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It's all about the Benjamins

There’s a lot of talk these days about diplomacy. Israel is at war and there are elements on the world stage that are demanding the parties come to the table to discuss a possible solution to the hostilities. But as we know—from the current conflict as well the many that preceded it—any diplomacy involving the Jewish people almost always benefits the other side. Israel has far more to lose, yet the pressure to go about this diplomatically will always be present.

But as the past has proven, while diplomacy at times certainly has its value, when it comes to standing up for your life and what you believe in, you cannot protect yourself from a genocidal enemy in the boardroom. There are no diplomatic solutions when all the other side wants is to annihilate you.

This is true in physical war and it is also true in the spiritual battle the Jewish people face on a regular basis. Living a proud Jewish life has never been easy. The temptation to compromise on our values in order to blend in with the culture we live in is persistent, and there is always the argument that if only the Jews would be “less Jewish” they would fare much better. But centuries of attempts at doing away with the Jewishness of the Jews have failed; not because the Jews caved and compromised but because our ancestors stood firm in their beliefs.

When Judah, son of Jacob, faced off with the man he thought was viceroy of Egypt (but who in fact turned out to be his brother Joseph) and demanded that his younger brother Benjamin be released from imprisonment on false charges, he did not ask nicely. He didn’t present a potential compromise, he used harsh language, insisting that his brother was innocent and should be freed immediately. He even went as far as threatening Joseph, saying that he had no qualms about going to war against the entire Egyptian army if that’s what it would take to free his brother.

Judah didn’t ask for a meeting with the supreme council, he didn’t send emissaries and diplomats to try and come up with a solution. He stood up for Benjamin, stating his demands clearly and plainly: Let our brother go, or else…

And when Joseph saw how far his brother was willing to go, he recognized that the Jewish spirit was alive, that his family was indeed united, and any uncertainties he had about whether they would stand up for each other were cleared in an instant.

The primary battle for the Jewish soul today occurs with our children’s education. The perpetual argument is that children need to be prepared for life as adults and attending a school where they are taught math, science, etc. is the only way to succeed in the big world ahead of them. With this goal in mind, Jewish schools have over decades been incorporating a general studies curriculum in addition to their Judaic studies. The focus of the Jewish schools remains the study of Torah, but in order to avoid having a generation of adults “ignorant” in worldly matters, a concession of sorts has been reached where they also teach regular subjects.

But this cannot be allowed to take over the education of Jewish children. They must continually be taught to be proud Jews and to recognize that they are different. Yes, learning to read and write is necessary to function in today’s world, but that is not the primary focus of a Jewish child’s education. A Jew must stand out and do so proudly.

As parents and educators we have a mandate to raise the next generation of proud Jews. We accomplish that by demonstrating to our kids, and by extension to the world around us, that a Jew does not hide his Jewishness. We stand up for the rights of our Benjamins, our Jewish children, to be given the most pure Jewish education. We insist that the world recognize a Jew’s right to raise his or her children with their Judaism being central to their life without compromising on a single component of our faith.

We don’t compromise in this battle, and as history has proven, this is how we win.

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