by Lauren Levin
Spending seven years at Haberdashers’ Aske’s School for Girls, I didn’t just learn about multiculturalism and our rich British heritage. It was something I subconsciously imbibed everyday – I lived it.
With the proliferation of Jewish schools today, the landscape looks somewhat different. In fact, the quality and quantity of Jewish schools is a crowning jewel in present day Anglo-Jewry.
While this presents wonderful opportunities for strongly identifying Jews with a thorough knowledge of Jewish history, prayer, ritual and language, does it risk cultivating an insular generation? In the Bible, we are given a clear mantra.
Even at our most nationalist moment in history, we are reminded to have a global vision. Just prior to receiving the Torah, God gives the Jewish people a clear mission statement: “And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:6) As a kingdom of priests, they are charged to be global ambassadors for morality and monotheism. But in order to become such a nation, the Jewish people need to be a ‘holy nation’: they need to be immersed in the reservoirs of their heritage, cling to their faith, and maintain the high moral standards that will be imparted to them at Sinai.
In Talmudic times, the Jewish community was led by a duo. The patriarch and head of the rabbinical court worked together, with one charged with perpetuating a ‘holy nation’, the other with a ‘kingdom of priests’. This is reflected by their distinct profiles.
The head of the rabbinical court would be selected based on brilliance in learning alone. On many occasions, this leader was unworldly and extremely poor.
By contrast, the patriarch, while also being a Torah scholar, was the diplomat par excellence. Both roles were indispensable.
Today, we are faced with a dichotomy: How much emphasis should we give to developing our own nationhood, and how much to our global vision?
We are privileged we have Jewish schools where our children will gain an appreciation of both. They will absorb the richness of Jewish life, of what it means to be a ‘holy nation’, but they must also be taught our Judaism was never intended to exist in a vacuum.
Our schools must live this vision through participating in inter-school and national ventures, teaching about other cultures, and promoting values of tolerance and respect. Retaining a strong sense of self is challenging when immersed in a diverse world.
We need to provide a strong Jewish education promoting a Judaism which, like all generations before it, contributes monumentally to the world at large.
- Rebbetzen Levin is the associate Rebetzen at South Hampstead Synagogue