In this issue
April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review April 21, 2005 / 12 Nissan, 5765

A Nation of ‘Fourth Sons’

By Jonathan Tobin

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How do you educate Jews who don't even know how to ask a question?

http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | I've spent a lot of time around my house lately playing seder.

With the aid of some very neat toys, my daughter Moriah, and my wife and I have been practicing for the big night when we will sit and tell the story of the Exodus.

This involves a lot of singing of "Dayenu," playing with the toys that represent the 10 plagues, hiding and finding the afikoman, rehearsing the recitation of the preface to the four questions in Hebrew and English, a lot of mock pouring of grape juice and the recitation of blessings, some of which are already familiar to her from Friday nights.

For my soon-to-be 4-year-old, it's an entertaining game that dovetails nicely with the barrage of Passover books we've been reading to her. But for us, the fun and games have a serious purpose: We're trying to turn a little girl into a Jew who not only takes her heritage and faith seriously, but who will ultimately draw the right conclusions from all of this, and make Jewish values and identity the keystones to decisions she'll make about her life.

Living in a secular world where we are a tiny minority swimming in a sea of non-Jewish popular culture, it takes a nonstop conscious effort to ensure that Moriah knows who she is and what that means.

The demographic facts of life in this country tell us that not only are Jews a shrinking, aging population, but one whose children are often not receiving the sort of instruction that would enable them to make informed Jewish choices.

In Philadelphia, the news is worse than in most places. A smaller percentage of children here attend Jewish day schools — the best possible educational venue for combining intensive Jewish knowledge with a superior secular education — than the national average. More than 80 percent of our kids are instead getting their Jewish education at part-time congregational schools. And of these, the overwhelming majority are not continuing their Jewish education after their Bar or Bat Mitzvah.

That means that just at the moment their identities are being formed, their exposure to Jewish learning ends. This is a recipe for disaster.

And that's what we've reaped as American baby-boomers have come to maturity as perhaps the most accomplished generation in Jewish history in terms of secular knowledge, while simultaneously achieving the distinction of being the most Jewishly illiterate. We've earned that title with growing rates of disaffiliation and dropping rates of concern for Israel, Jewish observance and donating to Jewish philanthropies.

American Jews have become a collection of fourth sons, the character in the Passover narrative who is not even able to ask a question about the holiday. Many of us are as clueless as the slaves of Egypt about what it means to be a Jew. It took Moses — the greatest of teachers and prophets — to teach those slaves the meaning of freedom.

But we must teach ourselves again to choose to be Jews.

One answer is clearly to try and make the synagogue Hebrew schools better since the reason why so many young Jews are uninterested in learning more is that their initial experience was so unsatisfactory.

To that end, programs are being put in place to try and raise the standards for teaching in these schools and to give them more resources and better programs.

If we accept, as unfortunately we must, that many Jewish parents will not send their child to a day school no matter what the cost, then we must do something to transform afternoon Hebrew schools from being a symbol of Jewish communal failure into beacons of excellence.

But is that a panacea for all that ails American Jewry?

Clearly not. Day schools remain our best investment in Jewish continuity, and making them more affordable for the middle-class must also receive priority funding and attention.

Jewish camps and trips to Israel are other vital tools in this battle that are also battling for scarce funds. But unfortunately, the process of changing communal policy to give education the greatest share of our resources is far from over.

Yet even the best of schools or camps cannot make up for a lack of interest in the home and on the part of parents, many of whom are themselves Jewishly ignorant. If children are merely dropped off at these schools with no follow-up by their families, then the quality of the school will, in the long run, won't matter much.

As it so happens, a few nights ago, at bedtime during my reading of a Passover book, my daughter interrupted me to say that she now wanted to do something. Inspired by the story, she said she wanted to go to Israel to see the Burning Bush and meet Moses. But that wasn't all! We also needed to go with Moses to see Pharaoh and take him to see the bush, and that maybe then he wouldn't be so mean to the Jewish slaves.

While her grasp of the timeline of Jewish history will improve in the years to come, I don't think she'll do better in getting at the essence of Jewish values, even if I fear she is a trifle optimistic about unhardening the hearts of the wicked.

Let's hope the rest of her generation will do as well in the future.

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JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. Let him know what you think by clicking here.

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