Something to Read…

This past week, I finished reading Parker Palmer’s magnificent book on the inner life of teachers entitled The Courage to Teach.   When I read the Afterword to this 10th anniversary edition, I came across a quote that I thought could not be more appropriate to the challenges facing Jewish institutions and communities in the twenty-first century.  Regarding the guiding values of any profession, Palmer writes the following:

  • “At the heart of every profession is an implicit affirmation that the mission of the profession must never be confused with the institutional structures in which it is ursued. The fact that we have school does not mean that we have education. The fact that we have hospitals does not mean we have health care. The fact that we have courts does not mean we have justice. The fact that we have churches, synagogues, and mosques does not mean we have faith” (Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach).

What I loved about Palmer’s quote was that he captured the essential task of a professional never to link completely one’s principles with one’s institutions.  Just as we cannot say that the existence of a court system ensures justice, we also cannot that because a person happens to work in a place that offers a tefillah experience does not mean that rich tefillah takes place in that institution.  Our task is to ensure that the institution embodies the values that ought to exist within it, and most noble task for everyone working in the Jewish community today, whether we are concerned with tefillah, Talmud Torah, social justice, or whatever guiding value is meant to underlie our mission.   May we all be worthy of that task…

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