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Taking stock of our educational priorities

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YUSUKE UMEZAWA/FLICKR

We are now in the full golden flow of summer’s playful promise. But before we plunge into the deep end of vacation or fly to the highest point of our balmy blue skies, let us remember to congratulate our children for having completed another year of studies. And let us also remember to thank school staff, administrators and lay volunteers for helping guide our children through another year of learning and marshalling their curiosity to new levels of achievement.

At any age and at any stage of development, graduating to the next school year is a major achievement. And we must acknowledge this feat for what it truly is: a fulfillment of the obligation one generation owes the next – and the preceding – to perpetuate a good society and a way of life that strives toward the highest of our values.

Thus, at this seasonal hiatus in the education of our children, as we cast our hopeful eyes upon them and toward the future we wish for them, perhaps we should ask ourselves how successful we are, as a community, at providing them with a Jewish future.

The question is not a new one.

It has been formally asked and debated in North America with varying degrees of urgency for more than three decades. Numerous papers have been written, in attempts to provide educators and communal leaders with a blueprint for building a perpetual Jewish future.

That we are still asking the question after all these years speaks to our collective failures, especially in light of the fact that we live in a time and in a place of maximum personal freedom, religious tolerance and economic resources.

READ: CROWDFUNDING CAMPAIGN RAISES NEARLY $2 MILLION FOR DAY SCHOOLS

The latest communal blueprint was recently published by the Jewish People’s Policy Institute (JPPI), a think tank based in Jerusalem that’s dedicated to forward thinking about the future of the Jewish People around the world. In a policy document entitled, Learning Jewishness, Jewish Education and Jewish Identity, Sylvia Barack Fishman and Shlomo Fischer ask:

“How can contemporary Jewish societies create norms, behaviours and values that support dynamic and sustainable Jewish life? How can adults in these societies transmit meaningful Jewish norms, behaviours and values to the next generation?”

Their first answer, of course, is Jewish education, all the while acknowledging that the age in which we live also provides more ways to undertake a Jewish education than ever before.

“No one form of Jewish education can guarantee – or maintain – uniformly Jewishly identified adults. Each type of Jewish education makes contributions to the Jewish identity of particular segments of the population. Young Jewish leaders are disproportionately day school educated, and many have attended elite leadership programs,” they write. “An often unappreciated role is played by social factors such as family and peer group influence, larger contexts such as school, work, political and cultural trends. Under the best of circumstances social networks such as family and peer group circles, and formal and informal Jewish educational associations, settings and activities reinforce each other – sometimes in unanticipated and serendipitous ways.”

Fishman and Fischer tell us quite plainly that “Jewish communal leadership faces a series of related challenges to dynamically sustain and develop Jewish educational enterprises in all their diversity.”

‘The future viability of the overall system may be in doubt.’

This past year, the Jewish educational system in the Greater Toronto Area has suffered severe seismic shocks. It is no overstatement to say that the future viability of the overall system may be in doubt.

“Where are we headed?” we must ask ourselves.

If we fail to “sustain Jewish educational enterprises in all its diversity,” we doom our children, and their children to come, to a lesser communal Jewish life.

And then – in 10, 15 or 20 years – as summer vacation looms, gone will be the realistic hope for a future in which our children will have graduated to the next level of Jewish life.

And we will have done this.