Giving Our Children a Chance

runyan_josh_otEvery now and then, events and timing conspire to offer opportunities for reflection. Looking back at what transpired on the world stage the past week and a half, it’s hard not to wonder: How, when, why did things get so bad?

The collapse of the so-called “peace talks” between the Israelis and the Palestinians was at once so predictable and so tragic. Last-minute breakdowns between negotiators in Jerusalem, Washington, D.C., and Ramallah have become so commonplace, in fact, that the failure of this latest last-ditch effort was taken as a foregone conclusion by most people outside of the protective bubble known as international diplomacy.

That it happened amid the backdrop of a resurgent Russia bearing down on a weak Eastern Europe — evoking memories of the Cold War in the process — only added to the perception that for all the talk of peace, ours is a world enmeshed in conflict.

Some would say that part of the problem is a failure of assumptions. Russia will always be Russia, whether led by a czar, a Communist or a former KGB officer turned reformer turned strongman, and to assume otherwise is to ignore the lessons of history. By the same token, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict goes back centuries, if not millennia, not decades. It’s a conflict as old as the region, pitting the fervent desires of a biblical people against a world that from time immemorial has held it in suspicion.

And the world continues to turn.

But while such a view is realistic, it isn’t very hopeful. Change is actually possible, but to achieve it requires going deeper.

Several people this week have commented that too few people, whether here locally or on a broader global scale, appreciate the responsibility thrust upon them by the presence of children. If the world’s problems are really going to be solved, it will be the up-and-coming generation — and the generations after that one — who will solve them. Shall those younger than us continue in our footsteps? Or shall we allow them to eventually lead the way?

One way we can do that is by recognizing education for what it is — an opportunity to inculcate values, not, as typified by the type of indoctrination being alleged at UNRWA-funded schools in Gaza, an imperative to create unthinking automatons. But education needn’t only be criticized abroad, as there is still plenty of work here to do at home.

That’s why it’s so refreshing to hear of community/school partnerships like the one that resulted in a refurbished library at Bnos Yisroel of Baltimore or of the examples being set by the Jewish leaders shaving their heads to raise awareness about childhood cancer. Children need to see, hear about and experience the selfless acts of those older and “wiser.” And then they need to be given the opportunity to ask questions and formulate their own views.

After all, as demonstrated by the Four Children of the Passover Seder, isn’t that what the Festival of Freedom is all about?

A kosher un freilichen Pesach!

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