Guest Blog

Jewish Education: An Every Day Response to Hate

By The Jim Joseph Foundation on September 1st, 2017

Like so many, we are angry, upset and concerned by the recent public demonstrations of anti-Semitism, racism, and hatred in this country. As a foundation devoted to Jewish education and Jewish life, the events in Charlottesville struck a particular nerve—especially knowing that our founder, Jim Joseph, z”l, came to the United States with his family as a young child to escape the rise of Nazism in Eastern Europe.

The recent displays of hatred and violence by white nationalists move us to take action, and to invite others to do the same. With the school year beginning, we see a clear opportunity to support educators to channel their students’ concerns about these events into essential lessons about tolerance and civil discourse and ways to respond to anti-Semitism. The Foundation currently is exploring investments that will help meet the surge in demand from educators across the country for the specific training and resources necessary to engage students in these critical learning experiences.

As we respond to these needs, grantee partners and the Foundation will continue our ongoing work supporting excellent Jewish education in its many forms. This work is designed in part to support youth to find meaning in Jewish tradition and to inspire them to create, and be a part of, a promising Jewish future. These efforts are not in response to any events. Rather, ongoing, compelling Jewish learning is a worthy pursuit in its own right and when it inspires and builds pride in Jewish teachings and values it also serves to combat anti-Semitism and other forms of hate and injustice.

Together with our grantees, we strive to imbue these teachings and values in our youth and in our communities every day. Simply stated, we believe that education to this end accesses pride. Our ancient texts combined with the modern visions and diligent efforts of dedicated individuals and organizations provide powerful inspiration for this work. Here are some timely words and teachings shared by valued grantees:

A little bit of light dispels a lot of darkness.
- Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (shared by Sarah Lefton, BimBam)

The formula is simple. Raise children with an understanding of how to treat each other and give them opportunities to practice throughout their lives. Teach them to welcome guests into their homes. Teach them to be brave. Teach them to say that they are sorry when they cause harm. Teach them to respect the earth and not squander its resources. Teach them to pursue peace. Teach them to make the world a better place.
- The Team at BimBam

 

Franz Rosenzweig in a 1920 essay translated as "Towards a Renaissance of Jewish Learning" (shared by Dr. Yehuda Kurtzer, Shalom Hartman Institute):

Readiness is the one thing we can offer to the Jewish individual within us, the individual we aim at. Only the first gentle push of the will – and “will” is almost too strong a word – that first quite gentle push we give ourselves when in the confusion of the world we once quietly say, “we Jews,” and by that expression commit ourselves for the first time to the eternal pledge that, according to an old saying, makes every Jew responsible for every other Jew.

…There is one recipe alone that can make a person Jewish and hence – because [she/he] is a Jew and destined to a Jewish life – a full human being: that recipe is to have no recipe, as I have just tried to show in, I feel, rather inadequate words. Our [sages] had a beautiful word for it that says everything: confidence.

Confidence is the word for a state of readiness that does not ask for recipes, and does not mouth perpetually, “What shall I do then,” and “How can I do that?” confidence is not afraid of the day after tomorrow. It lives in the present, it crosses recklessly the threshold leading from today into tomorrow…

Rosenzweig insists we do not mine the tradition conveniently to respond to particular political problems. We engage our tradition perpetually because it shapes us as political actors and as Jewish human beings - who then, in turn, are able to perform our responses to particular problems with a different kind of confidence.
- Dr. Yehuda Kurtzer

 

With these words as inspiration, we will continue our work with grantee partners to provide outstanding, meaningful Jewish experiences. In moments like these, philanthropy is in a unique position to deploy resources and influence to create change. And while these social issues are far too large and complicated for any one funder or organization to deeply impact alone, we learn from Rabbi Tarfon in Pirkei Avot that even knowing that we cannot complete the work, we are not free to desist from it. Each of us has an obligation to do our part, bringing our unique knowledge, expertise, and support to bear.

To all others who are feeling similarly stirred to action, we urge you to recognize the opportunity to act in the ways you know best, using your resources as you see fit. Let’s not let the immensity of these challenges paralyze us.

May we all go from strength to greater strength,

The Jim Joseph Foundation

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The Jim Joseph Foundation invests in promising Jewish education grant initiatives. We partner with effective organizations that seek to inspire young people to discover the joy of living vibrant Jewish lives.