By Harriet P. Gross
The high school from which I graduated more moons ago than I care to mention had this motto carved proudly in the stone façade above its front doors: Know Something. Do Something. Be Something.
The similarity to our Dallas Federation’s Center for Jewish Education’s motto is striking in both six-word simplicity and impact: Learn Jewish. Think Jewish. Do Jewish.
What’s the difference? I would say that “Learn Something” is unnecessary for a school to post publicly. What else should be going on inside? But “Know Something” is dependent on that assumed learning. You can only Know Something if you’ve thoroughly learned it. And the same dependency criterion must apply to “Do Something,” which can happen only when knowledge is applied.
“Be Something” is of course the final aim of a house of learning, its dream of accomplishment for all graduates. Not just big accomplishments, like that of my classmate who became director of New York’s esteemed Frick Collection of Western Art, or the one who wrote the book that inspired Bette Midler’s film “Beaches”; but little ones, from everyone who took that learned knowledge and did something, anything, worthwhile with it.
Learn Jewish: We’ve all had that opportunity at CJE-sponsored LearningFests in recent years. They’ve helped every one of us who took part to Think Jewish about different aspects of our lives. And just taking part in them is one way to Do Jewish.
Earlier LearningFests offered many sessions on many topics over many days. But the latest took place on one jam-packed day. I had anticipated a logistical nightmare when almost 100 different experiences — from philosophical explorations to baking matzah — were scheduled for a single Sunday. Even in commodious Levine Academy, wouldn’t the corridors be clogged with people causing horrific foot traffic? And how closely would the 50-minute-per-presentation fiat be followed? It’s not Jewish not to stand around and schmooze afterward, is it?
I’m happy to say I worried about everything for nothing. Hundreds of attendees made it through those corridors without tripping over each other, asking and receiving directions as needed from a cadre of well-informed, helpful folks easily identifiable in their blue LearningFest tee-shirts. And very few people were late to any of the sessions, all of which started promptly on the hour, every hour. Also helpful: just in case the presenters failed to notice those who hoisted warning signs at 10 and 5 minutes before the end of their time, a not-to-be-ignored loudspeaker voice barked the news that it was definitely up! So maybe at the conclusion of each session, and of the day itself, we were all at least a little more Jewish. Maybe taking away our new learning, our new thinking…maybe spending some time doing Jewish… has helped us all to be more so. Maybe Be Jewish could be an addition to the LearningFest motto?
I attended five sessions, learned much and thought a lot. But one statement shone above all. I won’t say who voiced this, because it was relevant to every session and might have been said by any of the presenters. Here’s its essence: “We are all here as Jews to make the world ready for the coming of the Messiah. So when it’s ready, and the Messiah comes — we won’t need him!” If we, all together, do our Jewish work…if we repair our world and make it receptive to the Messiah…won’t it be a world already filled with what we expect the Messiah to bring?
My high school still exists. Know Something, Do Something, Be Something still beckons students to enter its doors. Learn Jewish, Think Jewish, Do Jewish is the Dallas LearningFest’ welcoming motto. But can we all, in our various ways, Be Jewish — Jewish enough to make our world so welcoming for the Messiah that we’ve created a credible Messianic Age by ourselves?
I think, and hope, that it’s worth a try. I Can’t wait for LearningFest 2015!