“I’m sorry,” Patti wrote to me when she had to cancel a Christmas greetings phone call with the President of a leading American company, where she works as his executive assistant. To sweeten the pill of cancellation and to reinforce her straightforward apology, she added, “I asked my 8 year old grandson how to say ‘please forgive me’ in Hebrew and he wrote out for me the Hebrew words, ‘אנא מחל לי’ (ana mekhal li).”
I smiled to myself while reading the original letter of apology, with the beautiful biblical Hebrew used by a devoted Christian lady from the American Midwest. When we spoke on the phone the following week, I asked Patti about the elegant Hebrew language used by her grandson.This was her answer:
“My daughter is a single mother of two sons. The pressures of daily life prevents her from going to church on Sundays with our grandsons. It was important to us that our grandchildren receive a faith-based education that will give them a foundation of our values. Our daughter couldn’t find a suitable Christian school close to where she lives, so we suggested sending the boys to a Jewish school and told her we would help her pay the school fees.
My grandsons went to that school for several years.They learned Jewish customs, tradition, and history, and also the Hebrew language. At first they needed private lessons to keep up, but bit by bit they closed the gap and integrated well with their Jewish friends. We thought — and we still think — that it’s more important for children to learn about faith and about God, and less important precisely how their school refers to God. We thought it was critical for them to understand that there is cause and effect, law and judge, supervision and direction. Although we’re believing Christians, we found the very values we were seeking for our grandsons, at that Jewish school. And that’s where my grandson’s Hebrew comes from.” Patti concluded, “We’re very proud of him and his Hebrew.”
The story of Patti and her family is not so unusual. As we approach the end of the second decade of the 21st century, we do not need a magnifying glass in order to notice the dramatic influence of technology on people in general and on the youth in particular, no matter what their faith tradition. The glorification of “Likes” and the worshiping of celebrities, the frenzy and restlessness resulting from constant connectivity, the dramatic changes in family structures and acceptable models of marriage, are just a few of the historic changes we are witnessing.
It was not so many years ago that the approach of the “end of religion” was widely considered and accepted. Yet at the start of the third millennium of the Common Era, this supposed “end of religion” appears, on the contrary, to be receding, and the search for God has found fertile ground among a growing number of people.
There is no doubt that there have been many points of light resulting from technological and cultural innovations. Very many. We must acknowledge their positive effects and not ignore them. But at the same time, it is not hard to understand those who fear or even oppose some of those same changes. When the world is changing rapidly and dramatically, human beings seek an anchor of spirituality and values to cling to.
I believe that in parallel with the continuing technological advances and their influence on the development of human beings, we will also witness a resurgence of movements that strive for stable, traditional, comforting anchors. Anchors of faith, of looking inward, of “we” and not just “I.” Anchors to the sublime and to the divine.
Sagi Melamed is Vice President of External Relations and Development at the Max Stern Yezreel Valley College, President of the Harvard Club of Israel and author of “Fundraising”. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This essay first appeared in The Canadian Jewish News.