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Sunday, 12 February 2017

Become a partner in Jewish continuity!

Daf Yomi Bava Basra 20

Purim is around the corner and NCSY’s annual Mishloach Manot campaign is in full-swing!  We’re very blessed here in Edmonton to have an incredibly successful NCSY chapter, actually arguably the most successful chapter of the entire organization.  How can we make such a bold claim?  Well, despite the fact that we have only five thousand Jews in Edmonton, we have consistently managed to send scores of teens to shabbatons and dozens of teens to NCSY summer programs annually.  How do we do it? 

We don’t have that many teens in the shul.  But a number of years ago, we made a powerful commitment.  Despite our limited shul resources, we would prioritize the employment of a full-time NCSY director, dedicated to Jewish teens throughout Edmonton.  Because we recognized that while not everyone is going to join the shul, every child deserves the best formal and informal Jewish education possible.

Where do you come in?  When you join the Mishloach Manot project, not only are you fulfilling the mitzvah of giving Purim gifts to every member of the congregation, you are also changing lives forever.

The NCSY formula is very simple:  The first step is to encourage Edmonton Jewish teens to attend the weekly NCSY Latte ‘n’ Learn at Second Cup.  From there, we endeavor to inspire them to attend a shabbaton.  These shabbatons take place a handful of times a year throughout the northwest region.  From there, we strive to inspire them to attend an NCSY summer program.  And from there, we aim to inspire them to do a gap year in Israel between high school and university.

NCSY’s results are unbelievable.  Many of the participants (at all levels) end up choosing to live their lives as committed, Torah-observant Jews.  But whether they buy in completely or not, 99% of NCSYers end up marrying Jewish!  And so, the outcome overall are young families dedicated to the Jewish people, the State of Israel, and ultimately, generations of Jews committed to our heritage!

And so, this year, when you get the call for Mishloach Manot, don’t think you’re merely being asked to support a simple program.  When you join the project, you are supporting the future of the Jewish people!

Mishnah: If a resident wants to open a store in his courtyard, his neighbor can protest to prevent him from doing so and say to him: I am unable to sleep due to the sound of people entering the store and the sound of people exiting. But one may fashion utensils in his house and go out and sell them in the market, and the neighbor cannot protest against him doing so and say to him: I am unable to sleep due to the sound of the hammer you use to fashion utensils, due to the sound of the mill you use to grind, due to the sound of the children.
Gemara: What is difference between the first clause, which states that one can prevent his neighbor from opening a store, and the latter clause, which states that one cannot protest children?  Rava said: In the latter clause we refer to the case of schoolchildren who come to learn Torah, from the time of the ordinance of Yehoshua ben Gamla and onward.  As Rav Yehuda says that Rav says: Truly, that man is remembered for the good, and his name is Yehoshua ben Gamla. If not for him the Torah would have been forgotten from the Jewish people.
Initially, whoever had a father, his father would teach him Torah, and whoever did not have a father would not learn Torah. When the Sages saw that not everyone was capable of teaching their children and Torah study was declining, they instituted that teachers of children should be established in Jerusalem. But still, whoever had a father, his father ascended with him to Jerusalem and had him taught, but whoever did not have a father, he did not ascend and learn. Therefore, the Sages instituted that teachers of children should be established in each and every region. And they brought the students at the age of sixteen or seventeen.  But when one of the teachers would get angry at them, they would pick themselves up and leave.
Until Yehoshua ben Gamla came along, and instituted that teachers of children should be established in each and every province and in each and every town.  And they would bring the children to learn at the age of six or seven.

The old adage, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ has been our guiding principle since the days of Yehoshua ben Gamla.  Jewish education is not just for those from privileged families.  It is the right of every single Jewish child, no matter their parents’ financial status or religious outlook.  If the parents either can’t afford it or don’t care for it, the responsibility devolves onto every other individual in the community.

Yehoshua ben Gamla’s innovation was twofold.  Not only did he believe that every child was entitled to a solid Jewish education, but he also recognized that you can’t wait until they’re old enough to make their own decisions.  Prior to his campaign, the Jewish community established learning opportunities for teens.  But those didn’t always work.  Because if you’ve grown up thinking a certain way, it’s very hard to introduce a whole new way of looking at things.  Yehoshua ben Gamla shifted the paradigm and insisted that Jewish education begin at the tender age of six or seven.

Baruch Hashem in Edmonton, both our Jewish schools get this.  We keep tuition to a minimum and never deny any family the right to attend – even if they would refuse to pay a penny!  And so, per capita, we probably have the highest elementary Jewish day-school attendance in North America! 

Subsequently, NCSY steps in and ensures that the kids’ Jewish engagement and commitment continues far beyond the elementary school years.  But just like our schools, we must always keep the following in mind: While the duty to educate falls initially on the shoulders of the parents, when that doesn’t happen, we as a community have an obligation to step in and ensure it is guaranteed for every Jewish child.

Educate your child in traditional Jewish values.  Who is your child?  Every single Jewish boy and girl.  May you become a partner in Jewish continuity for every child in the village!

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