Can Education Save Us?by Rabbi Jacob Rupp July 27, 2017
Torah says that the Jewish nation has a sacred mission to be the “Light Amongst the Nations,” teaching (by example) the moral code by which humanity should be inspired. When we don’t do this, we encounter anti-Semitism which separates us and causes us to reexamine our cause, the reason we are here, and what message we need to be sending.
Now I understand how crazy this sounds. Yes, the anti-Semites are still morally responsible for the suffering this causes. But crazy is our middle name. We’re less than 16 million people, at the crosshairs of every major world empire (Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, Byzantine, Catholic Europe, modern European states, radical Islam…), exiled, separated from each other, speaking different languages, and not possessing a strong military (which only actively protects those of us living in Israel, and there one could argue Jews face greater threat than anywhere else) – yet we keep surviving, and not only surviving, thriving!
Consider for a moment that Jews and Jewish people are literally founders or at the helm of the most powerful companies and industries in the world (Google, Facebook, Snapchat, Oracle, Qualcomm). Defense, tech. We run the major media conglomerates and houses of finance. I mean, it’s almost a bad joke, until you see that its all true. And despite the horrors of the Holocaust, intifadas, and all the suffering of the past (100, 1000) years, we are blossoming!
Ok, so why the fear of us not surviving? Is it unfounded? Well, no. If you look at the majority of Jews, we are becoming increasingly detached from our heritage. Having worked in Jewish education and outreach for more than a decade now I can tell you that the old things that Jews used to care about, they don’t anymore. Israel isn’t the rallying point for American Jews it used to be. No one feels that bad about the Holocaust anymore. Synagogue attendance is way down, and fewer people are joining. Whereas Jewish guilt may have kept Jews Jewish in the past…well, they just don’t feel so guilty anymore.
The “culturally Jewish” are taking over. There is a massive switch to lay leadership throughout the community. And along the way, the connection to Judaism is becoming more spotty. Can you hear me now?
The challenge to Jewish survival today has gone underground. It’s not some big force like Nazism or Communism. I’d argue it’s not even the indifference and distraction that plagues us. Today, we face Jews who are comfortably numb, not aware of what they are missing. To combat this, we need special operators. Educators. People trained in how to make Judaism relatable, interesting, and important.
It won’t come from political platforms, guilt, or service projects. We can get all of those without the Judaism. What we need is the Judaism. The relevance. What does it mean that the Torah has mapped out how to live the most fulfilling life we can live? That man was built in the image of G-d, and as such is capable of reaching the greatest heights of human potential? How does one even accomplish that? What does it mean that our marriages are supposed to me micro versions of the tabernacle, the place where G-d’s presence could be most tangibly felt? How does that make sense in a world where one spouse is binge-watching Netflix while the other posts about her day on Facebook?
At the end of the day, we are survivors. I am very optimistic about the Jewish future. Because we don’t need huge numbers, only smarter numbers. We need ordinances that can be strategically targeted. Messages that are true and that matter. In the crowded world of mass media, we need something real that can change us and cut deep. And when we hear truth, when we hear something profound and life changing, we remember who we are. We are the children of Abraham, who when he heard G-d, dropped his life, and took his family and went out in search of the promised land and his destiny. That’s in our DNA and who we are. We just need to develop ourselves to be the messengers of that kernel of truth that will inspire our people.