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August 24, 2013

Jewish children deserve a Jewish education

The Daily Star

---- — My mother wouldn’t let me sit inside and watch TV when the sun was shining and the sky was blue. “But Ma,” I’d protest, but to no avail. The TV went off, and out I went. But even as a child, I knew in my heart that my mother was right about this.

My mother packed my school lunch with whole grain bread and fresh fruit, even though many of my friends brought squishy white bread and frosted Twinkies. Somehow, I thought I wanted my lunch to look like theirs. But my mother didn’t agree. And one day, when my friend threw out his Twinkie and asked if he could have a bite of my apple, I knew in my heart that my mother was right again.

And on Sunday mornings, when many of my friends slept in, my mother woke me up to send me off to Hebrew school. This was not an easy thing to do. “Let me sleep,” I’d cry. “I’m tired. Leave me alone!” But my mother felt otherwise. “A Jewish child deserves a Jewish education,” she said. “It’s your birthright.” And … well, it was many years before I was ready to say so, but once again, my mother was right.

Your Jewish child deserves to know the role his history and culture play in Western civilization. He’ll be excited to discover his ancestral connection to the ancient faith that gave rise to ethical monotheism, the most powerful concept that has ever been. He’ll want to understand the source of the Ten Commandments, of Christianity, of fundamental precepts of ethics and equality that underlie our daily lives and everything we do. He’ll need a Jewish education to be able to do this.

Your Jewish child deserves to understand the customs and traditions of her people. No, food isn’t made kosher because it’s blessed by a rabbi. A day of spiritual rest is more than just a day off from work. These things aren’t arbitrary. They’re not haphazard. They are based on scrupulous reasoning and meticulous logic. Your Jewish child will grow up to find that her friends and colleagues are fascinated by these things. They’ll want her to explain them. She’ll need a Jewish education to be able to do this.

Jewish education isn’t indoctrination. It isn’t dogmatic or simplistic. Jewish tradition encourages the challenging question and praises the inquisitive mind. It’s basic, as in “God bless you.” It’s loving, as in “God be with you.” It’s inclusive, as in “We hold these truths to be self evident …” A Jewish education will help your child connect these parts to the place where they all began.

And finally, there’s anti-Semitism. By far, people are good and decent, and anti-Semitism isn’t a part of mainstream American thought. But it’s out there. It would take me about two seconds on the Internet to bring up anti-Semitic websites so vile you’d want to toss your cookies. Sooner or later, your Jewish child is going to encounter this. When it happens, he’ll need to be ready. He’ll need knowledge to answer the lies. She’ll need confidence to stand tall in the face of ignorance and bigotry. A Jewish education will be especially valuable.

If you have a Jewish child, and if you’ve read this far, then I will be so bold as to say that in your heart, you know I’m right. Your Jewish children deserve a Jewish education. It’s their birthright. Don’t let them down.

Robert Garfield is a physician and serves on the board of directors of Temple Beth El in Oneonta. For more information, email to