Through my work and personal life, I have been privileged to form close relationships with rabbis throughout the world. As a Jewish educator, I turn to them for pedagogical advice and information on trends in Jewish education. As a friend, I turn to them for spiritual guidance and Jewish lifecycle events.
Over the last few weeks I have read and viewed more High Holiday sermons from my rabbinical friends and colleagues – at least a dozen– related to a single theme than I ever imagined. I know that the topic of anti-Semitism has raised levels of concern to extreme heights, but I was taken aback by the singular focus offered from so many pulpits this High Holiday season.
A few years ago, I heard Rabbi Ed Feinstein, of Valley Beth Shalom synagogue in California speak. He said, “For the first time in history, a rabbi is being asked to deliver a single sermon to four generations at the same time.” As a scholar and researcher of Jewish youth and teenagers, that message has resonated with me for a long time. I wonder how Jewish teens — compared to their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents — heard the sermons this year with stories of swastika daubings, attacks against Jews in Brooklyn, and synagogue shootings.
I am also very concerned about Jewish educators who work with rabbis. What are they to do in these challenging times? They are pressured to make Jewish learning engaging, meaningful, and dare I say fun. Are they to ignore this hatred? Of course not. But what messages should they be teaching and exploring with their students in Jewish schools, summer camps, and youth groups. If you haven’t already done so, I urge you to read a recent article I wrote on this topic.
Believe me, if I knew the answers I would mobilize and kickstart my team at The Jewish Education Project into action. We would produce curriculum, run workshops, offer webinars and the like – all of which we will get to.
But in the meantime, we only have questions – and lots of them – and I am sure you do as well.
The Jewish Futures Conference on December 4th has been designed with this in mind. Having rabbis — the people that have some of the most face time with Jews struggling with these questions of rising anti-Semitism — will certainly help to elevate the pedagogical concerns that these challenging times raise for all of us.
I can’t promise that we will give you solutions. In fact, I can almost assure you that Bari Weiss of the New York Times, Yair Rosenberg of Tablet, author Ariel Burger, and the other talented clergy, educators, and intellectuals that are speaking will leave you with more questions than answers. But they will raise questions that need to be asked, and the ones that we all need to confront together – our young people are depending on us for guidance.
We, at the Jewish Education Project only exist when we can bring higher quality and more meaningful Jewish learning opportunities to educators and by extension rabbis and their congregations. We are in this together – and perhaps that is our best initial response to the challenges that we face together.
Wishing everyone a happy, healthy, and sweet new year.
David Bryfman is CEO of The Jewish Education Project, conveners of the upcoming Jewish Futures Conference on December 4th in NYC titled, ‘Pride & Prejudice: Jewish Education’s Battle Amid Growing Anti-Semitism.’