My father, Natan Schulsinger, a Holocaust survivor and an ardent Zionist, helped smuggle Jews over the Italian-Austrian Alps and into Palestine. He identified as a survivor and a Zionist fighter, and his experiences fighting for the land and people of Israel greatly influenced the way that he and my mother, a strong woman with the identical persona, educated their children — my sister and me.
During the Holocaust, my parents saw our people victimized and dehumanized. Following the war, they began to rebuild their lives and made it their mission to help rebuild the lives of others who struggled as they had. Additionally, they did whatever they could to rebuild our Jewish homeland.
My father, the sole survivor of his family, made it clear that Jewish renewal at every level was his top priority when he joined the Israeli Navy immediately following the establishment of the State of Israel.
Like many from his generation, my father was fond of quoting the old adage, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”
My parents made it clear to us that knowledge was power and that power could build up a single person or an entire people. Education levels the playing field and provides opportunities for those who don’t normally associate with one another to meet and work beside each other. In other words, education promotes unity.
After living in the newly formed State of Israel for eight years, our family moved to New York to be closer to my mother’s family. I attended the Yeshiva of Flatbush where my Zionistic education continued and our strong Jewish values were reinforced. From there, I sought out additional opportunities to “empower” myself. I attended law school and became an attorney, fulfilling my parents’ greatest hopes and living out my own dreams.
I have since raised three daughters, all of whom value higher education as much as I do. The pursuit of education is a family value and a personal obsession.
I believe that those of us who have benefited from strong educational backgrounds must do everything we can to assist those less fortunate than us to both see the value in education and achieve the highest level of education possible.
I am always pained to hear about fellow Jews who don’t have the same educational opportunities that I was given and that I was able to give to my own children. And it’s a bigger problem than you might think.
Unfortunately, there are large pockets of the Jewish community both in the United States and in Israel that are vulnerable and need support. There are whole communities that cannot access the most basic educational resources. The lack of equal opportunities in education is a huge problem in itself and is often seen as the root of numerous, wide-ranging societal issues.
For example, Israel suffers from a segregated society in which religious women and immigrant populations still struggle to find their place. Staunch commitment to their values and beliefs as well as severe financial limitations are constant barriers to their growth and enrichment.
But after we identify the lack of education as the source of the problem, it is important that we address the issue appropriately by educating the troubled populations in question, rather than just throwing money at them. Financial aid on its own will not solve this problem.
It is for this reason that I am a proud supporter of the Jerusalem College of Technology, a leader in the field of higher education in Israel that is at the forefront of a movement to educate Israeli populations that have been marginalized and whose educational needs have been overlooked for years, namely women, haredim and Ethiopians. The college provides a framework wherein these groups are given educational support, individualized attention and the tools necessary to not only succeed in school and expand their horizons but also pursue a professional career in high tech, engineering, accounting or nursing.
Most of these students are the first members of their families to have been “taught to fish.” By providing them with an opportunity for personal growth, JCT is altering their family history and contributing to the social and financial health of the country as a whole. The opportunities they provide help alleviate multiple socio-economic issues within Israel and bring equality to the workforce and greater unity to society at large.
My parents believed that the future of the Jewish people was dependent upon a strong Israel. I will take that one step further and clarify that our future as a people hinges on Israel’s socio-economic strength. And the only way to achieve socio-economic prosperity is by ensuring that every sector of the population has the tools they need to succeed.
An educated Israel is a united and strong Israel. When we empower individuals who would otherwise have been left on the sidelines with knowledge and opportunities, we are contributing to a process that builds up and strengthens our entire people.
Helene Rothenberg is an attorney living in Woodmere, New York, and a member of the board of the Friends of the Jerusalem College of Technology (www.friendsofjct.org).