It’s been a long, hot summer, full of strife and hostility. We’ve torn each other down, run each other over, and shouted at each other. Even the rain’s been angry.
Right in the middle of it all, with blood still boiling in Charlottesville and rain still falling in Houston, India, Bangladesh, and Nepal, our kids returned to Sunday School.
As she dropped her son off, a mother confided in me how upset she was by all the news. Then she added: “… and that’s why I bring my kids to Temple Emanuel.”
How right she is. Our children are inheritors of a world that’s going off the rails. They need a foundation in ethics, community, and intellect. That’s what religious school provides.
Religious School is a substantial commitment. There’s lots of schlepping. But I’ve found that everything worthwhile, everything of real value requires commitment. While all around us, mainstream culture shouts “Faster! Louder! Easier!” in real life, the things that matter take time. There are no shortcuts to making a meaningful life.
Religious School matters because our kids need to know who they are – not to listen to anyone else’s narratives about them, but to hold their own identity with pride. If they don’t know who they are, someone else will tell them. We want our kids to be part of the network of people we call community – friends and peers, teachers and rabbis, adults who support them. We want them to know that they are cared for, and to care about others. Life is better when it’s lived in community, and we want that for all our kids.
We want them to know our history, and where they fit into it. We want them to know our stories, and that our stories belong to them just as they belong to our stories. Stories are containers of deep wisdom. A person without a story is a hollow person indeed.
We want our kids to be critical thinkers – to ask good questions, to analyze, to make up their own minds. As one twelve year old told me recently: “At Temple Emanuel, you don’t teach me WHAT to think. You teach me HOW to think.” Goodness, do we need more people who know how to think!
What’s more, we want them to be mensches. For that, they need to know what’s expected of them, the right ways to treat others AND themselves. Telling our kids to behave is not enough. They need to marinade in our Progressive Jewish values. We need to live them alongside each other.
These values include:
- Klal Yisrael: that they will feel an affinity with other Jewish people.
- Btzelem Elohim: that they will know that all people are created in God’s image, and possess inherent dignity.
- Tzedek: that they will pursue justice.
- Shomer Adamah: that they will protect the natural world.
- Emet: that they will seek truth, and do so with intellectual rigor.
- Chesed: that they will treat others and themselves with lovingkindness.
- Ruchaniyut: that they will have access to their own inner lives – prayer, spirituality, imagination.
- Tikvah and Tikkun Olam: that they will hope for, and then get to work building, a better world.
- Shalom: that they will create peace.
We are involved in a massive project for the good of our people, humanity, and planet earth. And that project begins with each child, precious, unique, and beloved.