For many American Jewish children, the first taste of Judaism comes at High Holy Day services—which are long and, to most children and many adults, boring. It would be much better, argued Peter Beinart in a recent essay, to introduce children to such holidays as Sukkot and Purim, whose practices include, respectively, eating outdoors and dressing in costumes. Evelyn Gordon deems this analysis “unfeasible”:
Beinart’s proposal is impractical because only parents who are already very committed to Judaism are likely to be willing to celebrate such holidays. Those who aren’t generally know next to nothing about these holidays, not even when they occur. Moreover, observing any Jewish holiday in America often means taking a day off from work and school, which [most] parents . . . won’t be willing to do more than once or twice a year. . . .
If you could somehow eliminate these obstacles, getting Jews to observe other holidays would be much easier, as the Israeli experience shows. Though only around 20 percent of Israeli Jews self-identify as Orthodox, a whopping 85 percent attribute importance to celebrating Jewish holidays “in the traditional manner,” i.e. by doing some traditional activity associated with the holiday. . . .
But that’s precisely because, in Israel, celebrating holidays like Purim and Sukkot is easy. First, all Jewish holidays are automatically days off from work and school. Second, kindergartens and primary schools (and sometimes higher grades) all teach about and have activities relating to the holidays before they occur—for instance, kids always come to school in costume before Purim. . . .
There is, of course, a way to replicate all of these conditions, aside from the days off work: sending children to a Jewish day school. And that solution works in Europe, where many nonobservant Jews do send their kids to Jewish schools, because they like the combination of Jewish content with excellent secular studies. But in America, that, too, is unfeasible: most American parents can’t afford the sky-high day-school tuition, and therefore, there isn’t enough demand even to justify starting such a school in many non-Orthodox communities. . . .
[T]he only way to make Jewish schools widely available and affordable is through vouchers that can be used at parochial schools. Consequently, school choice is literally a matter of life and death for American Jewry. . . . Yet rather than supporting vouchers, American Jewish organizations have consistently opposed them. . . . So let’s hope the new Jewish year that began this month will finally be the one in which American Jewish leaders stop trying to make Judaism hard and instead start lobbying for the one policy that would make it easier.