It’s All About the Kids – Reflections from Israel

Dear Friends,

I am writing from Jerusalem at the end of a meaningful week in Israel with an incredible group from CJP's Leon and Cynthia Shulman Acharai Leadership Program. While the war in Ukraine enters its sixth week, and tensions in Israel are high given this past week’s horrific terrorist attacks, I am grateful to be here reconnecting with this place that I love, with CJP’s extended family in Haifa, and, on a personal note, with my son who is spending a gap year here.Acharai Leadership Program participants with Parents at the Center staff and families.

As always, I am inspired by the beauty of the land, the resiliency of the people, and the creativity and ingenuity with which passionate individuals and organizations are working to address Israel’s most pressing challenges. In a few days, we’ve covered topics like coexistence and shared society, security and geopolitics, and history and spirituality.

Several of the sites and people we’ve visited have focused on the education and identity formation of children. We met two alumni from Educating for Excellence (E4E), which works to reduce inequality and create opportunities for youth from Israel’s social and geographic periphery. These alumni, whose families came to Israel from Ethiopia and the Former Soviet Union, inspired us with their personal stories.

In Haifa, we visited Parents at the Center, CJP’s groundbreaking model of early childhood intervention and family support that has been replicated across Israel by our partners at the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and Israel’s Ministry of Education. After meeting Jewish and Arab mothers and hearing about the impact that the Center has made in their lives, we sang and created artwork with the young children, who brought joy to our hearts.Then we visited Yemin Orde Youth Village, which has deep connections to Boston thanks to the leadership and generosity of many in our Jewish community. Yemin Orde is home to 450 children from around the world, most of whom have suffered trauma in their young lives. In addition to education, community building, and leadership development, it helps connect the children to their Jewish identities and to the language and culture of Israel, empowering them to find their place in their new country and homeland.

After hearing about Yemin Orde’s unique educational methodology, the group met several children and heard their stories. One young woman had just fled her home in Ukraine. Her story of refuge and aliyah (immigration to Israel) broke our hearts but gave us hope in the resilience of these children, the future of Israel, and the Jewish People. One of Acharai’s co-chairs spoke emotionally about his deep relationship with Yemin Orde, summing it up beautifully: “I mean, it’s really all about the kids, isn’t it?” The minute he said it, I realized that this could be a tagline for Judaism and for so many of the most impactful social change efforts.

Promoting equality and social mobility begins with creating opportunities for education and healthy, well-rounded child and family development at the earliest ages possible. Especially in times of crisis and unpredictability that can feel overwhelming to all of us, we can work to ensure children develop the capacities to navigate a challenging world with confidence and resilience. How we invest in and educate the youngest members of our society will determine the future of our society.

We are just two weeks away from the Passover holiday. The essential mitzvah of the Passover Seder is v’higadta l’bincha — and you shall tell this story, our story and your story, to your children. This echoes what we read in the first paragraph of the shema (a core of the Jewish prayer service) every day: v’shinantam l’vanecha — you shall teach these words to your children. In Judaism, the primary point of transmission of tradition, culture, and values happens in the home, between parents and their children, and in schools, between teachers and students. Educating and inspiring our next generation is the lifeblood of a Jewish community and the foundation of our Jewish future.

That is why E4E, Parents at the Center, and Yemin Orde are so critical. That is why we believe in and invest so much in our children within our Greater Boston Jewish community, here in Israel, and around the world. Meeting young people like we have this week gives me hope that our future is in good hands.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Marc Baker

Marc Baker

About the Author

CJP President and CEO Rabbi Marc Baker is an educator, writer, and leadership mentor who is devoting his life to Jewish learning and building Jewish communities.