Sunday, September 13, 2009

If My Idea of Jewish Education Was Working, Really Working

Over the past few days I read two articles about the same subject - an effort being made to encourage the use of the Korean alphabet to write languages other than Korean. The case in point is an island in Indonesia whose inhabitants have an oral language but no written one. There is a teacher there who is writing the sounds of the language using the Korean phonetic system.

One article appeared in the Wall Street Journal and the other in the New York Times.

You may be wondering what this has to do with Jewish education, so let me clarify what I meant by the title of this post.

If my idea of Jewish education was working, really working, then the Jewishly well-educated reader of either of these articles would immediately think of Eliezer Ben Yehudah, the person who practically single-handedly led the revival of the Hebrew language in modern times.

Or perhaps the reader might think of Yiddish, the language of the Eastern European Jewish community which borrowed vocabulary from the countries in which it was spoken but was always written using Hebrew letters.

Or of Ladino, the lingua franca of the Sephardic Jews, which again borrowed much of its vocabulary from the language of the non-Jewish majority, in this case Spanish, and was also customarily written in Hebrew letters.

And in reading the version in the NY Times, the reader would also notice the information that during Japanese occupation of Korea the use of Korean was forbidden, and think - naturally - about the Romans and how they forbid study of Torah and of Hebrew, and how the language was so important as a carrier of culture that we continued to study in secret.

So what's the big idea behind this post?

We fail if the knowledge our students acquire remains sequestered behind the walls of the religious school or synagogue building.

Our success is manifest when our students use the lens of their Jewish learning to better understand the wider world in which they live, and apply the wisdom of our tradition to all their vision.

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