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In my mind, a good speech or column is one that provokes me to think about its content long after I have heard or read it. Judging by that standard, an email I received two weeks ago was simply excellent.
A friend of mine sent me an email in response to the series of columns that have been appearing in this space making the case for increased support for Jewish Education. He shared some thoughts with me on this subject, and ended by informing me that he honestly felt that these columns were not really relevant to him. After all, he is not a wealthy man and does not have significant charity funds at his disposal.
That really got me thinking. Who is target audience of these columns and the overall campaign making the case to increase support for Jewish education?
I would like to respectfully disagree with my friend and suggest that the response to the question of whom these articles are directed to ought to be - "all of us."
Singles, parents and grandparents. Educators, lay leaders, and ordinary folk. People of means and those who struggle just to get by.
For the education of our children is a matter of great importance to every single member of our community. It is interesting to note that in the vast majority of communities in the United States, public schools are funded by real estate tax, not income tax. This is the case despite the fact that real estate taxes tend to be more regressive in nature (people with lower incomes pay a greater proportion of their income on real estate tax than do wealthier people). And while there may be pragmatic reasons for collecting revenue from real estate taxes, there is also a resounding message in levying school tax on homers that a good school system results in a stable and desirable community. And notwithstanding the fact our Orthodox Jewish families place such a high value on the chinuch and education of our children, we (those in leadership positions of schools) have been stunningly unsuccessful in conveying the message that the education of our children is a communal responsibility not merely a parental one. To be sure, we as educators will need to convey the message - and create the facts on the ground to support this notion - that increased funding will directly translate into improved education for our children, not merely diminished fundraising for the heads of the schools. But that message is one we need to make - early and often.
A Good Start
Regardless of your opinion on various details of Dr. Marvin Shick's recent 12-part ad campaign to increase public support for Jewish Education, he is to be commended for being the first to produce a public awareness campaign of this nature. Was it a waste of time and money, being that immediate results may not have been realized? Absolutely not! Change takes time. But history has provided us with clear and overriding proof that these awareness campaigns are highly effective.
For some perspective, it may be helpful to think of high profile public consciousness campaigns over the past generation. Take the initiative to increase seat-belt use in cars, for example. It began with studies that correlated seat-belt use with significantly reduced fatality rates among drivers and passengers. Once these studies were released, public awareness campaigns were rolled out over a period of many years with remarkable effects. When I started driving thirty years ago (has it been that long?), most of my friends did not wear seat belts. These days, almost all kids buckle up as soon as they get into the car - and usually remind the adults to do so as well. Similar results were achieved in the campaigns for reducing cigarette smoking, removing secondhand smoke from public spaces and eliminating drunk driving. Why were these campaigns so effective and how did they change attitudes so dramatically?
Real change occurs when there is a concerted effort to convey important messages to all members of society. Think of the brilliant tag line of the ad, "Friends don't let friends drive drunk." It is not directed at the 'customer' (the drinker), but rather at others who care about the drinker. Those who prepare effective ad campaigns understand that there are many 'customers' or target audiences that they need to reach. In order to make a dent in secondhand smoke, employers need to set aside space for people to light up, and hotels must designate non-smoking rooms. Similarly, car drivers are not the only 'customers' in the efforts to increase seat-belt use. Back-seat drivers (your kids) are customers, as are car manufacturers. After all, they need to make seat belts more comfortable (remember those clunky two-piece, clip-on shoulder belts?), in order to get folks to wear them.
But all in all, these campaigns were rewarded with outstanding results over the course of time.
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I agree about change taking time and the ads not being "a waste". As an askan in my Shul, I made an unpopular suggestion at a public meeting that was given "the silent treatment". This, notwithstanding my cogent arguments and passionate pleas. Six months later, the officers of our Shul went ahead and began that very idea's implementation! My name wasn't mentioned. I think I have been long forgotten as the originator. But I certainly planted that seed that took sprout!
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