The dirty dozen and the destruction

It seems to me that Rav Peretz – if he survives his recent remarks – should focus on making sure that our children learn the basic building blocks of behavior.

July 31, 2019 16:29
The dirty dozen and the destruction

‘RABBI RAFI PERETZ must remember one of the sages’ most sage advice: “Not everything than can be said, should be said.”’. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Rav Hamnuna said: Jerusalem was destroyed only because they neglected the proper education of the schoolchildren. (Shabbat 119b)
The teacher told his young students that today they would be reviewing the first lessons they had learned in math. As the children took out their pencils and paper (yes, this was in the days when paper and pencil still existed), Sara dropped her pencil and the point broke. Luckily, Leah was sitting right next to her, and she had three freshly sharpened pencils laid out smartly on her desk.
“May I please borrow one of your pencils?” asked Sara.
“No!” said Leah curtly.
“But you have three pencils; can’t you let me use just one?” pleaded Sara. “I’ll give it back to you right after the lesson.”
But Leah just turned her head aside and pretended she didn’t hear.
The teacher watched as the exchange took place and addressed the class. “Children, who can tell me what one plus one equals?”
Leah enthusiastically raised her hand. “I can tell you; one plus one equals two!”
The teacher tsk-tsked and shook his head. “No, I’m sorry. Let’s try one plus two; what does that equal?”
Again Leah raised her hand and confidently said, “One plus two equals three! And one plus three equals four!”
The teacher then walked over to Leah’s desk and picked up one of her pencils. “No, Leah, my dear child. One plus one equals ‘lend Sara your pencil.’ One plus two equals ‘lend Sara your pencil.’ And one plus three also equals ‘lend Sara your pencil.’’’
Over the last couple of weeks, Israel has been following two gripping stories. The first concerns our seemingly annual election balagan, which includes the struggle of the small parties to band together into mini-coalitions so as to ensure their entrance into the Knesset. One of these parties fell into crisis when interim Education Minister Rabbi Rafi Peretz made several controversial remarks, including an ill-advised opinion on conversion therapy, and another on the intermarriage/assimilation situation in the Diaspora, which he termed “a second Holocaust.”
Now, as a rabbi, Rav Peretz has every right – and even responsibility – to speak out on these subjects, and on any subject that he feels impacts upon both religious practice and the survival of the Jewish people. But as education minister, a position that affects every single student and parent in Israel, he must be sensitive to all segments of the population – straight and gay, male and female, secular and observant, even Jewish and non-Jewish. And he must remember one of the sages’ most sage advice: Not everything than can be said, should be said.
At the same time, we have been closely following the sordid saga of the 12 Israeli teens charged with gang rape in Cyprus, a scandal that has been broadcast internationally, and contributed mightily to the image of “the ugly Israeli” abroad. Thankfully, the boys – who had been labeled by some as “the Dirty Dozen” – have been exonerated and freed from custody, and their accuser was arrested after reportedly admitting to have lied about the charges.
But this does not mean that the kids were good little angels, demonstrating the highest moral standards while out having some fun. Three of them admitted to having sex with the woman, and all were caught up in the raucous, raunchy, binge-drinking scene that defines summer in Cyprus.
So it seems to me that Rav Peretz – if he survives his recent remarks – should focus on making sure that our children, from the very youngest age, learn the basic building blocks of behavior, good manners and life lessons from competent and qualified teachers. For although our homes can and should be the crucible in which we mold the next generation, the truth is that the bulk of a child’s quality time in his or her formative years – six to 10 hours a day, five-and-a-half days a week – is in the classroom.

AND SO I want to suggest several crucial, foundational lessons that should be inculcated from the moment a child enters our educational system:
Respect your fellow students and respect your teachers. If you want others to think highly of you, then you must treat them as you would like to be treated. No bullying, no organizing into cliques that exclude others, no seeking recognition at another’s expense. Rather, assisting your friend who needs help, sympathizing with his failures and applauding his successes. And no calling teachers by their first names, as though they were your pals.
Find your flair, pursue your passion. Each of us has a special gift, some area in which we excel. Teachers must provide the proper “playing field” whereby those talents and strengths can be revealed and expressed, be it in art, music, math, poetry, sports, science or a hundred other areas. Expertise and proficiency in any field give one optimism, self-esteem and the confidence to break through barriers that otherwise seem impenetrable. And they impress upon the group that everyone is special in his or her own way.
Discipline. Classrooms can be joyous or jungles. Unless students learn to behave, to come on time to class, to adhere to rules, they will invariably carry these negative traits with them into the world at large, and their lives and careers will suffer for it. One of the most memorable and important experiences of my high-school years was with our geometry teacher, who, once a week, did not allow us to speak or ask questions. We had to control ourselves, solve our own problems, and discipline ourselves into depending upon our own instincts and intelligence.
Beyond bagrut. Israeli education, at least in later grades, is focused almost solely on the almighty bagrut (matriculation). And amassing knowledge – strictly to qualify for the certificate – becomes the be-all and end-all. But “bagrut,” at its core, means “maturity,” and that elusive goal is not only accumulating facts and figures, but acquiring the intangible qualities of diligence, integrity, perception and appreciation.
If our excellent teachers – motivated from the top down by competent professionals – succeed in training our young people properly, our image worldwide will invariably be one not of wild, out-of-control partygoers, but bright, beautiful beacons that bring honor to Israel and light to the world.

The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana;

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