How to Fight the Culture Wars
JNS.org – To anyone not living or hiding under a rock, the culture war rages all too loudly and visibly around us. In that war, some fight mightily to destroy the moral and intellectual capital amassed since Western civilization officially began in the late afternoon on the 14th of Nissan 3,000 years ago, when the Jews began preparations to leave Egypt. It often seems difficult to know how to oppose the many-headed hydra of political correctness and its hostility to family, tradition, objectivity and God. On what field of battle can we even find the enemy to confront them? And with what tactics can we fight without debauching ourselves? Are we to amass our own Twitter mobs to oppose those we read about? Who would know how to do that, and who would want to spend his time that way?
Here is a better answer.
In this photo, you see 150 schoolchildren. They are sitting outside because they are being educated in the age of COVID-19. But they are sitting outside at a school that has struggled mightily, and effectively and successfully, to teach its children in person every day since mid-August—Abrams Hebrew Academy, one of dozens of Jewish day schools throughout the United States that have been open all academic year as a result of great effort by their teachers and leaders.
The children are not sitting outside to do math problems. They are sitting outside, little children in their seats for an hour, to hear the Megillah—the Scroll of Esther—read aloud to them on Purim day.
What lessons are transmitted by this exercise? Most immediately, there is the story of Purim: Not only this time but in all times, our enemies rise up to try to put an end to us, to eradicate us and our understanding of the relationship between God and the human race. But we, and our Torah, survive. That’s the explicit lesson.
But the implicit lesson is far deeper, and it went into the souls of these children at a much more elemental level, where it will stay, the odds are good, for the rest of their lives. That lesson is that the task of learning your tradition is a task of immense importance to which your parents and your community ascribe untold weight. Yes, you must stay healthy, and your parents and your community will not endanger you or violate rules imposed by political authorities. But subject to those constraints, your parents and your community will do everything in their power to teach you your tradition—and they will succeed in that task, even if it means reconfiguring your school, constantly testing you and your teachers, making special rules for vacations and helping people to learn remotely if they have to.
So yes, it was chilly outside, and you and your teachers all had to sit in the parking lot in your winter coats. And yes, it was probably hard to hear the Megillah reading. But the graduate of a famous yeshivah who runs your school, and who is just visible in this picture in his Orange Mets jacket, is walking up and down the aisles commanding your attention to this reading and to this task.
Destructive school curricula animated by antisemitism and identity politics can perhaps be opposed in public school-board meetings and newspaper columns. But they are best answered in parking lots like this one. The products of this exercise will go out into the world untainted by the bitter and corrupt ideas propagated by the “woke” establishment. They will be filled instead with their own traditions and with the knowledge that they are parts of a community that invests them and their commitment to that tradition with immense importance. When these children are older, they will have to learn how to answer those bad ideas, just as they will continue—as a great rabbi taught—to hear the truth from whoever says it, and so to learn about the great gifts given the world by cultures other than their own.
But all those ideas will sit atop a foundation of these intense and profound commitments made to these children by their parents and their community that entered each child sotto voce in a parking lot on a cold Purim day in February.
Jerome M. Marcus is president of the board of directors of Abrams Hebrew Academy.