by Aryeh Ben David
Imagine: a diverse Jewish community whose individuals –
- feel confident, passionate and whole in their unique qualities
- believe in their God-given roles to create a better world
- work in harmony with others to reach a larger goal
Imagine this community of individuals collaborating like a symphony – each playing a different instrument in harmony with others.
How do we build this Jewish orchestra?
It cannot happen until we change our vision for the Jewish community. Until we cease being content with the small dream of ‘Jewish continuity’ and start dreaming large.
Today, Jewish educators are in panic mode, panicked over assimilation, the growing absence of continuity and the temptations that society offers to our kids. That panic breeds a shortness of breath and a shortness of vision. At best, our visibility is a year or two beyond our kids’ adolescence. Our dreams have shrunk to a shortsighted “if only she’ll marry Jewish, if only he’ll keep (some) mitzvot, if only they’ll raise their kids Jewish.”
This stunted vision is perceived by our kids. We’ve become expert at transmitting our panic and fear about micro issues at the expense of large ones. We’re so apprehensive about what they’ll see on the Internet, how they dress or what they eat that we deny them the larger “why” of Judaism: the great message that they are bequeathed with a unique soul to fulfill a distinct and necessary role in this world. That there is meaning and purpose to their lives. Our kids sense the smallness of our vision and it turns them off. They think, “That’s all that Judaism has to offer?”
So why don’t we put aside the panic, fears, and nightmares for a moment and run with our imaginations. What kind of Jewish adults would we ideally like our children to become?
I’ll take the plunge and go first.
This is my dream for my children: that they live their own authentic Jewish paths with passion and dedication to improve this world, both physically and spiritually. And that they do so differently than their parents because every generation is faced with different opportunities, hopes and challenges.
I contend that this should be the goal of religious education: helping our children to find and clarify the unique voice of their souls.
This is not a narcissistic indulgence. We did not create our uniqueness – God did. We did not create the singular mandate our soul was given to better this world – God did. God gave us particular qualities and a unique life-mission in this world.
It is heresy not to listen to the voice of the soul that God gave us. It is heresy not to clarify our God- given unique purpose in this world.
And while we – parents, teachers, rabbis, professionals – try to educate our children with the wisdom of our tradition and experience, there is only one voice which can truly help them achieve this goal of fulfilling their God-given uniqueness and purpose in this world. There is only one voice which truly knows them – and it is the voice of their own soul.
I recently visited several elite high schools in the US. Devoted teachers and talented students. I asked the students: “Where in high school do you have an opportunity to personally explore your own unique spiritual path? When do you have the opportunity to listen to your own voice?” The vast majority of them answered clearly and emphatically: “Nowhere. Zero opportunity. We always have to listen. No one is listening to us. No one gives us the opportunity to listen to ourselves. It’s as if they are afraid of it.”
For four of the most formative – and turbulent – years of their lives, high school kids have no opportunity to tune into their own voice and begin exploring the purpose of their souls. No opportunity to begin mapping out their own authentic personal Jewish journey.
And we wonder why so many kids are disconnected from their Jewish identities! And we are dismayed about a lack of passion. Passion comes naturally when we hear our calling and live according to the wisdom of our inner voice.
We can ask the same questions of ourselves, as adults and as educators: When do we stop to listen to our own inner voice? While we boldly imagine this passionate exploration for our children, do we remain behind as mere links in the chain of Jewish continuity? Do we realize that ‘going through the motions’ moves us nowhere?
We must dare to dream a larger Jewish dream, for our children and for ourselves. And we must awaken from this dream with the conviction that developing the uniqueness of each soul is a Godly imperative. As well as with the passion and resolve to blend each of them into the magnificent orchestra that is the Jewish people.
That’ll be one beautiful piece of music.
Part One, A Jewish Educational Manifesto, can be found here.
Aryeh Ben David is the Founder and Director of Ayeka: Center for Soulful Education. Ayeka developed a unique educational approach and curriculum to enable adults to personalize Jewish wisdom and enhance their lives.