Is There Greater Value In Educating The Observant?

Only a few days ago, I came back to work from almost two weeks away — away in Israel, where my husband and I led a Birthright trip.

And on that first day back at work, tanned, jet-lagged, and already nostalgic, something happened that pulled me into the epicenter of two disparate, oh-so-different worlds.

My colleagues were designing a project-based curriculum initiative in which our students would learn the holiness of time — how through time and its constructs, the Torah allows us to sanctify the world.

Deep stuff.

And at that moment, I am suddenly standing on those two, dark yellow lines that divide streets and traffic, lanes on which travelers journey in opposite directions.

On the one side, questions that fuel and form the education of observant youth.

And on the other side, this:

Ten days spent with young Jews from across our country, mostly unaffiliated, mostly only provided with the most basic, basic blocks of Jewish education.

Ten days spent talking about: What is your Jewish identity? Do you connect with the Land of Israel? Is there Judaism without Gd? How can we maintain our individuality within the collectivist nature of Jewish community? How can I be Jewish back home? Can I raise my kids as Jewish if I marry a non-Jew? And more, and more.

I stand at my school, tanned, jet-lagged, and already nostalgic, my mind, heart and soul burning with these questions — and I’m suddenly thrust into the world where the burning question is how do we teach our children the sanctity of time.

It feels luxurious. Almost decadent. Like a piece of juicy Thanksgiving turkey, laden with delicious gravy. On the one hand, noble work, educating observant youth already born into a life of belief and practice. On the other hand, I felt almost guilty. Self indulgent. Self congratulatory.

I remember sitting on a bus in Israel, moving fast along divided roads. My husband is putting Tefillin on the guys on the trip. The girls ask why this is a man’s mitzvah and not theirs.

Later, I sit in a Mikvah in Tzfat, surrounded by the girls on this trip — my kids. We learn about this ancient practice, how our internal, womanly clocks set the rhythm for a passion-filled union with our partners.

“This is why we do not put on Tefillin. We need no markers on our time. Our clocks are already built within.”

And in this way, we learn about the sanctity of time.

Which side of those yellow lines am I standing on?

Which questions move me more: Those that face the most unaffiliated? Or those that nurture the more observant?

What kind of education is more vital? More nuanced? More indicative of a thriving Jewish future?

Do we need to prioritize?

How important is it for us to walk to the other side of those yellow lines and feel the wind blow from across the divide?

I am reminded of a conversation with my daughter just before I left to Israel. She wants to know how we know G-d is everywhere. She wants to know why being a Jew means being different.

I am wrong to imagine a divided road, yellow lines forcing us to go in two different directions.

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We are all traveling together, young and old, innocent and jaded, zooming through life, asking questions and seeking truth and finding ourselves within the details. 

We all question our Jewish identity. We all question G-d. We all wonder what our purpose is in this world. We all ask: Am I really needed?

Here’s what I know: We each in our very own way all discover the sanctity of time.

And hold each other’s hands when crossing the street.