14 December 2017
As CEO of The Jewish Federation, I have the unique opportunity to connect with many of the talented and committed people who lead and sustain Jewish Greater Washington through their work on behalf of our local agencies and congregations. Last week, I was honored to address the annual gathering of more than 700 educators from more than 52 Jewish early childhood centers in the Greater Washington area during Federation’s Jewish Early Childhood Education (ECE) Conference. I was inspired by their obvious passion for their work, and by the theme of this year’s conference: achrayut, responsibility. What does it mean to be responsible in today’s world? How do we raise responsible children? We all want to raise our children to become responsible adults but what does that mean for us as a Jewish community?
With last week’s conference in mind, we are inspired by the Jewish values that inform our communal commitment to Jewish education. We believe that every child is created in the divine image, worthy of dignity and whose education refines their role as partners in the continuing act of creation. Each of us, no matter our stage in life, is an active participant in the creation of this world in which we live, and it is our responsibility to lay the foundation for what our society will become.
On December 8, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks spoke in the British House of Lords on Education. His theme was, “The world our children will inherit tomorrow is born in the schools we build today.” His timely speech emphasized the reasoning for our selection of achrayut/responsibility at this year’s ECE conference, and why our community invests in Jewish education.
Rabbi Sacks noted that,
“…to defend a country, you need an army. But to defend a civilization you need schools. You need education as the conversation between the generations. We need to give our children an internalized moral Satellite Navigation System so that they can find their way across the undiscovered country called the future. We need to give them the strongest possible sense of collective responsibility for the common good, because we don’t know who will be the winners and losers in the lottery of the global economy and we need to ensure its blessings are shared. There is too much “I” and too little “We” in our culture and we need to teach our children to care for others, especially those not like us. We work for all these things in our Jewish schools. We give our children confidence in who they are, so that they can handle change without fear and keep learning through a lifetime.”
In Greater Washington, our children have the benefit of a community that cares deeply for their well-being, their education and in offering them the groundwork to become people who can navigate whatever the future may bring. While parents bear the ultimate responsibility, no one can do it alone. We are blessed in Greater Washington to be able to partner with educators who shape Jewish identities, enhance Jewish knowledge, inspire Jewish passion and build a sense of self in our youngest community members. The professionals and volunteers – the teachers, directors, heads of school, youth advisors, camp counselors and many others – who guide and inspire our children and teens, are committed to their craft: the critical work of nurturing and educating the next generation.
It is up to us, as a Jewish community, to support the work of these incredible people, to support the educational institutions where they work, and to ensure that these educators and institutions can continue to grow and thrive. We have great teachers, great day schools, great Hebrew schools, great youth groups, great camps and great early childhood centers among many other places for learning and growth. Across all of these, we can help them become even better.
I invite you to consider how you can make an impact on a child, be they your own or the other children in our community. We have a shared responsibility to enable our children to take crucial steps in their development as valuable, and valued, members of society. You might send your child to a Jewish school or camp, or look for ways that a teenager in your life can become involved in programming that offers them relevance and meaning. Whether or not you are a parent, you can become a model of life-long learning by taking classes; by volunteering with a school or youth group; or by taking a group of students to a museum or to a social action activity.
And, as we near the end of the year, I hope you will also invest in our shared future by making a gift to The Jewish Federation before December 31. Together, we can continue to build the schools and the infrastructure we need to bolster the engaged, passionate and responsible leaders of tomorrow.