Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Are Better Jewish Educators the Answer?

Here’s an interesting article from JTA (May 24) – the three movements’ schools will receive huge grants to improve and increase their programs for Jewish educators. That’s all very fine and welcome, but who goes into a job that has no openings and low pay? The second wave of this effort should be to provide funding for the institutions that would potentially hire these educators. A good head of school – synagogue or day school variety – is terrific, but the person that really matters to the child is the teacher standing in that classroom. So long as that person is not well educated, not fulltime, not sufficiently paid, we will continue to give our kids a less than adequate education.

But what about the children whose parents don’t think to put them into a Jewish educational environment?
Yesterday I had a conversation with the mother of a young woman who has married a non-Jew. Mom would like to get her grandson a Hebrew name. The child is not circumcised and the parents are ambivalent about raising him as a Jew. Clearly the grandmother is struggling to sustain Judaism in her family. But her own messaging was so ambivalent. She wanted to assure me that she didn’t expect her daughter to be Orthodox, no she had belonged to a Reform congregation for 20 years. She just wanted a few things for the baby.

I asked her, “Do you think that a person can have too much knowledge?”
“Oh, no,” she replied.
“So why are you hastening to assure your daughter that you expect little for her child? Wouldn’t he be better served by knowing MORE? Especially since his parents plan to let him decide on his religion. He is being raised with two languages, yet they don’t feel he has too much knowledge of language.”

Where will children like this one be educated? Who will be able to:

* Help the grandparents who are immigrants to this country? They are distressed by their daughter’s seeming loss of identity and are putting pressure on her at the same time they are showing a lack of security about their identity. Is it surprising that she is also ambivalent?
* Help the two generations to come to terms with their differences.
* Have a depth of understanding about the social issues the baby and his parents will encounter if they approach Jewish community.
* Support the parents and the child as they come to terms with his lack of education, lack of a circumcision.
* Get his parents to enroll him in a program.
* Work gently and appropriately in educating this child.

Notice how getting a Jewish education comes at the end of a long term effort? When will our community understand that to grow a fruit bearing tree you must do more than provide a gardener to prune it.