Note: I’d like to clarify that in no way is this article an attempt to insult or undermine the efforts of the Milken administration, the Jewish Studies department, or the various student organizations dedicated to Jewish affairs on campus. Both the article and the video were meant to be entertaining, satirical pieces that expose an underlying truth about the lack of care and effort that many Milken students display towards our religion.
“Wait, what’s Shemini Atzeret again? Like, actually, I have no idea what that is.”
“Is Sukkot the one where you build the house in your backyard and smell the lemon?”
“I thought Simchah Torah was the one where we pray to Moses.”
These inspirational sentiments are quotes from three Milken seniors, gathered as I walked around campus interviewing students about their knowledge of the upcoming Jewish holidays. And as I learned from my little campus adventure, parts of which you can watch in the video below, these seniors are pretty much rabbinic scholars compared to a large part of the student body.
Milken gives us a generous number of days off every fall with the intention of allowing us to explore our spirituality on the Jewish holidays. Isn’t it kind of concerning (and even a little insulting to our school) that many of us are sitting around wondering if an etrog is just a giant, bumpy lemon?
In the words of Ms. Jessie Mallor, Jewish Studies teacher, “If you don’t know what something is, like, hello, Google. Just like you would Google ‘What’s the Constitution,’ Google ‘What’s Shemini Atzeret.’ It’s not like it’s hard. When people don’t do that, it’s like, well, how much do you really care?”
But isn’t it Milken’s job to teach us about Jewish holidays, you may ask? Well, of course. But as Rabbi Gordon Bernat-Kunin, Rabbinic Director, explains, “At Milken, we teach about the Jewish holidays based on the assumption that students already know the basics. Our challenge is: how do we teach you something about the holidays that is sophisticated? Because you guys are able to go much more in depth than you were in the fourth grade, when you learned about the practices and the foods and the way that we dress for each holiday.”
I know what you’re thinking: “What’s the point of teaching myself about these holidays? It’s not like I’m planning on becoming a rabbi.” And you have a point. Milken is a pluralistic school, and some of us don’t come from observant families. What’s our motivation to get up and learn about our religion if we’re certain we’ll never need to know about it in the future?
Ms. Mallor has the answer: “All of these holidays give us a chance to access something that’s so the opposite of superficial, something that’s really real and eternal and internal. Maybe people don’t have time to deal with that kind of depth, but you’re going to be Jewish for the rest of your life. Get a little more active.”
Observant or secular, our parents send us to a Jewish school for a reason. What do you say we make them proud and show them that the money they pay for our tuition isn’t going to waste? Let’s stop waiting for our Hebrew teachers to pass out worksheets on the rules of building a Sukkah and start doing a little building of our own.