July 16, 2021
While in a meeting this week I was asked a surprisingly direct question, “What is the greatest threat facing the Jewish community today?”
Candidly, the question caught me by surprise. Not that my colleagues and I haven’t struggled with this dilemma on a national or even international platform; and not that the Jewish Federation board hasn’t struggled with this concern with a local San Antonio focus. Rather, our sudden conversational transition from light banter to “greatest threat” caught me off guard.
And worse, as I was about to answer with the obvious and most seemingly evident response, “antisemitism”, my tongue froze, my heart skipped a beat, I took a deep breath, and replied with, “Our lowest levels of Jewish IQ in recorded history.”
Now, before you begin your reply email with the subject line, “You have lost your mind!” please hear me out.
Yes, antisemitism is at a new all-time high. It has increased in some areas across the globe by 400%. Antisemitism on social media has been described as “out of control”. But, antisemitism has existed for millennia, and if we think we will somehow get to a point of eliminating the Jewish blood libel, or any of the other elements of antisemitic discourse then I fear we are not being as honest with ourselves as we should. Part of our struggle today is not that antisemitism is occurring, but rather, we have been lulled into a sense of genuine acceptance into common society and are now realizing that this might not be true. Many in our community believe we are an assimilated people and are wondering why, as fully integrated members of the general community, we are being singled out because of our customs, traditions, and theology.
All of this is true, very dangerous, and a “great threat.” We cannot control the actions of others, but we can control how we respond to others’ actions. And how we respond is based on what we know and what we understand.
This weekend we will be observing the holiday of Tisha B’Av (the “ninth day of the month of Av”), a day of communal mourning recognizing the many disasters that have befallen the Jewish people throughout history. It is traditional to read the Book of Eicha (“Lamentations”), which literally “laments the pain of a nation and evokes the theological nuances that accompany the attempt to grapple with catastrophe.”
If we are to make sure that this era in history does not become another disaster to be remembered generations from now, then we need to concentrate on educating our children to be better [Jewishly] prepared for the world today. Calculations of hours studied show the Jewish education received by the far majority of our Jewish youth, through the bar/bat mitzvah preparation of the religious school experience, is equivalent to a second-grade education. Can you imagine trying to be a successfully functioning and productive adult with a second-grade education? Even with a Jewish day school experience, like our local Torah Academy of San Antonio (TASA), where most students only attend through 8th grade, and which are considered as “highly intensive” experiences, end before we experience the internal struggle of our Jewish identity, beliefs, and true relationship with Israel.
So yes, antisemitism, and even Anti-Zionism, are dangerous and very significant threats to our Jewish community. But, not adequately educating ourselves and our youth in our Jewish faith, traditions, customs, history, theology, and ideology is unequivocally “the greatest threat” to our Jewish community today. This is where Jewish Federation plays a significant role in allocating the funds raised through our community’s annual campaign to help fund the opportunities to Jewishly educate our community!
As always, I welcome your thoughts and feedback, and appreciate your shared ideas, perspectives, and contributions to our San Antonio Jewish community, because, without you, our Jewish Federation could not be…
HERE for you.
HERE for our community.
HERE for our Future.