Today’s musing is going to be somewhat tangential to our parsha, Ekev. I am going to take a piece of text from it, perhaps out of context, and muse upon what thoughts it triggers in me. I guess, in the parlance of of biblical hermeneutics, you might call it "reader response."
The context is an assurance to the people.
11:10 For the land that you are about to enter and possess is not like the land of Egypt from which you have come. There the grain you sowed had to be watered by your own labors, like a vegetable garden.
11:11 but the land you are about to cross into and possess, a land of hills and valleys, soaks up its water from the rains of heaven.
11:12 It is a land on which the L"rd your G"d always keep His (sic) eye, from year’s beginning to year’s end.
So here I go, taking part of a pasuk out of context. It is this:
For the land that you are about to enter and possess is not like the land of Egypt from which you have come.
OK. A fair statement in its time. Now for a modern context.
We Jews stand on a threshold. A rather uncomfortable one for some, a rather exciting one for others. I tend to be in the "excited" camp.
Of late I have been engaged in some interesting discussions and debate about the future of Jewish Education. I have come to the sad conclusion that the future of Jewish Education is not to be found in our extant institutions, especially synagogue supplemental schools. Though I am reminded time and again that most Jewish children receive their Jewish education in such a setting, I am no longer certain that this setting is the one in which we should invest our time and efforts. To paraphrase the holy text:
For the world and culture that you are about to enter and possess is not like the world and culture from which you are coming.
I understand inertia. I understand the instinct for self-preservation. Yet these are no longer good enough reasons (for me) to work for the continuance of the system of Jewish Education as we know it today-and in particular, the synagogue supplemental school.
In fact, as pointed out by my dear friend Peter Eckstein, why do we even use the term supplemental, when in fact, in many if not most cases, we aren’t actually supplementing anything-there’s little support at home for what we are trying to teach. It’s more like proxy education.
Enough diversion. I’ve been taken to task by some younger folks involved in Jewish Education, ones who still believe that the synagogue supplemental school is the model to keep pursuing. I’ve been told that us older folks should stop telling them younger ones what is needed. Oddly, I’m the older one here who pushing a more online, Internet, social-media, non-synagogue style of Jewish Education. I was told "we spend enough time on our computers."
Now that’s an interesting point, and I’ll grant it has merit. However, that’s not a message I get consistently from younger Jews. Many of them yearn to do what Judaism intends to do – be part and parcel of one’s life at all times. Since they spend a lot of their time online, seems to me we need to be there-to meet them where they are.
Another argument is that virtual community isn’t community. There’s some truth in that, but not entirely. I belong to some incredible electronically-connected communities, and have seen some very powerful things happen within them. Nevertheless, I agree that there are times when face-to-face is necessary. I am not as convinced as others that this is most of the time. Prayer, learning, etc. can be done in other modes beside face-to-face and still be effective, meaningful and efficacious. Check out http://ourjewishcommunity.org
I suspect that a lot of people are afraid of what a world without synagogue supplemental schools (and synagogues themselves) would be like. The place we are going is a place beyond walls, beyond edifices, beyond the Jewish communal structure as we know it. We have survived some many culture shifts in our long history. Each time that happened, there were those who bravely forged ahead, and others who feared for the loss of what is and was. To them I would say, as in our parasha, that now is a time to have faith that what is needed will be found in the place we are going.
©2009 by Adrian A. Durlester