'Box Of Chocolates'
Is Metaphor For Life
Waging a 'War'
On Public Schools
RABBI WILLIAM G. GERSHON SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH NEWS
CINDY HUGHEY SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH NEWS
The most popular and perform the correct regimen I think this year you should be
movie of last year of mitzvot, somehow you will be asking forgiveness from me."
was Forrest Gump. protected from harm, that God Then he paused. And in a softer
Forrest is severely will spare you this year, you are voice he said, "But since you are
limited in his cog- bound to be disappointed.
God and I am only Levi Yitzchak
nitive and intellec-
Tragedy strikes the observant — Yitkadal v'yitkadash sheme
tual capacities; but and the non-observant, Jew and rabbah —
his life, guided by gentile, rich and poor alike. If God tified be the magnified
name of God ..." and
the wisdom of his were to answer affirmatively he began the service.
mother, is pro- every fervent and sincere prayer,
As unsatisfactory as this re-
then no one would ever die.
might appear to some, it
For all of the comedic value, the
Do we really believe that God is a profoundly Jewish answer.
life of Forrest Gump and the wis- will reward us if we are good, and
can get angry; you can feel
dom taught to him by his moth- if we are bad we will be punished? You
pain and resentment; you can
er are strikingly religious and If that were true, then everyone shake your fist against the sky
deeply Jewish in outlook. Forrest would be good; and no one would
Gump speaks to the heart and ever suffer. But we know that's and yell at God. But in the end,
there is a vast gulf between being
soul of every person because it ad- not how the world works.
God and being a human being.
dresses the most fundamental
Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan used Forrest Gump is right. "God is
question8 of being human. What to say to his students: wro expect mysterious."
is my destiny? What is my pur- the world to treat you fairly be-
Ultimately, we are not privy to
pose in this world? Why do good cause you're an honest person is why the good suffer and the
people suffer? How can my life like expecting a bull not to charge wicked prosper. Yet, we know
you because you are a vegetari- there must be more to the mean-
The answers to the questions an." You have no control over ing of life.
are contained in Forrest's adages what you are going to receive. The
The writing in the Book of Life
and sayings, which have become world is random, in a sense, and is a metaphor for life itself. But
known as "Gumpisms." These no amount of bargaining with we do the writing in the book.
sayings, while ranging from the God can change that.
"Each of us has signed it with our
absurd to the sublime, all
deeds," declares the
retain the elements of a
Un'tane Tokef. We seal our
practical wisdom about
for the coming year.
Of course, we can't de-
In the coming weeks
cide everything. Natural
we will gather for the
disasters and illness are
High Holy Days and re-
not within our control. But
cite the words of the most
what we do with the life
moving and poignant
are given, how we re-
prayer in the liturgy, the
spond to adversity and joy,
Un'tane Tokef: "On Rosh
that is where we put our
Hashanah it is written
seal on it.
and on Yom Kippur it is
"Life is like a box of
sealed. ..." This prayer
chocolates." Each of us re-
sums up, in just a few
ceived our box; sometimes
verses, the angst of hu-
its contents are sweet and
man existence. We are re-
sometime bitter; often-
minded of our own
times they are bittersweet.
But the true measure of
As we count another
life is judged by how you
year, we are mindful that
some of our loved ones are no
However logical the answer is,
During the High Holy Days,
longer with us. We ask ourselves it is not enough; it fails to salve we seek to find meaning in our
if, indeed, we will be celebrating the wounds of those who suffer. lives, to feel that having lived our
Rosh Hashanah next year. And
Upon reflection of his shrimp lives will have mattered. A per-
we wonder what the new year of boat being tossed by the seas, For- son's good name depends not
5756 will bring to us.
rest Gump declares, "God is mys- upon length of days but upon
There is an aspect of life and terious." Forrest's statement is quality of deeds. And this is the
death that is not entirely within reminiscent of that famous story ultimate message of
our power. There are things told of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Gump and Un'tane Tokef. Forrest
which are beyond our control, de- Berdichev, one of the great Cha- end, no matter what our destiny
spite the desire within our hearts sidic masters.
or how difficult or challenging our
to fashion our own destiny. There
One year, before the Kol Nidre lives, it is goodness that matters
is really very little that we can service — when the service must in life. Forrest Gump may not be
predict absolutely. "Life is like a begin before the sun sets — Rab- a very smart man, but he knows
box of chocolates; you never know bi Yitzchak was standing silent- what love is and what goodness
what you're going to get."
ly as the evening approached. His demands.
I've come to realize that often students and disciples became
There is vast difference be-
people hear the message of the nervous and uncomfortable. tween being intellectually slow
Un'tane Tokef, but fail to under- "Why doesn't the Rebbe start?"
and being wrong; between being
stand it. They wrongly assume
At the last moment, Rabbi smart and being good. Having
that one observes the mitzvot so Yitzchak began to pray, "Ribbon knowledge does not automatical-
that God will be predisposed to Shel Olam, Master of the Uni- ly qualify you as a good person.
verse, each year I come before you But it is goodness that God re-
If you believe that if you pray to ask forgiveness. But you know, quires most from us; and it is
hard enough and long enough in this past year, I've caused no goodness that will, ultimately, en-
earthquakes, no floods, no rich our lives and redeem us. Life
William Gershon is associate
plagues. I've made no women may be like a box of chocolates,
rabbi at Congregation Shaarey
widows and no children orphans. but goodness is one thing in life
God, you've done that, not me. So we can control.
The Michigan of the school code. Heeding his
Jewish Confer- call to arms, the Board of Edu-
ence represents a cation has gone on the offensive.
statewide net- Accompanied by a continuous
work of 14 Jew- propaganda barrage attacking
ish communities. public education, the Board has
Located in Lans- indicated that it opposes the im-
ing, part of our plementation of a core curricu-
mission is to lum. The Board has also
monitor current indicated its desire to broadly
issues taking place in the State expand the charter-school con-
Capitol that affect our mem- cept. The covert agenda allud-
ed to by opponents of Proposal
Recent developments in the A is becoming increasingly overt
Legislature and before the State — replacing the public-school
Board of Education raise seri- system with an education
ous concerns, both secular and voucher plan.
religious, for members of the
The threat posed to religious
Michigan Jewish community. and other minorities by a vouch-
Legislative initiatives that have er plan is very real. Stereotypes
been introduced which erode to the contrary notwithstand-
the traditional notion of sepa- ing, Jews live throughout our
ration of church and state, com- state and the majority of our
bined with the recent proposal children attend public schools.
before the Board of Education Imagine being the only Jew (or
to include the teaching of cre- other religious minority) in a
ationism in public schools, are predominately Fundamentalist
Christian community in which
As a religious minority, Jews parents receive vouchers they
have for centuries suffered can use at any school, public or
heavily under regimes with es- private. Because the majority
tablished religions. In America, of parents in this community
where government is prohibit- opt to send their children to the
ed from establishing or endors- local Christian academy/char-
ing a religion, we have been able ter school, there is either no
to build a strong and vibrant public school or the public school
Jewish community. It is this which exists is underfunded
wall of separation that has per-
mitted religious minorities to
flourish. The Jewish communi-
ty views the separation of
church and state as being vital
to Jewish survival and will zeal-
ously oppose any efforts to un-
Equally alarming to the Jew- and substandard. Parents in the
ish community is the war being religious minority are faced
waged against the public-school with a Hobson's choice — either
system in Michigan. The Pro- remain true to their religious
posal A package, in addition to beliefs and send their children
restructuring the funding of to the substandard public
public schools, acknowledged school, or compromise their re-
the need to improve the perfor- ligious beliefs and send their
mance of our public schools. An children to the Christian char-
integral part of the Proposal A ter school in order to afford their
package was the development children the education they
and implementation of a need to compete in an increas-
mandatory core curriculum de- ingly competitive world.
signed to ensure a minimum
While the Michigan Jewish
level of basic instruction Conference represents pre-
throughout the state. The Pro- dominately small communities,
posal A package also included the dangers posed to religious
a charter-school provision that and other minorities by an ed-
was ostensibly designed to al- ucation voucher system are not
low educational experimenta- limited to small towns and rur-
tion on a limited basis. Critics al areas. In large metropolitan
of Proposal A warned that char- voucher areas, education funds
ter schools were merely a vehi- will flow to various schools
cle to allow the dismantling of formed to accommodate differ-
the public-school system. ent religious, ethnic, gender and
Events of the past year suggest racial groups. Given the limit-
the critics are correct.
ed nature of funding, battles will
In January, Gov. Engler an- inevitably arise. These tiny bat-
nounced that Michigan's pub- tles over funding will break
lic-education system was along the same lines which
broken and called for the repeal identify the schools themselves.
Before long, parents will be
Cindy Hughey is director of the
Michigan Jewish Conference. WAGING page 8
The threat posed by
a voucher plan is