Commitment to Jewish Literacy

August 25, 2023

A few weeks ago, I highlighted the responsibility we each have to the community and the “consequences” (Eikev) for not living up to those expectations. In contrast to those independent obligations, in this week’s Torah portion, Ki Teizei, we instead are introduced to a responsibility the community has to the individual.

In this week’s parshah, we read of a parent’s duty in raising their “wayward child” (Deuteronomy 21:18-19). The language is seemingly about a “rebellious child” and how a parent is to discipline them and, if all else fails to bring them to the community elders for resolution. Worse yet, if the child remains defiant in front of the community leaders, then this disobedient child is to be put to death!

Thankfully, the Talmud tells us that there is no known case of this consequence ever having been delivered. But what if this story is not about disobedience but rather ignorance? What if we read this story as one about the Jewishly wayward child and their “death” is not literal but spiritual?

When it comes to the education of our youth, there are abundant examples of Jewish parents seeking the best academic institutions for their children. Whether it’s a college-prep preschool, tutoring programs and professionals offering extra support, access to the latest and greatest sources of information, or any of the multi-billion-dollar industry resources invented to provide children with an extra opportunity to succeed academically, there is no shortage of examples of Jewish parents’ commitment to their children’s general education.

But what of Jewish education? While we take great pride in our preschoolers becoming early readers, or our school-age children testing a grade or more ahead of their developmental age, or double and triple majoring in college, where are the equivalent examples of pride in our children’s Jewish literacy?

I am sad to say, and please know that I am fully aware that there are exceptions, that we are deep into an era where most Jewish parents do not possess the ability to independently raise Jewishly literate children. Consequently, it is now the community’s responsibility to step in and provide what the parents are unable to accomplish. Because of this, the Jewish Federation of San Antonio (JFSA) invests our community resources in Jewish education that…

  • Nurtures the Soul: JFSA understands that education is not solely about imparting knowledge but also about nurturing the Jewish neshamah (soul). This involves fostering a deep connection to Jewish traditions, history, and values, which serves as a guiding light for individuals as they navigate life’s journey. (Organizations funded: Block and Dreeben School for Young Children; YAD)
  • Delivers Holistic Education: Just as the verse discusses bringing a rebellious child to the elders at the gate of the town, JFSA’s investment in education covers a wide spectrum. From early childhood education programs that lay the foundation for a strong Jewish identity to programs for adolescents, young adults, and older adults, the Jewish Federation’s approach is holistic and comprehensive. (PJ Library; Shinshinim; Older Adult Programming)
  • Instills Community Involvement: The Torah implies a communal response to challenges in upbringing. Similarly, JFSA recognizes that nurturing Jewish education is a collective endeavor. By pooling resources through the Annual Campaign, the community can ensure that no member is left behind in their educational journey. (Hillel San Antonio; Birthright Israel; JCRC)
  • Inspires Guidance and Discipline: JFSA’s investment in education provides the resources to offer structured learning environments that help individuals understand their heritage, ethics, and role in the community. This guidance contributes to the formation of a strong and positive Jewish identity. (Starr Family Jewish Day School; J-LEV)
  • Ensures Continuity of Tradition: Just as the Torah verse addresses the transmission of values across generations, JFSA’s commitment to education aims to ensure the continuity of Jewish tradition and culture. This continuity is vital for maintaining a vibrant and engaged Jewish community. (Jewish Summer Camps; Jewish Youth Groups; Holocaust Education)

Thankfully in San Antonio, Jewish education is a foundational principle of the Jewish Federation’s allocations process of our community’s Annual Campaign. Although we passionately (as seen above through the many formal and informal education programs funded) believe that investing in Jewish education is key to providing meaningful Jewish experiences and a lifelong commitment to the Jewish community, there is still much more that needs to be done. This is going to take a collective effort, commitment, and generational promise across Jewish San Antonio to accomplish, and we will only achieve it by being…


Shabbat Shalom,