L’dor v’dor, from generation to generation, is a common phrase that is often referenced in the Jewish community. Every generation attempts to pass its customs, practices and ceremonies to the next generation. The passing of some traditions is of course, deliberate, while at other times, it is unintentional and just happens.
The Jewish people descend from all parts of the world. They are usually defined as Ashkenazim, Sephardim and Mizrahim plus sub definitions throughout the globe. We should understand that because Jews are based throughout numerous regions, it is only natural that customs can be very different.
The Shema, referenced in Deuteronomy 6:4-9; is considered the most important prayer, as we announce that the Lord is our God and there is none else, and one which Jews are supposed to recite throughout the day.
“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words which I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, talking of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
From this passage, one can see firsthand the importance of educating our children since it is commanded by the Almighty.
This is considered a Jewish tradition along with the recitation of the Modeh Ani prayer, which is said every morning. My parents began teaching these prayers to all their children at a very early age. As my brothers became of age, my father focused on instructing them about how to lay tefillin and he taught all his children the order of services, however, he was quite traditional, and would never allow his daughters to lead a service. Both boys and girls were trained and prepared for their Bar and Bat Mitzvah. Although not commanded, it was important to my father that his sons and daughters experience the honor of becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. In following my parents’ footsteps, I taught my daughter both of these prayers and others, which she says as part of her daily prayers. As a result of my parents’ diligence, I was blessed to prepare my daughter for her Bat Mitzvah with a Rabbi from Philadelphia teaching her the Sephardic chant that she would read during her ceremony.
I remember when the movie, Fiddler on the Roof, came out, my father was definitely a big fan. While I never thought to ask him why he liked the movie, I am guessing he connected to it because, like Tevye, he was a Jewish father with several daughters and my father had a deep love for music. He was such a fan that we added the song, “Sunrise Sunset”, to our band repertoire.
My father, Rabbi Abel Respes, z”l, held services beginning on Friday nights through Saturday, as well as Sunday mornings and on Jewish holidays. As the Shabbat and erev holidays approached, some of our traditions included, cleaning the house, the preparation of meals (which were usually different than the other days of the week), lighting candles, and Jewish folk songs were played on the Shabbat. On Hanukkah and when it coincided with the Shabbat, I remember my father playing Hanukkah songs. I thought I might never hear those special tunes again when my father passed away, but years later, one of my brothers managed to purchase a copy of the album from our childhood and revived that tradition with his family. When I visited my brother and heard the fine melodies, my heart was warmed, as they gave me a chance to take a walk down memory lane.
Tradition can be related to an area where one resides, such as food, dress, song, dance, prayer and so on. On my beyt Knesset journey, I have noticed songs are sung differently, prayers are not the same, not everyone covers their eyes when reciting the Shema, women may or may not stand during the Amidah, the order of a service is slightly varied from one service to another, et cetera. A practice within Orthodox and Sephardic temples is gender separation, known as the mechitza, during Shabbat and holiday services. This ritual was started with a balcony in the Temple for the Water Drawing Ceremony on Sukkot and was first established to preserve modesty. My most recent beyt Knesset adventure landed us at a Chabad, where a Bat Mitzvah was being celebrated. One of the young girls related to the Bat Mitzvah, handed each attendee a wrapped candy to throw at the celebrant. This was a new tradition for my daughter and me to witness yet, when sharing our experience with one of my sisters and a niece, I learned celebrations (Bar Mitzvahs and a wedding) occurred at the temples they attended the same weekend and their encounter with candy throwing was similar. How cool was that?
No matter what each person touts as their custom and whether it is recognized or not by mainstream Judaism, it does not deem the tradition invalid or the individual less Jewish unless it conflicts with the laws set forth in the Torah. Ritual differences should not prohibit someone from being recognized as a Jew. If we are able to leave our hearts open to learn about the traditions of others specific to their country of origin, we just might find ourselves being better informed and more welcoming.
I could address additional practices within this blog, but I believe my point is understood. Whether your approach to creating or sustaining your tradition is subtle or deliberate, do yourself a favor and try your best to make the most of it, knowing you could be shaping the practices of future generations for years to come.