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Elul Reflections: 2 Elul 5779

Why I am a Jew

Among the many blessings I enjoy is tutoring b’nei mitzvah students.  I know, I know.  Some would rather do almost anything else than to spend extended time with pre-teen children.  But they engage and fascinate me. As they reach high school they are like moving targets, emotionally and physically.  They are never dull and always full of … surprises.  The weeks pass quickly as they work to refine their Hebrew skills, commit to learning the nusach of the prayers and the melodies of Torah, compose thoughtful divrei Torah and gain the confidence necessary to stand as a leader before a congregation.

It’s important, however, that their instruction not become a matter just of jumping through hoops and achieving academic milestones. There must be time too for the child to consider his or her connection to the people, faith, God and history of Israel.  Our goal for students of every age and interest must be more than acquiring skills.  We must help our students to find his or her place in the tribe and to supply food for the heart as well as the mind. 

How to do this?  For me, when at last the grunt work is done and the student is ready to “perform”, I bring together the entire family to watch and analyse a remarkable short video entitled “Why I am a Jew” created by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. You can find it here: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CAbiFbpQP8o&t=5s

Like Edmund Fleg’s better-known formulation written in 1927, but updated to reflect both the tragedy of the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel, Sacks leaves the reader/viewer with an invitation to open the “gift of Jewish life” and to take pride in our Yiddishkeit. Here is a short selection from his summary: 

“I want to say to Jews around the world: Take it, cherish it, learn to understand and to love it. Carry it and it will carry you. And may you in turn pass it on to future generations. For you are a member of an eternal people, a letter in their scroll. Let their eternity live on in you.”

The text and the clever animation is extraordinary and worth watching.  It is appropriate for a family or congregational discussion especially at this season.  As we enter our shules and take up our new Machzorim, let us address the same statement that Rabbi Sacks does:  “Why I am a Jew”.

-- Rabbi Gary Robuck, Educational Adventurist

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