Dear Jewish Parents and Grandparents,
I know you want to make your precious kids and grandkids happy and be in sync with them as much as possible. Some of you also want to affirm a version of Judaism that’s accepting of their values and viewpoints. I know you–especially you Boomers–don’t want your progeny to see you as you saw your parents: desperately out of touch with the times. I know you want to be “on the right side of history,” wherever that is.
I get all that. I’m a parent too with kids in their early twenties and teens. I have the same impulse. But for goodness sake stop deferring to their woke pronouncements as if they’ve just presented you the tablets straight from Mt. Sinai (some of them think they have). Listen to them. Always listen. Discuss. Always discuss. But there is absolutely no reason for you to kowtow to their political sensibilities. You’ve said no to them in the past when they asked you for the keys to the car. You can say no again.
One prominent rabbi recently told me that while he has deep misgivings about the illiberalism of the current moment, one of his sons strongly supports critical race ideology. The Rabbi wants to show his son that they share common values and is reluctant to express opposition to his worldview. A philanthropist similarly told me that “we are all negotiating with our kids and grandkids about wokeness and some of us don’t want to be in an open state of conflict with them.”
As comedian Bill Maher recently quipped, “The kids are running the asylum now.” Here are two things to keep in mind:
Your hyper-woke kids do not represent their generation.
According to one poll, Gen Z–ages 13-24–are less likely to support cancel culture than all other age groups. Truth is they’ve been exposed to much more of it from some of their true believer friends, who are every bit as obnoxious to them as they are to you. You might find if you take an informal poll of young people your kids’ age that they hold a range of opinions, even among educated elites.
Your kids have bought into a dangerous ideology that undermines liberal democracy.
The idea that we are all privileged based on skin color, that America is a white supremacist state, that systemic racism accounts for all disparities among groups, that any disparity is automatically a function of racism, that only marginalized people have standing to define racism for the rest of society, etc. etc. may sound like the next step in equality, but much of it is deeply illiberal. Of course there is truth in some of these observations some of the time. However, proponents of the ideology seek to establish a monopoly on discourse that makes it impossible to discuss issues in public. And when we can’t openly discuss issues, when only one view of an issue is considered acceptable in many institutional circles, then we won’t be able to resolve tensions and solve our social problems.
Your kids may think they have all the answers. They may think they are standing for progress. But the insistence that there is only one way to see these issues and everyone who disagrees is morally compromised is deeply regressive. We have to push back.
An Orthodox Jewish friend of mine told me that such parental deference is less common in the orthodox community because there is much less generational distancing and because of the popular aphorism that one’s parents are closer to the revelation at Sinai and, hence, possess greater wisdom.
Hear that liberal Jewish parents? You–not your kids and grandkids–are closer to Sinai. Now grow a pair and stand up for classical liberal values of fairness and equality of opportunity. Future generations may just thank you for being on the right side of history.
David Bernstein is Founder of the Jewish Institute for Liberal Values (JILV.org). Follow him on Twitter @DavidLBernstein.