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’s difficult to make sense of what’s 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 seventh-grade teacher and aspiring rabbi Alex Friedman, then a Brandeis University senior, demonstrates the values we strive to instill. He gave this speech on the opening day of BJEP, the Boston-area Jewish Education Program that meets on the Brandeis campus in Waltham.

Why Are We Here?
By Alex Friedman

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?

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.

Cantor Jeri Robins is the director of BJEP.

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