I was just at the Shabbos table of a wonderful family who lives in La Jolla, CA and have been thinking about the experience ever since. While their home is very beautiful (and big!), what hit me most was the passion and warmth that filled up their home. These people are the types of proud Jews who live to build up Jewish education and improve the Jewish community in all areas. There are several other families who are defined by the same beautiful dedication in this community and I’m always inspired by it.
The conversation at our table covered many topics but one that I’d like to mention here is the importance of Jewish education. There’s an orthodox Jewish girls’ and boys’ high school that is relatively new (less than 10 years old- someone can maybe help me with this?). We discussed how to increase enrollment and the importance of a Jewish education. We wondered why more parents aren’t opting to enroll their teens in the local Jewish high school (a novelty for me since when I grew up here one just didn’t exist). We discussed some possible reasons as well as reasons parents shared and it all made for a very thought-provoking discussion.
Having been through the decision process of continuing a Jewish education (or not), there’s really no better way to strengthen Jews or promote Jewish continuity (in my opinion). I recently heard a speech from Lori Palatnik who took one point from the Pew Survey- the 74% intermarriage rate among non-religious Jews. She described this statistic as “3 out of 4 kids per family will not marry Jews” and her mother-in-law said that the new question for Jewish baby boomers isn’t whether to go to the wedding but whether to go to the christening of grandchildren. Heavy stuff.
Having spoken to leaders of non-denominational Jewish organizations, I’m familiar with their new question as well: How can we engage these interfaith families so they hold on to some semblance of Judaism? It’s a fair question and very difficult to answer if you expect participants will run away if Judaism takes any other form except social or cultural. I’m not saying this is true all the time- I am very close to two reform families with intermarried children who are proud Jews and promote both Jewish values and Jewish education. My assertion is just that the questions and possible answers are getting tricky while still holding an un-watered down version of Judaism together.
I think the only proposition for any Jew who cares about being a Jew is to go BIG or go home in promoting Judaism, sharing Torah ideas, and uniting Jews of all types together. Whatever our strengths are, we need to capitalize on them and quickly. Jewish education ensures a future generation of proud, committed Jews. The quality of said Jewish education is paramount. We cannot leave students’ questions unanswered and if they sadly have no questions, we need to give them a reason to question. There can’t be a feeling that it’s shverr tzu zein a yid (difficult to be a Jew)- all expressions of Judaism must be done with happiness and an understanding that the Torah’s relevance and truth supersedes generations and nations. I’m fortunate (as I was reminded over Shabbos) to teach young impressionable Jews about Judaism and how they feel when they leave my classroom could possibly help build or destroy their relationship with Judaism.