Teaching by Example: It’s Time to Go Home

BY RABBI JAMES KENNARD

A colleague once said to me, “Everyone should make Aliyah, except mechanchim (Jewish educators).” His logic seemed sound; a teacher in the Diaspora can make a great impact on young people’s lives and Jewish growth, while in Israel they are unlikely to find a similar role, given that the supply of educators there vastly outstrips the demand. For the sake of the greater good of the Jewish people, they should not move to Israel.

I disagree. One Jew has as much “right” to make Aliyah as any other, whatever their profession. To tell a Jew, especially one imbued with Religious Zionism, that he or she should not fulfill the mitzvah of living in Israel is analogous to telling him not to observe Pesach.

Still, should the community ask mechanchim to deny their personal dream of Aliyah? The argument in favor is predicated on there only being one way to contribute to the growth of the Jewish people – by working in education. Yet that perspective itself demonstrates clearly the profoundly different natures of Jewish life in Israel and in the Diaspora. Diaspora Jews live their Jewish lives in their shuls and schools on the margins of their “general” lives. Thus there is considerable “Jewish” impact that an educator can make, but far less for those employed in other fields.

Conversely, Jewish life in Israel is manifest in every aspect of life – in schools and shuls certainly, but also in hospitals, offices, in the orchard and on the street. A fine Jewish educator in the Diaspora can be a fine member of Israeli society and can find myriad ways to contribute to the Jewish future. 

A crucial element of the Zionist dream was that Jewish destiny would be forged, not in America or Europe, but in the Jewish state. We are blessed to see the fulfillment of this vision. When the history of the Jewish people in the modern era is written, there will be sections devoted to Diaspora communities, but the chapter headings will be Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Sad though it may be, Australia will be a footnote. A citizen of Israel is playing a part in determining that destiny simply by being in Israel and taking part in the Jewish conversation.

If an educator wants to continue working in Jewish education in Israel, it is not true to say there are no opportunities. A vast number of schools, yeshivot, seminaries and other projects cry out for talented staff. It is a tough field with much competition, but it is a fallacy to say that there are no educational opportunities, just as it is untrue to say that a Diaspora educator can never be replaced. As we all know, no one is indispensable.

These arguments apply now, more than ever. This is not because Jews in the Diaspora are experiencing levels of antisemitism we have not seen since the Shoah. Israel is treated as a pariah, and Jews as alien and untrustworthy. As the horrors of October 7 began to sink in, we expected little sympathy for Israel and its victims; what we did not foresee was how quickly Israel would be charged as the aggressor and the atrocities meted against her ignored, denied or justified. Antisemitism did not die after the Holocaust; it was only sleeping, and we are living through its re-awakening.

Fleeing to Israel in times of emergency is not the fulfillment of the Zionist vision. Rather, now is the time to move to Israel to show solidarity with our brothers and sisters in their time of trial. Yet even more critical is the opportunity to play a part in Israel’s future at a time when our people are at a crossroads. Will the unity of the last six months deepen and continue, or will it dissipate in favor of the divisions that were so stark last year and may still lurk below the surface? Will the various “tribes” of Israel treat each other with respect and tolerance, and find a way to share burdens equally?

B’ezrat Hashem, my wife and I will be making Aliyah in the next few weeks. We look forward to being close to our children who live there, and to being part of our grandchildren’s lives. We also feel the chill of growing antisemitism. But the overwhelming motivation for our move is to be part of Israel’s future and the future of the Jewish people. I believe that contribution is no less than that of the crucial work of our mechanchim in the Diaspora.

There may be individual cases where the calculus is different, where a teacher can best serve the Jewish people by continuing in their role. Since moving to Israel is ultimately a halachic imperative, a halachic expert should be consulted. But the notion that an educator must always remain at their post is unsound. Perhaps the very best lesson a Jewish educator can teach is to lead by example and come home.

 

Rabbi James Kennard is the outgoing Principal of Mount Scopus Memorial College in Melbourne, Australia.

© 2024 World Mizrachi

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