If Israel truly wants to curb assimilation, it should start by making sure Israeli children receive a true Jewish education and learn to appreciate their Jewish heritage.
Rabbi Joseph Gerlitzky, the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s shaliach to Tel Aviv-Yaffo and Rabbi of Central Tel Aviv, bemoaned the education system in Israel saying that “the existence of the State of Israel alone is not the solution to assimilation. Only an authentic Jewish education instilled with Jewish pride can stem the tide of assimilation
Rabbi Gerlitzky was invited to address hundreds of senior officials at the Education Ministry in Jerusalem including Education Minister Shai Piron and the Director General of the Ministry, at a special event ushering in the New Year.
The Rabbi’s words caught the crowd by surprise but he said he had no choice but to voice the truth. “Is anybody actually surprised these days when a graduate of the Israeli educational system travels abroad and forms a relationship with someone outside of the Jewish faith? This is exactly what our kindergartens, lower schools, high schools and universities are aspiring to! We are teaching our children to integrate with other nationalities and to hold equality above all other ideals, since we are all human beings.
“In the hardest of times, every Jewish child knew to recite Shema Yisroel and knew that he was part of the Chosen People and had a special affinity for Eretz Yisrael. Therefore, in line with the words of the Director General that we need to educate our children not only for achievement but also for values, I want to convey a painful thought.
“I say this with a heavy heart, and it was publicized in many newspapers, both English and Hebrew, that assimilation is beginning to occur here in Israel. Statistics have shown that if assimilation in the United States or Canada has reached 50% or 52%, among Israeli expatriates, the number has reached 58% (5% more!). This is a shocking figure! It represents young men and women who completed twelve years of schooling in Israel, three years of military service, and several years of college, for some of them, yet upon arriving in a foreign land, choose to intermarry without thinking twice.
“Therefore, it seems to me, that we should do some serious soul-searching. I thus turn to the members of the Ministry of Education, to Rabbi Shai Piron, the Minister of Education, and to the entire administration, and suggest that we have to work toward a situation in which not even a single Jew agrees to assimilate. A person who is familiar with Jewish history knows that we should be sitting shiva over the present situation and tearing our clothing in mourning.
“Israel should not be ashamed to teach Jewish children about Shabbos, kashrus and the words of Shema Yisrael, said Gerlitzky.
At that point the rabbi related of a shocking episode that occurred at his shul in Tel Aviv a few months ago. “A teacher from one of the public schools brought her students to the shul to acquaint them with Jewish tradition. They were told about the giving of the Torah and the role of a Jewish child to behave in a Jewish manner and to observe Mitzvos. They were also shown what Tefilin is and importance of donning them daily.
“The children were vividly moved and excited. The teacher noticed their great enthusiasm about Judaism and one of the students asked the rabbi to put Tefilin on him. This seemed to bother her and she quickly stood up and said “OK children, time to move on to the next religion at the church in Yaffo and I hope you will display the same enthusiasm there as you did in the synagogue.
“This broke my heart,” said Rabbi Gerlitzky.
“If the State of Israel is truly interested in curbing assimilation, the only real solution is making a change at the root of how Israel teaches its youth. The Israeli government needs to finally understand that after decades of failing to offer its youth a serious Jewish education, these children are growing up and leaving their homeland and their faith. This could lead God forbid to the destruction of the entire Jewish people.”
Following his talk many officials including the Minister approached the rabbi and suggested to form a special state committee to deal with this tragic situation.
(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)