The following was crossposted at The Jewish Futures Blog as part of a thought experiment on the Jewish future. Enjoy!
Consider this counterfactual.
In 1994, after having coffee with me, Charles Bronfman and Michael Steinhardt decided, rather than funding flashy 10 day junkets to Israel, to create Areivut instead, or as it came to be known: “The Pledge”.
“The Pledge” was simple. In conjunction with the Israeli government, private philanthropists, the Jewish Agency for Israel, and Jewish Federations across North America, Areivut would provide every Jewish child in North America with a free Jewish education from junior kindergarden to Grade 8.
The launch announcement, made on Erev-Erev Shavuot, 5760, (or June 8, 2000), was met with typical Jewish verve. In other words, many opinions were expressed.
Jewish parents committed to public education responded to the Pledge with a polite “no thank you”, but the legion of working and middle class Jewish parents who groaned under the rising costs of Jewish education (costs which far outstripped the rate of inflation) fervently signed up to become Areivim over the intervening summer months. The surge in signups at www.kolisraelareiv.im threatened to bottleneck internet traffic anywhere east of the Mississippi.
Jewish day schools which saw numbers dwindle and communities which faced the loss of their sole educational institution were suddenly overwhelmed by demand.
Universities and teachers’ colleges in major metropolitan areas also rose to the challenge of this new demand, expanding their programs to train a new cohort of Jewish educators.
In the first five years of the Areivut, over 55% of Jewish children were enrolled in five-day-a-week programs across North America. In Year Ten, the percentage rose to 70%.
In the meanwhile, day schools themselves were transformed. Denominational education was still attractive to many families, but community institutions, representing the broadest spectrum of Jewish experience, began to command more attention. Banding together was a move that was once driven by economics, but in this new age, creating “open tents” was inspired by the Pledge’s message of shared responsibility and mutual obligation.
And these community spaces evolved to serve different sectors of the community depending on the time of day, week or year. In the early morning, as parents headed off to work, the day school provided day care. During the school day, trained Jewish educators taught and learned with the next generation of kids. And in the evening, a different cohort of educators learned with adults. On the weekends, the space was open for people to congregate, pray and learn. And, in the summer, the space housed a variety of Jewish day camps.
And though the financial debacles of 2008 could have easily resulted in the shuttering of many a Jewish school, Areivut had set aside funding to keep the program running at least until 2048, when they projected to have educated not only a (nearly) complete generation of Jewish children, but also theirchildren and grandchildren.
And thus, the words from Shir HaShirim Rabbah were fulfilled. For when God said to Israel: “Bring Me good guarantors and I shall give you the Torah,” they said: “Indeed, our children will be our guarantors.” And so, God said: “Your children are good guarantors. For their sake I give the Torah to you.”