Now is the time for empowerment

runyan_josh_otPassover in a new home and a new city had gone smoothly enough, the joy of celebrating freedom alongside thousands of fellow Jews in such a densely populated space drowning out all of the last-minute stresses that had led into the holiday. By the end of the eight-day festival, the picture outside was one of serene bliss; the flowers were in bloom, the sun was shining and the kids were enjoying jacketless walks between house and shul.

But then the giant white postcard emerged ominously from the mailbox. Even without removing it, you could tell what it was: a missionary screed that, playing on Jewish themes and addressed only to “Resident,” was clearly meant to a targeted audience — Baltimore’s close-knit Jewish community.

The fact that in today’s day and age, the battle continues for the soul of the Jew is nothing new, even as those who stand behind such efforts try to claim the mantle of Jewish identity. (And to be sure, there are bona fide Jews, according to halachah, among the ranks of the “Messianic Jews.”) What makes this latest salvo from a group calling itself Israel Restoration Ministries so disturbing is that those behind it, as you’ll read about in this week’s JT, see nothing wrong with attempting to claim another group’s truths as their own, and in the basest of advertising strategies: If you want to reach Jews, an interview with one of the ministry’s officials admitted, target the ZIP codes with the most Cohens and Rosenbergs.

Thankfully, this campaign is so blatantly devious that few will be swayed by the postcard’s message. But that might not be true in all households or in all cities. Ruth Guggenheim of Jews for Judaism is right to be concerned and is correct in her advice that we all use this incident as an opportunity to educate our children and each other.

A mind, so goes the dictum, is a terrible thing to waste. A lack of education in general directly correlates to a poor economic future, and a lack of Judaic education in particular leaves a child in the precarious position of potentially not being able to resist the sometimes persuasive arguments of the non-Jewish world.

In most cases, communities such as ours get this fundamental truth, that education is the greatest guarantor of future success. That’s why, on the Judaic side of the equation, we have vibrant yeshivas, strong community day schools and growing religious schools. And on the secular side, we have schools such as Pikesville High, which at the close of its 50th year, is making investments in the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and math and is working to make sure that its building becomes a more-conducive place for exceptional learning.

But what about the exceptionally brilliant students who, by virtue of family background or location, aren’t privileged to enjoy the benefits of Jewish study? And what about the diligent bochurim whose brilliance in the realm of Talmudic analysis is without question but are regarded by society as having to choose between extremes?

In the end, every child will become an adult. And to provide for their own children, today’s youth will one day be forced to make their own decisions. Now is the time to empower them with the best tools at our disposal to ensure that they are not only able to lead families, but that they are able to do so as Jews.

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