At this time of the year, one phrase should echo in our minds – a phrase born of sorrow yet filled with the promise of hope and redemption.
We have just entered the mournful period of three weeks, connecting the fast days of Shiva Assar B’Tamuz and Tisha B’Av. Rooted in the destruction of the Temple and the subsequent exiles, this period is marked for sorrow across the ages. The raabbis inform us, however, that the origin of our sorrow at this time has much earlier roots. Tisha B’Av, they maintain, was born on the day of the sin of the spies, when the generation of the Exodus lost its opportunity to enter the land of Israel.
The devastating report of the spies, recorded in Parshat Shlach, is filled with pessimism concerning the inability of the people to conquer the land. Most devastating of all, however, is the final statement of the report. Commenting on their interface with the people of the land, the spies proclaim:
“We were in our own eyes as insects; and so were we in theirs.”
A Freudian slip, centuries before Freudâ€¦.
“We were in our own eyes as insects,” the spies say. We lost sight of our own value, ability, and worth. Only then, did we become devalued in the eyes of others.
Here then, the origin of true failure according to the Torah; the failure to recognize our own worth and ability.
Over this past year, a process has taken root in our own community that can provide us with a glimpse of our own power and value. Responding to the crisis of day-school affordability, a group consisting of representatives of each of the northern New Jersey day schools, rabbis, and community leaders has coalesced to form JEFG, Jewish Education For Generations. In a short time, the accomplishments of JEFG have captured the attention of communities across America, providing a vision of what a united community can accomplish.
Consider some of our successes:
â€¢ Representatives of all local day schools, across denominational lines, are sitting at the table with rabbinic and lay leaders as well as leaders of other community institutions to address the issues and implement innovative approaches.
â€¢ We have identified and are acting upon opportunities across our network for enhanced revenue generation and educational efficiencies that resulted from a unique benchmarking analysis done in partnership with Yeshiva University.
â€¢ Decisions concerning shared procurement of services, scholarship procedures, cost-cutting, and more have already been made. UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey has been instrumental in a number of these areas.
â€¢ NNJKIDS, a revolutionary grassroots effort to share the burden of our $8 million scholarship budget across the entire community, has been launched to great success. This effort is built upon the fundamental belief that the education of all children is a communal and not only a parental responsibility. The Avi Chai Foundation has generously supported this groundbreaking effort.
Already more than 1,000 families are participating at an annualized contribution rate of over $700,000. Commitments for continuing monthly contributions serve as the backbone of this program. Monies raised are being distributed quarterly to the day schools and have played a significant role in holding down tuition increases for the coming year.
â€¢ During May alone, designated as NNJKIDS month, over $250,000 was raised through new donations and a matching grant. More than 40 synagogues and 60 businesses participated in this effort, and learn-a-thons were conducted in conjunction with the day schools over the Shavuot holiday.
â€¢ Plans are being laid, in conjunction with UJA-NNJ, for the establishment of a mega-fund to attract major contributions for Jewish education in the community.
Such successes are the tip of the iceberg and provide only a glimpse of what we can accomplish together. We must recognize that we are uniquely poised to make a major difference concerning one of the most vexing challenges to confront the Jewish community today: the challenge of ensuring the continuing viability of day school education for our children.
Meeting this challenge will take sustained effort, creativity, and, above all, unity. We can achieve our goal only through total community participation. How sad it would be were we not to recognize our own power and potential. Please log onto NNJKIDS.org and join in the journey. We can and will make a real difference in our children’s lives as we ensure their quality education for years to come. We can and will set a proud standard for other communities to follow.