Beyond Identity: Day Schools Deliver Jewish Literacy

August 27, 2013

Source: eJewish Philanthropy


In this opinion piece, Dr. Marc Kramer of RAVSAK, takes issue with those who assume that the main argument in favor of day school – the main reason why parents should send their children there – is its impact on Jewish identity. He argues that the real argument is that Jewish day schools uniquely make possible authentic Jewish literacy.


He writes:

"Camp, great. Youth group, great. Israel trips, great. But none of these experiences give our children the skills, tools, role models, information, exposure and positive dispositions to personally engage with Jewish sacred texts – ancient to modern – in ways that leave a lasting imprint on their hearts and souls.


Too many American Jews have little more than a passing acquaintance with the treasures of Jewish tradition. They can neither read nor write, let alone speak, their national language. They do not understand the laws of Judaism and have little sense of the aura of obligation and sanctity that the mitzvot engender. They fundamentally understand their own calendar, holidays, history and culture through the lens of another society – secular American norms that are strongly colored by Christianity – so much so that are more likely to pass cultural litmus tests of Anglo-Protestantism than those of Anglo-Judaism…


Jewish literacy, on the other hand, is a real gas guzzler. It takes a great deal of fuel to power Jewish literacy, especially when Jewish literacy and Hebrew literacy are intertwined (as I believe it must be). The engines of Jewish literacy – engines that drive Jewish citizenship, peoplehood, spiritual meaning, ethical living and intellectualism – cannot simply sip from Sunday school and summer camp; they need full tanks and ample refills at the pumping stations we call day schools. Here I think of an atomic power plant: it takes a great deal of expertise, time and energy to make fusion possible, but the result is an ever more powerful, energizing source that can light 100,000 homes. It isn’t cheap, it isn’t easy, it comes with risks, it comes with controversies, yet the results are unparalleled."


Read the entire article at eJewish Philanthropy.

Updated: Aug. 28, 2013