A Mask Will Descend
Dr. Ronald A. Brauner
It is truly wonderful to witness the vibrant flowering of Jewish life and institutions throughout our country. Day schools are growing as never before, revitalized organizations are springing up everywhere. Budgets for Jewish education are expanding ...and, on the whole, even the casual observer gets the distinct impression that American Judaism is not only alive and well, but more active, more serious and more far-reaching than ever before. So what's the problem?
We are an ancient people with a long and wondrous history. We are a people who, in our better moments, have learned from that history and have used our penchant for memory to protect, defend and prosper. We are, all of us, the beneficiaries of a long tradition of
alles far die kinder, "everything for the children" and it is with some trepidation that I touch upon this area, considering that I myself am such a grateful product of that noble aspect of our culture. What Jew isn't?
Recently, in one of my travels to speak before a Jewish community I found myself, for some reason, listening to the flight attendant rehearse the oft-delivered announcements about fastening seatbelts, using cushions as flotation devices and all the other instructions we have gotten so used to. So used to the routine that we hardly take note of the content. But this time, the attendant's remarks drew my attention and I was struck with how much the airlines of America have to offer Jews and Judaism! This is what I heard: "In case of the sudden loss of cabin pressure, an oxygen mask will descend over your seat. Place the mask firmly over your nose and mouth and breathe normally. After you have done this, then attend to the children who may be traveling with you..."
There it was, a metaphor for Jewish learning, and from such an unlikely source. Indeed, the point was as powerful as it could ever be - only when your own status is stable, can you deal effectively with those around you who depend upon you. Only when your own mask is firmly in place can you be your most helpful and competent. Your children look to you as the source of their care and if your own circumstances get in the way, then it can only be that your care for others will suffer.
We must not allow ourselves to get carried away with our own rhetoric. Yes, day schools are mushrooming at an unprecedented rate, more Jewish children are studying Jewish tradition than ever before. Jewish camps, Israel study programs, departments of Jewish Studies - all continue to proliferate.
Alles far die kinder - but wait a moment? How about something for the parents? How are community priorities, budgeting, allocations, programming, curriculum and all those things to be determined? By people whose own grasp and understanding of serious Judaism is flawed or inadequate or non-existent. We parents are the single most significant human beings in the lives of our children (even though the laws of nachas keep children from ever admitting this!). We are their models and what we are helps them know what they can be. How we spend our time (our most valuable asset) and what we do for ourselves sends a powerful message to those who look to us. We cannot be Jewish through the proxy of our children and we can never know fully what they need Jewishly until we have examined ourselves. In a very real sense, adult Jewish learning is an oxygen mask - putting it on first will assure that we will be able to do the best for our children!

1998, Foundation for Jewish Studies, Inc.