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The Principals or the Supplement?

Thursday, 5 December, 2019 - 3:20 am

 This week, two parents of small children came to see me. They had come to Basel for employment reasons, “relocation,” as it is called. They do not define themselves as religious, but they try to eat only kosher food. The main thing is that their Jewish identity, as well as that of their children, is very important to them. “In America we lived in a Jewish area – Jewish schools, Kashrut stamps on almost every product, and a very strong presence of Jewish life,” In Europe this is much less so, especially when people come for a short time: because of the language barrier, the children go to English-speaking schools and not necessarily to the excellent Jewish school we have in Basel. “We are suddenly concerned about our children’s Jewish identity.”

I admit that I was stirred by meeting them and by their concern. It was so sincere and pure; the “pintele yid” was speaking from their hearts.

It didn’t take long for them to explain to me that they expect me to find a solution for their children’s Jewish education. I agreed, and offered them everything there is in Basel in general, and in the Chabad House in particular. But before I did that I told them what I learned from the weekly parasha, parashat Vayetze. Yaakov left the protected environment of his parents’ home, where Judaism was present and very much alive, and went, alone, to his uncle Lavan Ha’arami’s house. He was there, alone, for twenty years. Got married alone, built a large family alone, and ran a fine Jewish home alone.

How did he do it? How did he succeed?

I think that the very fact that he was alone in a foreign land caused him to succeed. Sometimes, when we are living a cushioned life, we take everything for granted, and when we go to a different place, suddenly we have questions that we never asked before.

I know this from myself and from my nuclear family. Being here, I know every moment that I am personally and directly responsible for the Jewish education – certainly for the Chassidic education and especially for the Chabad education – of my children. Unlike my friends who live in Chabad communities that can (maybe??) depend on the Chassidic school, on the Chabad teacher and even on the atmosphere in the home and in the Lubavitch shul to give his children their Chassidic education, I cannot trust the school, the teachers, nor the environment. They are all wonderful, good and honest, but my children will not receive what I received in my childhood in school, in the street and in shul, unless I devote myself to it personally. This knowledge in itself is what makes me devote time and thought and to give myself and from myself for what is important to me, and I would like to know how to give more.

Yaakov looked around and understood pretty quickly that if he wouldn’t educate Reuven and Shimon, no one else was going to do it for him. And perhaps – so it seems to me – that was the secret of his success.

“Before I offer you what I have to offer your children,” I said to the worried couple, “it is important for you to know that one of the reasons that Hashem made sure that you would come to live here is so that exactly this would happen: that you are opening your eyes and understanding that something has to be done, because nothing will happen by itself. In your previous place the environment provided the basis for your children’s Jewish identity, and you were the supplement. My suggestion today is that you start to do by yourself, and we will give you the support. You will be the principals in this matter and we will be the supplement, and not the other way around.”

If you ask me, this suggestion is suitable for every family, of every type and social circle, no matter where they live: to remember that we ourselves are the principals, and the environment is the supplement, and not the other way around.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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