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February 19, 1993 - Image 7

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1993-02-19

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

ife May Know St. Thomas Aquinas,
But We Struggle With Maimonides

Bringing Home
The lalentines'



-' My
friend, current-
ly living in an-
other city, holds
an advanced de-
gree from Yale
in medieval and
I history, in addition to a law
degree from a prestigious
university. He can discourse
at length on arcane nuances
of 13th-century Catholic the-
ology or discuss the writings
/ - St. Thomas Aquinas. His
Jewish knowledge, however,
is that of a 13 year old, the
age when his Jewish educa-
tion came to an abrupt end
7- ' with his bar mitzvah.
\ _ Nationwide, the Jewish
- community is like my friend.
While Jews -in America are
holders of undergraduate and
graduate degrees in far
; greater proportion than the
general population, Jewish
literacy is abysmally low.
And just as the "'culture of
poverty" is handed down
from generation to genera-
tion, Jewishly illiterate
adults tend to raise Jewish-
'ly ignorant children or, at
least, children with little in-
centive to pursue their
religious education be-
yond elementary
, school.
It is difficult for
these adults to com-
municate to their chil-
;=dren the intellectual
tradition and rich tex-
ture of our teachings.
We may know St.
' Thomas Aquinas, but
we are not equally con-
versant with his con-
temporary, Moses
When a child com-
plains about the in-
convenience of
attending an afternoon
`,.or weekend religious
school, a Jewish illit-
erate adult may labor
, for explanations why
the education is of value. He
or she may say, "I know He-
school is boring, but you
'only have to attend until the
bar/bat mitzvah party." By


Laurence R. lmerman is an
attorney practicing in
k Bingham Farms, president of
the Detroit chapter of the
(American Jewish Committee,
and the adult education
chairman of Temple Kol Ami.

contrast, that same parent
would never give permission
for his or her child to drop out
of secular school at age 16.
The issues of a child's Jewish
identity and future affiliation
with Jewish institutions are
interwoven with the state of
his or her parent's Jewish
knowledge, and the empha-
sis parents place on that
I am reminded of a story
recently told me. A father
took his young son on a plane
flight, during which the stew-
ardess explained to passen-
gers the proper use of the
oxygen mask. The woman in-
structed that a parent with a
child must first utilize the
mask before giving it to the
youth. The reason is a simple
one. An adult cannot help a
child if he or she is not up to
the task. In this case, it is the
task of raising a new gener-
ation of Jews.
How can the cycle of Jew-
ish illiteracy be broken?
Some steps are already
under way. The Federation
is encouraging its lay leader-
ship to participate in pro-
grams of the Wexner

Institute and CLAL (Center
of Learning and Leadership).
Opportunities for small group
study have multiplied
throughout the community.
Groups, taught by all de-
nominations, are held in the
Federation building, law of-
fices and local businesses.
The Agency for Jewish Edu-
cation (AJE) is working to-
ward integrating what is now
a disorganized system of

course offerings and provid-
ing new opportunities for
Jewish study. And there is
growing recognition of the
linkage between adult Jew-
ish literacy and Jewish sur-
vival. But more is needed.
First, a community-based
Jewish leadership training
program offering courses on
Judaism and Jewish history
should be established. Syna-
gogues and Jewish organiza-
tions should communicate to
their volunteers that com-
pletion of the program is
highly recommended if one
seeks a higher leadership po-
Second, we must bring the
chance of Jewish learning to
time-pressured adults. A
community "lending library"
stocked with audio and video
tapes on Jewish topics should
be formed and AJE's tape li-
brary aggressively marketed.
Third, AJE or another or-
ganization should begin tape-
recording Jewish scholars
who visit this area and out-
standing teachers at local
universities and colleges.
Those tapes should be made
available to synagogues and
to individuals.
Fourth, borrowing
a page from the
American Jewish
Committee's adver-
tising campaign.
"Why Be Jewish," a
locally based cam-
paign should be ini-
tiated showing why
community influen-
tials and opinion
leaders participate in
and think adult Jew-
ish education is im-
portant. We must
make adult Jewish
education a high sta-
tus effort rather than
an activity embraced
by a few.
Although commu-
nity and institution-
, al efforts are
essential, the success or fail-
ure of any endeavor depends
upon the behavior of the in-
dividual. People will make
time for something they val-
ue. Each of us must realize
the critical role played by a
Jewishly literate population
in maintaining the health
and vigor of the Jewish peo-
ple We must again view our-
selves as "People of the
Book." ❑

,. ast Friday, my three-
year-old brought
home her bag of
"balentines," as she
calls them, from her day
care center.
There in this pink bag
were hearts and candies
from boys and girls with
names like Tom, Ali and
Keesha. I doted over some
of them because the day be-
fore, my wife and I ran out
and bought "Little Mer-

white Christian and Jew-
ish. She plays with them
daily. She attends their
birthday parties; they come
over to hers.
My friends are predomi-
nately from my world. We
pretty much know the pre-
dictability of that world,
and that leads to stability.
For instance, we all know
that late Friday afternoons,
we'll be scrambling like
crazy to get ready for the

maid" valentines, "Beauty
and the Beast" valentines
and "101 Dalmations"
valentines. We tried to
make sure that every child
on her school list was cov-
At the same sitting, my
9-year-old Bais Yaakov
daughter was sitting,
learning Talmud commen-
tary from Rashi. It had
been years since she had
delivered handfuls of valen-
tines because as a family it
isn't something that we do.
We might exchange a card
or a rose privately. But
that's the extent of it.
Now, here in our kitchen,
my little one was playing
with her hearts, too young
to know that Valentine's
Day isn't "really" a Jewish
Maybe we were missing
out on something here. The
secret isn't the valentine,
but it is the signer of the
card. Tom, Keesha, Tina
are from different worlds
than the one we live in.
Our daughter has class-
mates and friends who are
black, Indian, Oriental,

Sabbath. We all know each
other's kids and we com-
pliment and complain
about "our" schools. We
know that at our get-to-
gethers, kosher food is a
But, in our world, maybe
the predictability isn't so
world broadening. There
are people out there with
different names and skin
colors and religions who
have lives of interest and of
worth. Yet we stay too far
away from one another.
Sometimes we stay too far
away from our fellow Jews.
Is it really that we're
afraid of the unknown? Is
it really that we suspect a
bad influence? If we were
more certain about our-
selves, more learned about
our faith and more serious
about teaching our children
about themselves and what
they have as Jews, our feel-
ings of security would
make us feel less fearful
about our differences.
That was the valentine
"card" I received this year.
It came complete with a
message. ❑





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