Hagar, the concubine of Abraham, according to Genesis, had been banished from her master’s household at the behest of Sarah who considered her and her child, Ishmael, to be detrimental to the welfare of Isaac, Sarah’s only child. Hagar finds herself in the desert, abandoned and desolate. Her son was dying of thirst, and she cried out to God for help. An angel intervened and told her to pick her son up and hold his hand for support. She then saw a water spring and was able to save her son’s life.
This well-known story, which we read on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, delivers a message that generations of Jews from time immemorial have learned. We give our children our support, and we do not abandon them. Naturally and instinctively, the parent nurtures his or her child, and enables that child to grow and to develop physically, emotionally and spiritually.
It also has to be emphasized that the parent provides the educational wherewithal for that child to develop as well, be it in the secular and/or Jewish spheres. On a generalized basis, the community takes on the responsibility to provide for the children who live there to grow educationally.
It is very comforting to read that the Jewish Federation of Ottawa leadership has made Jewish education in Ottawa its primary goal. It is heartening to read the words of the chair of the Federation and that of Ottawa Jewish Community School emphasizing the need to strengthen our commitment to Jewish education in Ottawa.
These are not simply words, but commitments to the future of the Ottawa Jewish community. Every school in this community that teaches the values of our faith must be supported and encouraged by our community membership. While schools may approach the teaching of Judaism in different ways, the end goal of each is to train and produce cadres of students who will continue their attachment to Judaism. When educational opportunities are lacking, the community lacks the necessary means to achieve continuity into the future.
One must hope that the vision enunciated in the Federation’s task force report on the viability of a Jewish community high school can become reality. The legacy of Yitzhak Rabin High School can once again be revitalized with the role and involvement of interested and committed parents. We are fortunate to have institutions like Ottawa Torah Institute, Machon Sarah, Torah High and congregational programs promoting higher learning for interested students, and we encourage their growth and success. But we have to bemoan the fact that numerous families from outside of Ottawa considering a possible move to the capital have refrained from doing so because of the lack of a Jewish community high school here.
Perhaps the most disturbing fact is that parents pull their children out of Jewish schools in our community for various reasons, and do not provide Jewish educational opportunities for them. It would be some measure of comfort if it were known that these children were being home schooled in Jewish values, texts, laws, etc. But, are they?
An article in the August 17 edition of the Canadian Jewish News describes a community of similar size to Ottawa, although not located in the Northern Hemisphere or in Israel. It is a community of some 15,000 Jews, and it has six Orthodox as well as other denominational synagogues, three thriving day schools (K-12) and 25 kosher restaurants, in addition to two mikvahs. Obviously, the cultural mindset of the Jewish community in this city in Latin America is far different from that of the mindset of what we find here in Ottawa. The panorama of Panama City’s Jewish community is different from ours. But perhaps we could learn a lesson or two from our southern neighbours (not the United States).
Regardless of what mindset we have, we have, like Hagar, to pick up our children, hold their hands, and give them the waters of Torah to drink. Their survival as Jews depends on what support we give them.