Teach your children
by Jonathan Rosenblum
March 27, 1998
Like most parents, I spend much of my time worrying about my children's education. Ever the university-trained immigrant, I still worry about whether I am providing them with the skills to earn a living.
But more than I worry about their secular education, I worry about their Torah education. I wonder whether their home and schools are adequately exposing them to the full richness of Jewish thought, so that they will be able to deal with the deepest questions of faith with more than formulaic answers.
But most of all, I worry about whether they are imbued with a deep sense of Klal Yisrael and love of their fellow Jew. Or are they prone to smug self-satisfaction? Are my wife and I and their teachers too aware of the failures of the secular world - violence, drug use, promiscuity, the anomie of youth - and insufficiently concerned with our own failures to live up to the Torah's demanding ideals?
It would be easy, and wrong, for religious parents to convince themselves that they are sufficiently instilling their children with a sense of Klal Yisrael. Every index of identification with other Jews - concern for Israel, giving to Jewish causes, voting according to Jewish self-interest (however defined) - grows markedly with increased religiosity.
The reason is obvious: The closer one feels to Sinai, where all Jews stood together, and the more one experiences being Jewish as the greatest privilege, the greater one's concern with every other Jew.
Religious Jews can point to the plethora of institutions they have created for the entire population - Laniado Hospital, Yad Sarah, Ezer M'Tzion, Ezra L'Marpeh - as evidence of our concern with fellow Jews. The energy and commitment of volunteers for Lev L'Achim and Arahim surely testify to their deep sense of the preciousness of every Jewish soul, whatever one's view of efforts to return Jews to their faith.
Religious children are raised on a steady diet of biographies of Torah leaders who lived exclusively for the Klal, with virtually no concern with self. That of the late Klausenberger rebbe is typical.
At Auschwitz, the rebbe watched his wife and 11 children taken to the gas chambers. Yet on the day of liberation, he wasted not a moment on his own private agony. ('I rejoice that when Jews suffered suffered so much, I suffered together with them,' he said.) Immediately after liberation, the rebbe went from survivor to survivor with food and medicine. He told boys and girls who had lost their parents that he would be their father and mother, and so he was.
The rebbe nearly died from typhus contracted while directing the burial of hundreds of Jewish bodies strewn about the camp. One day, after he had recovered, he was informed of a group of Jewish girls who had set up a red- light district for American soldiers.
He did not turn his back on them, for he knew how well the Nazis had succeeded in robbing their victims of any trace of human dignity. Instead he went to speak to them, reminding them of the tears their mothers had shed as they lit the Shabbat candles that they should grow to be good Jews. Most of those girls returned with the rebbe to the educational institutions he had established in the DP camps.
Nearly two decades later, in fulfillment of a promise he made to God in the camps, the rebbe founded a hospital in Netanya devoted to showing the world a true Jewish attitude towards health care. (Every doctor, for example, must sign a contractual commitment not to strike.)
The lessons of such biographies, however, are increasingly difficult for our children to absorb. In large part, that is attributable to our failures as parents to educate them sufficiently in the love of Israel.
But it is also a function of objective social conditions. Never before have Jews had so little sense of themselves as members of one community. The most religiously observant are unlikely to have social contact with non-religious Jews. And, according to the Guttman Report, the most secularized are even less likely to know personally any religious Jews.
Increasingly, it takes a great soul - something always in too short supply - to see the Jewish spark shining forth from those whose outward appearance gives no clue as to their Jewish identity and whose attitude toward their own religion is often one of contempt.
As for the collective suicide of American Jewry, one is tempted to turn from the scene as one would turn from the sight of a car about to crash into a wall at high speed.
Above all, it is difficult to teach love for those who call your very physical existence into question. Once only a Yigael Tumarkin would dare to say in public, 'When I see a haredi mother surrounded by her large brood of children, I understand Hitler."
Today similar sentiments are commonplace. We hear constantly how the chareidi community, with its countless children, is growing too fast. The implicit message to haredi children is: We wish you were never born. The only reason that Meretz has not proposed cutting off child allowances for large families is that such a move
would have an adverse effect on the Arab population, whose rapid growth is vital to its political agenda.
Only haredi citizens have their very lives subject to a cost-benefit analysis. Newspapers do not tote up the costs of drug rehabilitation or of immigrant absorption or of prisons for this ethnic group or that - only funding for haredim.
Our children don't need to be deconstructionists to discern the media venom. If any haredi commits a crime, that fact is automatically newsworthy.
Even the shortest news item is packed with buzzwords: 'unemployed" (aren't they all?), 'former yeshiva students."
Perhaps it is a backhanded compliment that crimes committed by anyone who ever learned in a yeshiva are so rare as to be newsworthy. But when will the media start mentioning the level of religious observance of wife- killers or inform us whether 22 percent of teenage haredi boys also carry weapons to school and whether more than half have been terrorized by their fellow students?
Teaching our children - all our children - the love of their fellow Jews is hard enough. Let's not make it harder for one another.
Related Topics: Chareidim and Their Critics
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