Ensuring a Jewish future through education

Pardes Jewish Day School FACEBOOK PHOTO
Pardes Jewish Day School FACEBOOK PHOTO

Some 18 months after the end of the war in Europe in May 1945, the full extent of the ghoulish slaughter of European Jewry was already known. The full extent of the shock, however, had not yet been absorbed. Nor has it been, truly, even today.

In finding their place in the postwar world that blew clear from the cinder and ash of the battlefields – and, it must be said, from the crematoria – Jews around the world had little time then for memorials and monuments. The needs of the hour were too pressing.

Foremost among them was rallying in defence of the Yishuv, the Jews in Mandatory Palestine striving to bring forth a sovereign Jewish state in the face of murderous hostility from surrounding Arab nations.

But other urgent causes wrought by the war also stirred the hearts of Jews around the world. A.M. Klein, the brilliant Montreal-based writer, poet, scholar and advocate for the Jewish People wrote of one such cause in an editorial in the Canadian Jewish Chronicle on Jan. 17, 1947.

“With the destruction of [European] Jewry a great, an important, a vital link in the chain [of our cultural tradition] was broken,” he lamented. “The paramount question of Jewish culture today is: shall North American Jewry, free, vigorous and conscious of its responsibilities both to the past and the future, step in and fill up the breach? Shall North American Jewry now play the role which both position and duty impose upon it?”

READ: How to leave a lasting legacy for Jewish education

But having posed these fundamental questions, Klein dismissed them as merely rhetorical. He could not imagine that the Jews whom the Nazis did not reach – some two-thirds of the 17 to 18 million who comprised world Jewry in 1939 – “could possibly contemplate the spiritual suicide that must follow from indifference” to the preservation of Jewish life, or as Klein called it, Jewish cultural tradition.

For Klein the answer was obvious.

He had no doubt Jews worldwide would immediately tend to the survival of a Jewish future even as they would tend to the healing of the survivors and the protection and defence of a sovereign Jewish home. The way to achieve the survival of a Jewish future was equally obvious to Klein. He tells us in typically elegant prose.

“Whether we are a People of the Book is not merely a matter of destiny but of will, and that will is best manifested, both in our own personal respect for the treasures of our heritage and in the support which we give to our cultural institutions. Such a key institution is the Talmud Torah [Jewish education]… It is here that [the students and the graduates] first catch hold of those strands which must forever knit them to their past and here that they forge those minds and those wills of which their people today so grievously stand in need.”

The situation and issues that confront  the Jewish People in January 2016 are not those that confronted us in January 1947. But nor are they so different, either.

The State of Israel, now in its 68th year, though imperfect, thrives in so many respects that were unimaginable in 1947. But not even for one day since its birth has its existence been accepted by the Arab world. Moreover, as the historian Joshua Muravchik recently noted, “hatred of Israel is the most deadly thing facing the Jewish People since Hitler.”

And what would Klein say of the way in which we have tended to the survival of the Jewish future? The cultural institution that for him was the chief guarantor of that survival – Jewish education, in all its manifest forms – has become shamefully beyond the financial reach throughout North America for most of the grandchildren of his 1947 readers.

Klein would feel sad, concerned, angry and then, like many individuals across the grassroots of Diaspora Jewry today, determined to solve the crisis of the unaffordability of Jewish education.