Elchanan Poupko

Jewish Education Is the Only Assurance for Jewish Continuity

I remember coming to our school’s model Passover Seder. What happened after that, is not clear to me — it was all kind of a blur. I remember standing there when children started signing the Ma Nishtana, and my eyes started to get wet with tears. The kids then sang Ve’hi She’amda and my eyes began pouring with tears.

Ve’hi She’amda — translated as:” And this (Hashem’s blessings and the Torah) is what kept our fathers and what keeps us surviving. For, not only one arose and tried to destroy us, rather in every generation they try to destroy us, and Hashem saves us from their hands.”

I didn’t know why I was crying, but I was.

I then realized I was crying because the children were not just singing this song’s words, but they were also testifying to its truth. There is no greater testimony to God watching over the Jewish people, like the children of a new generation, studying the Haggadah anew and singing the songs as if 3,330 years didn’t go by.

Mark Twain, wrote long before the Holocaust took place:

“The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?”

Nothing has inspired this immortality—while also testifying to this immortality—as much as Jewish education. When my grandfather, Rabbi Bernard Poupko, met with PM Golda Meir, she told him: “Next to the security and the support of the State of Israel, I consider the All-Day Jewish- School as the most vital concern of American Jews. Only this type of education can and will guarantee Jewish survival and Jewish continuity — without it our hopes are uncertain.”

And so, hearing Jewish children singing the Ma Nishtana with enthusiasm and joy on their faces, I knew that — despite everything — there is hope. I knew with certainty that, as If 3,330 years have not gone by — Am Yisrael Chai — the Jewish people live on.

I was then reminded of another Passover Sader — the last Sader in the Warsaw Ghetto. It was the last days of the Warsaw Ghetto, and a child named Moshe sang the words of the Ma Nishtana — why is this night different than all the other nights. He then turned to his father and asked another question.

“Tell me dear father”, he asked,” will I be here to ask the Ma Nishtana next year?”

“will there be any Jewish child in the world next year who can ask the Ma Nishtana?”

His father, knowing the dire situation and the gloomy prospects that they are facing answered him: “my dear son Moshe, I don’t know if you will be here to ask the Ma Nishtana next year, nor do I know if I will be here to answer it. But one thing I can tell you for sure my son, next year — and the year after, and every year after — somewhere, there will always be a child named Moshe who will be asking the Ma Nishtana.”

And so as I think of Jewish students, in the heart of Manhattan, singing the Ma Nishtana I am reassured that the religion which has changed three quarters of the world, and has given humanity some of its most basic precepts, will continue to live through those little fearless angels–the children who will stand in the face of any empire, tyrant, or culture, and will proudly proclaim:” why is this night, different than any other night? Because we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt and God took us out of there… “ and continues to save us to this day.

About the Author
Rabbi Elchanan Poupko is a New England based eleventh-generation rabbi, teacher, and author. He has written Sacred Days on the Jewish Holidays, Poupko on the Parsha, and hundreds of articles published in five languages. He is the president of EITAN--The American Israeli Jewish Network.
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