then secular education became a priority. Their rationale and reasoning was that they wanted their children to have opportunities that they didn’t have in the old country.

Even parents who struggled to make a living would somehow manage to send their children to some of the best colleges.

Many Jewish students excelled in their studies and graduated with honors. Their parents, of course, took great pride in their scholastic achievements.

They tell about two good neighbors, Mrs. Goldberg and Mrs. Fine, who were carrying on a conversation across their fence. They were discussing the forthcoming graduation.

Mrs. Goldberg, with motherly pride, just couldn’t resist telling her neighbor that her daughter, Jennie, a bright young lady, was graduating college cum laude.

Mrs. Fine informed her neighbor that her daughter Sally, who didn’t take her studies seriously, was also graduating cum.

In surprise, Mrs. Goldberg asked, “Did you say Sally is graduating cum laude?”

“No,” was the abrupt answer, “she is graduating cum mit tsouris, with great difficulty, just barely making it.”

Jews have every right to take pride in the scholastic achievements of their children, but it should not be at the expense and neglect of their Jewish education.

Parents who prioritize secular education with the claim they want to provide opportunities for their children that they didn’t have, should also provide opportunities for their children they did have.

They had the opportunity of a good, Jewish home that was like a miniature sanctuary where the Jewish religion and rites, customs and ceremonies were faithfully observed.

They had the opportunity of a good Jewish education in a cheder or yeshiva where they were imbued with Torah and Talmud, Jewish ideals and values.

They had the opportunities of faithfully attending synagogue services and they had the  additional advantage of living in a wholesome, Jewish environment.

It behooves Jewish parents to provide and transmit these opportunities to our children.

This is the way to instill in them a love and loyalty, pride and passion, devotion and dedication to their Jewish heritage.

They will then appreciate the tremendous impact Judaism has had upon the world and civilization.

They will then enthusiastically proclaim with pride the words of our prayer: Ashrainu, We are fortunate: how good is our portion, how pleasant our lot, and how beautiful our heritage.

The Hebrew word for education is chinuch. It also is the root word for dedication. As Jewish parents, let us demonstrate real concern and dedication for yiddishkeit and Jewish education, at least on a level with secular education.

We will then stem the tide of alienation and prevent the further drifting away of our youths from the fold of Judaism.

We will then be blessed with children who will take pride and joy in their Jewish heritage.

The challenge today is for parents to be shining role models for our children to emulate.

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