Why are We Here?

Remarks by Alex Friedman, BJEP 7th Grade Teacher:

What better way to understand why a Jewish education, in general, and BJEP Jewish Sunday School, in particular, is important, than through the words of one of our classroom teachers? In a world with incidents of anti-Semitism and violence, it is difficult to make sense of what is happening around us. By providing a foundation and support for building a strong Jewish identity, our students develop pride in their heritage, while learning and growing together. They are able to ask questions and dig deeply to explore what matters to them. They are also able to respond with more confidence and authority when faced with anti-Semitism in their own lives. The following speech, by former 7th grade teacher Alex Friedman, then a Brandeis senior, demonstrates the values we strive to instill.

“I have to ask a question, one that I imagine will be on your minds frequently when you come to class. Namely, why are we here? We’re all busy. There’s soccer practice, sleeping in, homework, band rehearsal, theater productions, ski trips, video games, and on and on.

I’ll tell you why I’m here.

I’m here for you.

Yes. You.

You are a Jew. You, by virtue of birth or conversion, have been born into a people who date back over 5,000 years, the last of the templed ancients to cohesively survive to this day. You have inherited the collected wisdom, stories, laws, history, language, food, music, dance, of a civilization. You inherited it because the generations before you wanted you to have it. Wanted you to have it so much that they suffered terrible oppression, moved thousands of miles across the world, hid in the worst places, and were often killed. Wanted you to have it so much they wove it into the fabric of their lives, taught it to their children, memorized its greatest ideas so they could not be burned. That’s how much they wanted you to have it.

You, no matter what you do, will always be a Jew. You can learn and forget calculus, you can start a band, you can move across the world, and you will still be a Jew. You can cut and color your hair, change your name, school, pronouns, or get married, and you will still be a Jew. You can even eat every pig on Earth and never learn a word of Hebrew, and you will still be a Jew.

This ‘being Jewish’ thing, it’s permanent when almost nothing else ever is.

So why am I here?

I’m here to help you inherit your birthright. That’s my whole job. I’m here because you’re going to live your entire lives as Jews, and it would be a crime to spend those lives knowing little about what that actually means. I’m here because there is far more that Judaism has to offer you than a Bar/Bat Mitzvah party earned through the memorization of strange scratches on parchment. I’m here to shepherd you into a family. Not one of shared blood, but shared memory. One which tells the same stories no matter where or when it lives, one which will support you always, and one for whom you are responsible. A holy community.

That’s my job, and that’s why we’re here.

Let’s get started.”

Speech from Alex Friedman, 7th grade teacher, on the Opening Day of BJEP Jewish Sunday School – the Boston-area Jewish Education Program that meets on the Brandeis campus in Waltham, Massachusetts. Alex aspires to be a rabbi and taught our seventh grade class for the last two-and-a-half years.

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