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‘We can make a difference in our children’s lives’

 
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At this time of the year, one phrase should echo in our minds — a phrase born of sorrow yet filled with the promise of hope and redemption.

We have just entered the mournful period of three weeks, connecting the fast days of Shiva Assar B’Tamuz and Tisha B’Av. Rooted in the destruction of the Temple and the subsequent exiles, this period is marked for sorrow across the ages. The raabbis inform us, however, that the origin of our sorrow at this time has much earlier roots. Tisha B’Av, they maintain, was born on the day of the sin of the spies, when the generation of the Exodus lost its opportunity to enter the land of Israel.

The devastating report of the spies, recorded in Parshat Shlach, is filled with pessimism concerning the inability of the people to conquer the land. Most devastating of all, however, is the final statement of the report. Commenting on their interface with the people of the land, the spies proclaim:

“We were in our own eyes as insects; and so were we in theirs.”

A Freudian slip, centuries before Freud….

“We were in our own eyes as insects,” the spies say. We lost sight of our own value, ability, and worth. Only then, did we become devalued in the eyes of others.

Here then, the origin of true failure according to the Torah; the failure to recognize our own worth and ability.

Over this past year, a process has taken root in our own community that can provide us with a glimpse of our own power and value. Responding to the crisis of day-school affordability, a group consisting of representatives of each of the northern New Jersey day schools, rabbis, and community leaders has coalesced to form JEFG, Jewish Education For Generations. In a short time, the accomplishments of JEFG have captured the attention of communities across America, providing a vision of what a united community can accomplish.

Consider some of our successes:

• Representatives of all local day schools, across denominational lines, are sitting at the table with rabbinic and lay leaders as well as leaders of other community institutions to address the issues and implement innovative approaches.

• We have identified and are acting upon opportunities across our network for enhanced revenue generation and educational efficiencies that resulted from a unique benchmarking analysis done in partnership with Yeshiva University.

• Decisions concerning shared procurement of services, scholarship procedures, cost-cutting, and more have already been made. UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey has been instrumental in a number of these areas.

• NNJKIDS, a revolutionary grassroots effort to share the burden of our $8 million scholarship budget across the entire community, has been launched to great success. This effort is built upon the fundamental belief that the education of all children is a communal and not only a parental responsibility. The Avi Chai Foundation has generously supported this groundbreaking effort.

Already more than 1,000 families are participating at an annualized contribution rate of over $700,000. Commitments for continuing monthly contributions serve as the backbone of this program. Monies raised are being distributed quarterly to the day schools and have played a significant role in holding down tuition increases for the coming year.

• During May alone, designated as NNJKIDS month, over $250,000 was raised through new donations and a matching grant. More than 40 synagogues and 60 businesses participated in this effort, and learn-a-thons were conducted in conjunction with the day schools over the Shavuot holiday.

• Plans are being laid, in conjunction with UJA-NNJ, for the establishment of a mega-fund to attract major contributions for Jewish education in the community.

Such successes are the tip of the iceberg and provide only a glimpse of what we can accomplish together. We must recognize that we are uniquely poised to make a major difference concerning one of the most vexing challenges to confront the Jewish community today: the challenge of ensuring the continuing viability of day school education for our children.

Meeting this challenge will take sustained effort, creativity, and, above all, unity. We can achieve our goal only through total community participation. How sad it would be were we not to recognize our own power and potential. Please log onto NNJKIDS.org and join in the journey. We can and will make a real difference in our children’s lives as we ensure their quality education for years to come. We can and will set a proud standard for other communities to follow.

Rabbis Shmuel Goldin, David-Seth Kirshner, and Larry Rothwachs
Rabbi Shmuel Goldin is religious leader of Cong. Ahavath Torah in Englewood and rabbinic adviser for Jewish Education for Generations; Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner is religious leader of Temple Emanu-El in Closter; and Rabbi Larry Rothwachs is religious leader of Cong. Beth Aaron in Teaneck and president of the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County.
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Remembering Regina Jonas

Conversion to Judaism is very much in the news today — and for all the wrong reasons. But at the moment, my interest is not in the history of conversion itself, but in the way that it is read into next week’s Torah reading, parashat Lekh Lekha (Genesis 12-17).

The Torah reading opens with God commanding Abraham to set forth on a journey to a place unknown. Abraham sets forth with his wife Sarah, his nephew, all their possessions, and “the souls that they had made in Haran.”

How does someone “make” souls? The midrashic collection Genesis Rabbah, compiled some time in the fifth through eighth centuries, interprets this strange clause as referring to converts. Why did the text say “made” instead of “converted”? To demonstrate that converting someone to Judaism is like creating that person anew. But why the plural? Doesn’t it really mean that he, Abraham, had made or converted those souls? No. Abraham converted the men; Sarah converted the women (Genesis Rabbah 39:14).

 

 

Jewish time

Have you forgotten that the seasons have no regard

for the sovereignty of the sun

and instead attend upon

the grace and glory of the moon?

have you forgotten that the day begins

with evening’s song

and ends with shadow’s conquest of the hills?


 

I never heard any talk about “Jewish time” until I moved to New Jersey. When I was growing up, my family belonged to a Reform temple in Forest Hills, New York, and maybe it still retained a strong sense of its German-Jewish origins. Punctuality is a value, some say an obsession, present in powerful form in British as well as German culture, and by extension the Anglo-Saxon-dominated culture of the United States. And it was marginalized groups that were known to possess a different sense of time from the mainstream.

That’s why, back when I was a college student in the ‘70s, I heard references to stereotypes about “Indian time” for Native Americans, “Spanish time” for Latinos, and “Black time” for African-Americans. But back then, I never heard anyone talk about “Jewish time” or “Hebrew time” to explain why, for example, services scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. might not actually start until 8:15 or 8:20.

 

 

Clouds of glory, clouds of honor

That future generations may know that I made the children of Israel live in booths (sukkot) when I brought them out of the land of Egypt — Leviticus 23:43.

‘Booths’ — clouds of honor (ananei kavod) — Rashi.

When we were young, many of us were taught that the sukkah — especially its essential covering — represents something otherworldly. The structure in which we were dining was meant to evoke the divine clouds that sheltered the Israelites in the desert.

 

 

RECENTLYADDED

The Moses motif

Ridley Scott’s latest film, “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” won’t be in theaters until December, but it already has generated a bit of controversy.

According to Christianity Today, the actor who portrays Moses in the film, Christian Bale, had this to say about the dominant figure in Jewish religious tradition: “I think the man was likely schizophrenic, and was one of the most barbaric individuals that I ever read about in my life. He’s a very troubled and tumultuous man who fought greatly against God, against his calling.”

Living in a free and open society, Mr. Bale is free to express his opinion, and to do safe from the fear of any punishment or persecution. The biggest fear that his remarks have generated is the potential effect they may have on the movie’s box office returns, especially among the large Christian market in the United States. Of course, we in turn are free to characterize his statements as ignorant and erroneous. We also are free to express our doubts about whether he has any chance of displacing Charlton Heston as the personification of Moses, especially since Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 epic “The Ten Commandments” has been broadcast on ABC every year around Easter for the last four decades. And we are also free to say that Mr. Bale should go back to playing Batman, a character better suited to his temperament.

 

 

Diaspora Jews are targets

 

Remembering Regina Jonas

Conversion to Judaism is very much in the news today — and for all the wrong reasons. But at the moment, my interest is not in the history of conversion itself, but in the way that it is read into next week’s Torah reading, parashat Lekh Lekha (Genesis 12-17).

The Torah reading opens with God commanding Abraham to set forth on a journey to a place unknown. Abraham sets forth with his wife Sarah, his nephew, all their possessions, and “the souls that they had made in Haran.”

How does someone “make” souls? The midrashic collection Genesis Rabbah, compiled some time in the fifth through eighth centuries, interprets this strange clause as referring to converts. Why did the text say “made” instead of “converted”? To demonstrate that converting someone to Judaism is like creating that person anew. But why the plural? Doesn’t it really mean that he, Abraham, had made or converted those souls? No. Abraham converted the men; Sarah converted the women (Genesis Rabbah 39:14).

 

 
 
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