What Jewish Education is REALLY About

A headshot of David Bryfman with text that says A Message from our CEO David Bryfman

Dear Friends, 

Last week we were about to press send on this month’s Elevate email, a wonderful upbeat letter about the majesty of sport and how it relates to Jewish education.  

Instead, I am writing to you about death, grief, and absolute devastation. 

The primary role of The Jewish Education Project is not to tell you what is happening in Israel. I assume that if you’re reading this then you are already well aware. Our role is to be there for Jewish educators - to help them with conversations and meaning-making, providing them with opportunities to grieve and to ask questions, in order to prepare them to effectively engage our children. Two days into the conflict we sent a clear message to stakeholders of Jewish education - in spite of the horrific events, somehow, they [educators] will flick an imaginary switch in their minds and hearts and do what they do best: be Jewish educators.  

The enormity of the crisis mobilized our response team. In just over a week, we held webinars, offered professional development, and made our Program staff available for 1:1 discussion sessions that have collectively been accessed by tens of thousands of Jewish educators. In partnership with Kveller and PJ Library we also provided content on our Truvie family learning platform to thousands of Jewish parents, all looking for ways to talk to their children about the unfolding war. We reached out to almost 15,000 RootOne alumni, many of whom had their own personal connections with Israel shattered and encouraged them to reach out to the Israeli teens with whom they forged bonds during their time there. The need is great, and the breadth of our work right now is impacting more educators, parents and families than ever before. 

But education is more than webinars, networks, and professional development. It is more than schools, early childhood centers, summer camps, and youth activities. Education, at its essence, is about hope. Educators fundamentally believe that our work can help make individuals, communities, and the world a better place. It is in our DNA to be optimistic - and when such barbaric behavior is inflicted on our people it is a severe blow to our very essence. We cry, we grieve, we get angry, and we ask challenging questions of ourselves and of others, and we cry some more. 

We also know one thing about educators that we’ve seen time and time again, after Parkland, Pittsburgh, George Floyd, and Covid. Educators not only bear the burden of society, dealing with our children in moments of crisis, but they are also the backbone of our revival. As they have done before, they will help our children overcome tragedy so that we can all imagine and build a better world. 

It is too early to speak about the day after. As I write this article, we are still burying our dead, praying for the safe return of hostages, and thinking of our soldiers on the front line. We are grieving for the lives of all innocent people who have and will die in this war. Right now, we will do what we need to do to get through these horrific days, and our Jewish educators will be there for our children – to hug them and hold them, to answer their every question, to advise them on how to deal with social media and grapple with friends who may be silent. But when the day after comes, these educators will also be there to show our children the beauty of Israel once more, to strengthen Jewish pride and to create a better future for them, for their communities, for the Jewish people, for Israel, and the entire world. 

Until then, as our collective hearts grieve, may we continue to give our Jewish educators the strength that they need to continue supporting our children and creating a future filled with hope for the Jewish people.