Both last week’s Torah portion and this week’s are particularly instructive for American Jews. For the first time in Jewish history, the Jewish people are leaving the land of Israel for a Diaspora, as Yaakov and his family are moving from the land of Israel to Egypt to be near Yosef. They did this so they could survive the terrible famine ravaging the region.
To create a thriving new community for his family in Egypt, in a foreign land and foreign culture, the very first thing Yaakov does is send his son Yehuda, the leader of the Tribes, to create a Jewish school. Yaakov viewed Jewish education as the foundation of a new community, especially when they would be immersed in a non-Jewish atmosphere.
There are very important reasons for this. The first reason is that giving your children a strong Jewish education is key to giving them a strong Jewish identity. Yaakov realized they would need to see themselves first and foremost as Jews to perpetuate the Jewish people. Jewish perpetuity is a direct consequence of a strong Jewish education. Secondly, he understood it was critical for the next generation to see Judaism in a sophisticated and meaningful light, not simply as a hodgepodge of rituals and ceremonies from the “old-world.” By providing the next generation with a robust Jewish education, they would understand the meaning behind Judaism, its incredible sophistication and depth, and would be inspired to live their lives by its precepts and traditions.
This is very instructive for the American-Jewish community. As we consider the structure of community and funding priorities, we should learn from Yaakov what is most critical in ensuring a vibrant Jewish community. And more importantly, for ourselves, when we think of where to send our children, we must realize there is no greater gift we can give them as Jews than a high-level, sophisticated and inspiring Jewish education. Jewish day school is the foundation of the Jewish community because it is the bridge to its future.
Rabbi Avi Goldstein is the rabbi of Beth Jacob Congregation in Columbus.