Distinction: The WHY of Jewish Education

Twice in the last two weeks I heard the “Find Your WHY” construct referenced at Jewish education conferences. Interestingly, this platform for stimulating organizational clarity around purpose, first introduced in 2009 by Simon Sinek in his “Golden Circle” Ted Talk, is finally emerging in the Jewish education field. 

I am hopeful this is a signal that we are getting real with the most pressing challenge facing Jewish education today. I am hopeful we now recognize how urgent it is for those involved in Jewish education to align on mission and purpose. If it were not challenging enough to agree on a universal mission, the real challenge comes in designing the components of Jewish education to produce the results our sacred texts deserve.

Jewish wisdom and values point directly to the WHY. The WHY of Jewish education is distinction. No matter how one reacts to the descriptor of Jews as “the chosen people,” no one pushes back that we carry something distinctive. For me that something is distinction of mission and purpose in this world. We have for thousands of years been the role models and conveyors of ethical and moral behavior, prioritizing the values of education and of life itself above all things physical and material.

Consistent with Sinek’s Golden Circle, our WHAT and HOW must support our WHY. It is incumbent upon our Jewish schools and institutions to embody our embedded value of distinction and to convey holy subjects uniquely. Conveyed effectively, this value of distinction builds a generation with strong Jewish identity and Jewish pride. Without it, we diminish the foundation of the Jewish nation. Without it, we lose too many potential leaders and produce Jewish homes that are weak in commitment to and understanding of Jewish learning and practice.

We must continue to identify the HOWs, solutions that will optimize student internalization of Jewish wisdom, identity, and decision making. Jewish families build the fabric of our people, and we must be sure to give our day school students the opportunity to fulfill their greatest potential, to pass the torch of distinction to the next generation.