This week Rabbi Schochet tackles giving to Jewish charities, learning Hebrew and the challenge of connecting to spirituality.
- Charity starts & stops at home
Many Jews give generously to charity, but I’m troubled so much of this charitable giving is inward looking. Jewish charities nearly always support other Jews.
So we have the paradox that individual Jews can be extremely charitable, but as a community we’re not very supportive to the outside world. Non-Jews generally may, with some justification, feel they do not benefit from our generosity and that the Jewish community is, quite frankly, mean.
If you had a brother who was in dire need and a stranger down the road who was in equal need, who would you be looking to support? Does this suggest that you are being mean toward the guy down the road? Certainly not!
In all likelihood, he will have a brother or relative who will make the same judgment call regarding him against your brother. That’s how life operates and rightfully so. Your fellow Jews are your brothers and sisters and hence the principle of “the poor of your own take precedence”. Then again, there are many Jews who give generously to worldwide causes and there are well-established Jewish organisations like Tzedek or World Jewish Relief that do the same.
I am reminded of the story of the Jewish Care fundraiser who called a certain gentleman telling him that according to his tax returns he earned several million pounds that year but made no charitable contributions.
The man replied: “But did you know I have a brother who is struggling to keep a roof over his head and might be on the street in a month?”
“No sir…I’m sorry. I wasn’t aware…”
“And did you also know that my mother is quite ill and desperately needs to get into a care home?”
“No sir…I’m sorry…I…”
“And you probably don’t know about my recently-widowed cousin with her five kids either!”
“Sir, had I known any of that I would not have bothered you. I am sorry”
“Darn right you are!” barked the man. “If I’m not helping any of them, why on earth do I want to help you?!”
- Hebrew classes need a boost
I attended a British Orthodox Jewish school where no comprehensive systematic method was used to teach written and verbal Biblical and modern Hebrew. The school did not offer the immersion in Hebrew needed to attain fluency, such as teaching secular and religious classes in modern Hebrew which is done in some primary schools. If I’d been taught Hebrew properly as a child, at an age when it comes most naturally, I would have had a fuller religious experience.
This fundamental shortcoming in parts of Jewish education creates language barriers which, ultimately, increase the movement towards less Orthodox denominations of Judaism, secularisation and assimilation. What should the community be doing to resolve this, to ensure it gives the best possible childhood Jewish educational experience to the next generation? I’m also interested to hear if my experience is shared by other readers.
I’m not sure the extent to which learning modern Hebrew impacts on religious experience and why your lack of it should have adversely affected your life. I agree basic reading ability is sorely lacking, which makes people reluctant to attend synagogue. I assumed the trend had changed, but only recently a prominent barmitzvah teacher told me most kids he instructs have lamentable reading ability – and that’s from Jewish schools.
In my primary school in Toronto, we translated much of the Jewish studies (e.g. Chumash and Mishna) into Yiddish. I am forever grateful as I can speak the language pretty fluently till today. Hebrew is invariably picked up during Biblical studies. Secular studies were all in English of course.
But the pressure and intensity of studies today is such that adding language into the mix will make it exceptionally more difficult. So I disagree on the need to translate into modern Hebrew but agree that a general emphasis of Hebrew reading is key.
- I feel alienated for being me
A while ago I wanted to attend a lecture to connect with my spiritualism. I was told as most people attending were educated to a higher level I might not fully comprehend, so I did not sign up. This has only added to the alienation I feel for the Jewishness I wish to embrace. So where do I go?
And you gave up that easily? You should have insisted you would be the judge and see if the class was for you or not. Letting others put us down gets to us only if we give in to it. Rising up against it, or ignoring it, is surely the better way to go.
Be that as it may, I’m going to assume you have no interest in going back there now, but I admire your willingness to explore other options. You could always try my Wednesday-night class at my synagogue, open to all regardless of knowledge level or religious background. Or contact a synagogue near you to see what it has going on or could recommend. Whatever you do, don’t give up the chase.