The sound of Jewish continuity

Global Torah learning initiative originated by South Africa’s chief rabbi strikes Sinaitic nerve.

Herzlia Weizmann Primary School 370 (photo credit: PARENTS AND CHILDREN study the Shema at the Herzli)
Herzlia Weizmann Primary School 370
(photo credit: PARENTS AND CHILDREN study the Shema at the Herzli)
The school hall is packed to the rafters and filled with an ambient, static buzz. Huddles of three or four are spread around the room, and intimate discussions are flowing freely. There is both a hush and a hum to the place, a little like Friday night at the Western Wall. Something truly electric is happening here, although it’s not immediately apparent what that is.
This is the Herzlia Weizmann Primary School in Cape Town – one of more than 100 Jewish day schools in 38 cities and on six continents taking part in Generation Sinai.
Held on the morning of May 10, 2013 – Rosh Hodesh Sivan – the initiative saw tens of thousands of parents and children worldwide gathering in halls and classrooms at their local schools to study the very same Torah subject.
South African Chief Rabbi, Warren Goldstein is the originator of Generation Sinai, which, he explains, is powered by a fusion of three key Jewish values – Jewish unity, family bonding and Torah study.
“Generation Sinai is about Jewish parents and children sitting down together to learn the same Torah that Jewish parents and children have learnt together since time immemorial, unifying Jews across the globe and throughout the ages.
“There’s a connection that happens between people when they learn Torah together...
a spiritual energy that creates a bond between parents and children like nothing else can,” Goldstein says.
Generation Sinai was first piloted in South Africa in 2011 and 2012, and was an immediate success, with more than 10,000 parents and children in cities across the country participating in the program.
“It seemed to touch a cord,” says Goldstein. “We saw a remarkable outpouring of emotion and enthusiasm from parents and children across the spectrum of religious observance.
For many, this was something new and beautiful.”
With a winning concept on their hands, Goldstein and his team decided it was ripe for sharing with the rest of world, and assigned 2013 for the global launch of Generation Sinai. First up, they had to decide which aspect of Torah would be studied. Fortunately, the decision wasn’t a difficult one.
“This being the global launch of the program, we thought it fitting that the learning material covered Judaism’s foundational, universal proclamation, the Shema,” says Goldstein.
The materials were produced centrally to ensure consistency, with learning sheets for different age groups (the program targeted children in grades one to six) made available in English, French, Spanish, Russian, German and Hebrew.
The content explored the Shema from several perspectives – philosophical underpinnings, textual analysis, historical context and contemporary relevance – and was prepared in such a way as to facilitate interaction.
Of course, an initiative of this scope and magnitude required plenty of cross-country cooperation. To this end, Goldstein enlisted the help of partner organizations across the world to ensure smooth implementation and maximum impact, and to cater for local requirements.
This was especially important in countries where a large number of schools were taking part. In England, for instance, Generation Sinai partnered with Seed, an organization specializing in parental education, to help deliver the program at 23 schools spread across Manchester, Leeds, London and Liverpool.
“Generation Sinai is quite simply one of the most exciting Jewish educational endeavors in decades, and we were thrilled to work with Chief Rabbi Goldstein in bringing the program to the UK for the very first time,” says Rabbi Malcolm Herman, the associate national director of Seed UK.
“Thanks to the superb efforts of our team, we were able to reach out to more than 2,000 parents and 5,000 children, and from this great platform, I am confident that Generation Sinai will grow year by year and take its place as one of the key events on the Jewish calendar – not just here in England, but worldwide.”
Similarly, the Ner Le’elef outreach organization used its network to enable Generation Sinai to reach countries in the former Soviet Union and South America, while in Israel, Generation Sinai joined forces with Ayelet Hashachar, an NGO that works toward creating a united society of religious and non-religious Israeli Jews.
The organization proceeded to sign up 25 schools, including those from traditionally secular cities such as Acre, Arad, Bat Yam, Nahariya and Lod.
Shlomo Raanan, who founded Ayelet Hashachar in 1997, provides background on the partnership: “Israeli society is becoming increasingly divided, as the average Israeli looks at his fellow religious Jew with contempt, while the religious Jew cannot accept the ways of his secular neighbor,” he explains.
“At Ayelet Hashachar, we strive to remind Israeli Jews of all levels of religious belief of our common history and our shared roots. We saw the Generation Sinai program as a great way to bridge the divide – and we were simply astounded at the passionate response we got.”
And this seems to be the response across the board.
From Los Angeles to London, Melbourne to Montevideo, Buenos Aires to Berlin, tens of thousands of Jewish parents and children have come forward to bask in a sublime moment of Torah study, family bonding and national unity; to take their place in the great chain of transmission that has sustained the the People of the Book since the first Generation Sinai stood at the foot of a small mountain in the wilderness.
Back in Cape Town, the allotted time is drawing to a close, and some of the administrators at Herzlia Weizmann begin glancing at their watches, eager to begin the regular school timetable.
Even so, the groups of learners don’t seem to notice, and the energy in the room shows no signs of abating.
A furrowed brow, a pair of eyes lit up. A pat on the head, a pinch of the cheek, an arm round the shoulder. Questions are asked, answers are offered, thoughts are shared, hearts are opened. The electricity in the air is the sound of families connecting. The sound of Jewish continuity.