Looking Ahead: The Essential Role of Jewish Education

Looking Ahead: The Essential Role of Jewish Education

This is part of a series of messages about the way we are thinking about our work in 2020 and beyond.

A couple months ago, I read a paper that was one of the inspirations for this Federation 5 “Looking Ahead” series. The paper, by Dr. Benjamin M. Jacobs and Dr. Barry Chazan, is called the “18×18 Framework: 18 Jewish Things a Young Jew Should Know, Care About, and Be Able to Do by Age 18.” While the 18 traits identified should not be treated as a master list, I was intrigued by the premise: as a community, we must help the rising generation of American Jewry develop the knowledge, values, and sensibilities they need to feel part of our 3,500-year-old tradition.

In other words, one of our core responsibilities must be to ensure that upon entering adulthood, every young Jew feels equipped to “articulate the ways in which they belong to the Jewish civilization and community, while recognizing that these points of connection will likely evolve, grow, and mature over time.” Young Jews should feel empowered to take ownership of and responsibility for their ongoing Jewish journeys. In a world in which it feels that there is increasing ambiguity about right and wrong and people struggle to find a sense of purpose, being deeply connected to a faith community that believes in the simple, yet radical, idea that we are all created in God’s image is an important way to stay grounded.

And if this is the goal, Jewish learning and engagement is the means.

Per the 18×18 Framework, there is no silver bullet for a well-rounded Jewish education. Instead, we must ensure that young Jews have a variety of tools to choose from when cultivating key Jewish touchpoints. For example, experiences like Jewish summer camp, Jewish day schools, Israel trips, and Jewish youth groups are proven to help young people connect with their peers, participate in substantive Jewish learning, and find new ways of expressing their spirituality.

But while each individual approach has immense value and often lasting impact, no one school or summer camp is perfect for every person. We approach questions in different ways and are open to community and connection at different points in our lives. As parents, we also want to provide distinct experiences to our children based on our own values and ideas.

As such, our future is a true partnership between family and community. As a Federation, we seek to ensure that there are varied and excellent options for each person and each family to choose from—options that all contribute to the goal of empowering each person to own their Jewish journey.

Helping the next generation of Jews foster strong Jewish identities, even as they live in an open society, is one of the most important and most exciting callings of our time. Though the majority of young Jews today may be less literate when it comes to Jewish practice and tradition than previous generations, they are also increasingly searching for meaning and connection. At Federation, we are committed to helping bridge this gap and ensure every Jew has the opportunity to deepen their Jewish knowledge and grow—as Jews and as human beings—in the process.

Shabbat Shalom,