Jewish Literacy – Unfortunately, it’s Not Enough

January 30, 2017

11. eJewish Philanthropy -
12. We have a problem to overcome: Teacher training and professional development programs that nurture the inner lives of educators are not practical or feasible given the present landscape of Jewish education. The ground needs to be prepared before the seeds can be planted. The first step is to focus on the agents of change: principals, heads of Judaic departments, donors, and foundations – the leadership. We need a paradigm-shift at the top.

Our students will not be more spiritually alive than their teachers, and our teachers will not be more spiritually alive than their bosses. If our ultimate goal is to foster the inner lives of our students, then we must foster the inner lives of our educators. To do this – to develop awe and vibrant spiritual lives in our teachers – we first need to foster the inner lives of the Jewish educational leadership and begin the process of real change in a school’s culture.

To affect our educational leadership, we need to invest in professional development retreats and seminars for the principals, heads of Judaic departments, and the leaders of the relevant foundations and supporters. We need “buy-in” from the top. The ripple effect of our leaders of the Jewish educational landscape cultivating personal relationships with God will reach and motivate our teachers and students.

Living a Jewish life is not about literacy. It is not just about clicking with content. For many of us in the West, our comfort zones are thinking, studying, and relating. So we retreat to our comfort zones when engaging with Judaism. It is not enough.

We, the Jewish People, brought the idea of monotheism and a personal relationship with God to the world. Yet now, it is the one subject we do not feel comfortable talking about. It’s too personal, too scary, too irrational, and it makes us feel too vulnerable. I appreciate this dilemma. I can converse intelligibly on a number of issues, but when I begin to talk about my personal relationship with God, I often feel like a clumsy, stammering third grader, incoherent and full of contradictions. I don’t have answers for difficult theological questions. My mentor once said to me, “You are only as deep as your deepest contradiction.” Bringing up this subject can be embarrassing and even humiliating.

But we cannot let our fears and insecurities impede us from exploring this most important relationship. The good news is that it only takes 5% of our resources to build our relationship. All we need is the courage to invest in the preserving agent.

If we do not begin to engage the issue of having a relationship with God, the danger is extremely frightening, almost too daunting to face. For too long we have defiantly ignored the wisdom of the Talmud, which clearly warns us of the futility of learning Jewish content without a sense of awe and mystery.

In conclusion, let me be explicitly clear: We want the learning! We want more literate Jewish professionals with better educational skills! But we insist on asking the crucial question:

For all the millions of dollars now dedicated to Jewish literacy and connection – where is the 5% dedicated to awe, to the inner spiritual life of our leadership and educators?

Read the entire article at eJewish Philanthropy.

Updated: Feb. 06, 2017