About thirty years ago, when I was in my later teens, I studied for two years in a yeshiva (Jewish school) that was hosted in an old synagogue. The surrounding Jewish community was predominantly elderly and membership was in decline. This, unfortunately, led to a campaign by some members to sell off the synagogue in order to provide additional funding for the community cemetery (sadly, this campaign eventually succeeded and the synagogue was sold to a cult).
To me, this incident, which was not at all unusual, represented a tragic communal shift from life to death. While caring for the dead is certainly an important responsibility of every Jewish community, our primary focus must always be on the living, especially on Jewish education (in the form of day schools and yeshivos).
In Parshas Shemos, we read of the passing of our ancestor, Jacob, the third Patriarch of the Jewish people. The Talmud (Taanis 5:) writes, “Our father, Jacob, did not die” for “just as his descendants live on, so does he live on.”
The most important thing that we can do for our ancestors is to maintain what they passed down to us as a living legacy, and to ensure its continuity in future generations. Judaism is a religion of life, not death.
By Eli Reit