School Vouchers, Day Schools, and Fun Holidays Can Get Children Excited about Judaism

Oct. 27 2016

For many American Jewish children, the first taste of Judaism comes at High Holy Day services—which are long and, to most children and many adults, boring. It would be much better, argued Peter Beinart in a recent essay, to introduce children to such holidays as Sukkot and Purim, whose practices include, respectively, eating outdoors and dressing in costumes. Evelyn Gordon deems this analysis “unfeasible”:

Beinart’s proposal is impractical because only parents who are already very committed to Judaism are likely to be willing to celebrate such holidays. Those who aren’t generally know next to nothing about these holidays, not even when they occur. Moreover, observing any Jewish holiday in America often means taking a day off from work and school, which [most] parents . . . won’t be willing to do more than once or twice a year. . . .

If you could somehow eliminate these obstacles, getting Jews to observe other holidays would be much easier, as the Israeli experience shows. Though only around 20 percent of Israeli Jews self-identify as Orthodox, a whopping 85 percent attribute importance to celebrating Jewish holidays “in the traditional manner,” i.e. by doing some traditional activity associated with the holiday. . . .

But that’s precisely because, in Israel, celebrating holidays like Purim and Sukkot is easy. First, all Jewish holidays are automatically days off from work and school. Second, kindergartens and primary schools (and sometimes higher grades) all teach about and have activities relating to the holidays before they occur—for instance, kids always come to school in costume before Purim. . . .

There is, of course, a way to replicate all of these conditions, aside from the days off work: sending children to a Jewish day school. And that solution works in Europe, where many nonobservant Jews do send their kids to Jewish schools, because they like the combination of Jewish content with excellent secular studies. But in America, that, too, is unfeasible: most American parents can’t afford the sky-high day-school tuition, and therefore, there isn’t enough demand even to justify starting such a school in many non-Orthodox communities. . . .

[T]he only way to make Jewish schools widely available and affordable is through vouchers that can be used at parochial schools. Consequently, school choice is literally a matter of life and death for American Jewry. . . . Yet rather than supporting vouchers, American Jewish organizations have consistently opposed them. . . . So let’s hope the new Jewish year that began this month will finally be the one in which American Jewish leaders stop trying to make Judaism hard and instead start lobbying for the one policy that would make it easier.

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Read more at Evelyn Gordon

More about: Day schools, High Holidays, Jewish education, Peter Beinart, Purim, Religion & Holidays, Sukkot

Condemning Terrorism in Jerusalem—and Efforts to Stop It

Jan. 30 2023

On Friday night, a Palestinian opened fire at a group of Israelis standing outside a Jerusalem synagogue, killing seven and wounding several others. The day before, the IDF had been drawn into a gunfight in the West Bank city of Jenin while trying to arrest members of a terrorist cell. Of the nine Palestinians killed in the raid, only one appears to have been a noncombatant. Lahav Harkov compares the responses to the two events, beginning with the more recent:

President Joe Biden called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to denounce the attack, offer his condolences, and express his commitment to Israel’s security. Other leaders released supportive statements as well. Governments across Europe condemned the attack. Turkey’s foreign ministry did the same, as did Israel’s Abraham Accords partners the UAE and Bahrain. Even Saudi Arabia released a statement against the killing of civilians in Jerusalem.

It feels wrong to criticize those statements. . . . But the condemnations should be full-throated, not spoken out of one side of the mouth while the other is wishy-washy about what it takes to stave off terrorism. These very same leaders and ministries were tsk-tsking at Israel for doing just that only a day before the attacks in Jerusalem.

The context didn’t seem to matter to some countries that are friendly to Israel. It didn’t matter that Israel was trying to stop jihadists from attacking civilians; it didn’t matter that IDF soldiers were attacked on the way.

It’s very easy for some to be sad when Jews are murdered. Yet, at the same time, so many of them are uncomfortable with Jews asserting themselves, protecting themselves, arming themselves against the bloodthirsty horde that would hand out bonbons to celebrate their deaths. It’s a reminder of how important it is that we do just that, and how essential the state of Israel is.

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Read more at Lahav’s Newsletter

More about: Jerusalem, Palestinian terror