Jewish survival depends on maximizing nachas. Nachas (or nachat in the Sephardic pronunciation) is the feeling of soul satisfaction when connecting Jewishly. All Jews have experienced nachas. We get it at lifecycle events when we perceive all will be well for the Jewish future. Brises, baby-namings, Bar/Bat mitzvahs and Jewish weddings are the headquarters of nachas. It isn’t quite pride, although that’s a big part of it. Parents swell with pride when their kids achieve significant accomplishments. A pride moment is your child getting an A on a math test or passing the Bar Exam. A nachas moment is seeing your offspring called to the Torah. Or when a bride circles her groom under a chuppah. Nachas involves continuity. When Jewish organizations worry about connecting with the next generation, what they are really saying is they are concerned about nurturing nachas.
Hebrew is the divine tongue, so word roots communicate the essence of any given concept. The root of nachas is nach. Related terms are menucha (rest) and nechama (comfort). Nachas implies having peace of mind, knowing God’s well-managed world is running smoothly. It indicates one can rest assured about the long-term spiritual health of the Jewish People.
Nachas isn’t only for parents and children. Siblings can have nachas for one another. So can dear friends and even strangers. Unselfish gestures on another’s behalf inspire nachas for all who hear about them, like the profound self-sacrifice of a daughter of a dear friend who donated a kidney to her ailing mother. Organizations like Jewish World Watch and American Jewish World Service advocating on behalf of international humanitarian concerns bring nachas to our benevolent tribe. Established Jewish neighborhoods are nachas factories. Most boast a robust, all-volunteer Jewish paramedic service called Hatzolah (rescue). They have gemachs (free loan societies) for just about everything: strollers, high chairs, wedding dresses and shtick, children’s clothing, shoes, tefillin, even free loans of cash!
Money can’t buy nachas. It’s a human pleasure on a higher plateau, up there with love, power and divine connection. Nachas takes investment, sacrifice and wisdom. In Jewish life, it’s not “he who dies with the most toys wins.” We don’t do roasts or talk about real estate acquisitions at Jewish funerals. Those properly delivering hespedim (eulogies) discuss nachas moments, such as meaningful acts of charity and loving-kindness.
My parents mentioned nachas frequently. By doing so, they ingrained in their four boys that worldly success is worthless without it. Connecting with nachas is enhanced by yichus (direct lineage) with our Jewishly-enlightened ancestry. That’s why we get nostalgic when we think of bubbies (grandmothers), Yiddish and chicken soup. When we lose the link with those who lived and died for nachas, we lose our awareness of what is truly important. Those without living Jewish mentors face the formidable task of finding their own inspiration. Without Judaic inspiration, barring radical anti-Semitism, it is inevitable they melt into the greater culture, and much is lost.
My parents modeled their belief that the best shot at nachas is an intact family with a Jewish spouse, with children on a clear path to a fulfilling Jewish life. One does not have to keep all 613 mitzvot to pass on Jewish values to the next generation. Turning kids into enthusiastic Jews means teaching them about nachas; serving as their role model. We can also resource role models in the community, exposing our kids to tireless heroes in the community. We can all be Jewish heroes! Regardless of one’s family circumstances, we create nachas by conscientiously contributing to the world around us. Nachas is one of those things we can grab hold of at any time in our lives, in any circumstance.
Nachas comes one mitzvah at a time. The subtle pleasure from one holy act multiplies exponentially and illuminates a Godly pathway. Building one’s nachas reservoir requires patience. There’s no rushing this stuff—quality over quantity. No need to blame or point fingers for previous intransience, no need for regret or panic. The Ba’al T’shuva (return to tradition) movement shows it’s possible to reclaim nachas even without direct contact with bubbies and zaydies (grandparents). Start now with simple, positive steps. Celebrate Shabbat. Read a Jewish book. Get involved with your community. Consider synagogue-based adult education and adult Bar/Bat Mitzvah programs. Helping those in need is the nursery where nachas flourishes. Every step we take broadcasts the message that increasing nachas is a priority above career accomplishment and material acquisition.
There were times I criticized my brother Yom Tov’s affiliation with the Chassidic veldt (world) in Jerusalem. I felt he was losing touch with Western culture due to his reticence to go to movies, mixed gender beaches or ball games. As much as I tried to convince him of the importance of remaining connected with the secular world, he insisted that recoiling from “culture” was necessary to regain a sense of purity. I retorted that there are many valuable things in modern society and he could filter the good from the bad. In response, he said he didn’t want to have any filters. He hoped for an open heart and the ability to hear God’s voice without distractions.
Ultimately, I lost these arguments. My brother got s’micha (rabbinic ordination), moved near the Charedi (ultra-religious) neighborhood of Meah She’arim, married a likeminded woman and is raising eight beautiful Chassidic kids. I get nachas from all seventeen of my remarkable nieces and nephews from my three brothers and sisters-in-law. The following saga describes an experience with Yom Tov and Leah’s eight amazing kids to illustrate the opportunities for nachas outside of one’s immediate family and to highlight our big surprise at the end of the trip.
One spring night, my brother phoned from Jerusalem. The time was nearing for his once-every-five-year trip to the States to visit grandparents. Yom Tov had a lifelong dream of introducing his offspring to the wonder of Southern Utah’s magnificent national parks. I turned him on to these treasures when I was a student at the University of Colorado. Five years my junior, Yom Tov (then Johnny) joined me on many of my cross-country drives from L.A. and we’d explore, hike, and four-wheel drive our way across this magnificent red-rock wilderness. He was worried he couldn’t adequately plan the itinerary, transportation and lodging, all within a tight budget. I was happy to help, since I have experience navigating these environs.
I assembled a ten-day whirlwind tour of Zion, Bryce, Antelope and Grand Canyons. At the request of the kids, I arranged for the trip to culminate in a day of skiing at the nearby resort of Brian Head. I secured a massive, centrally located home on the outskirts of Zion National Park and rented a twelve-passenger van. I planned age-appropriate hikes and all-terrain vehicle, zipline and horseback riding activities. I realized that this was a trip I could not miss. I cleared my schedule so I could serve as driver, tour guide, photographer and crazy uncle.
I learned early on just how difficult it could be to get twelve people motivated. Just packing up the car was a painful ordeal, not to mention the frequent rest stops and a three-hour delay at the St. George, Utah Walmart. We finally arrived at our mountaintop palace and everyone scrambled to find beds.
The next morning was utterly hectic. We were going to explore the phenomenally photogenic Checkerboard Mesa region but once again, I couldn’t get the family in the car. Breakfast and the sandwich assembly line took over an hour. Each time we were about to roll away and sing our traditional family song, “We’re Off on the Morning Train,” someone else needed to pee or forgot a sweater.
After lunch, I led the big kids and Yom Tov on an advanced exploration of a prominent peak and we then angled down through a daunting slickrock canyon to meet the rest of the group back at the car. Later that afternoon, we visited the main junction of the spectacular park and Uncle Sam (me) gave every child a budget to buy shiny rocks and geodes in a rustic rock shop. I was impressed that several of the kids opted to use their allotment to buy gifts for friends rather than their own bookshelves. Now that’s nachas!
Our week was filled with once-in-a-lifetime adventures. Here is the “large world, well managed” moment: after packing up the van on the final morning, we headed an hour north to the Brian Head ski area. On the way to the slopes, I expressed my desire to find an après-ski Jacuzzi before enduring the eight-hour ride back home. I then called my parents in L.A. to give them an update on our adventures. My mom said, “Did you know your brother Joey took his family to a ski area called Brian Head for a few days? They arrived last night.” Our brother is at the same ski area? On the same day? A place that none of us had ever been to before? Without knowing that we were going there? Family togetherness equals ultimate nachas. We spent the day with Joey and his wife Jennifer and their three adorable kids. The cousins had a blast together. I loved initiating my Israeli family to winter sports and dashing about to keep everyone’s skis attached. Best of all, at the end of the day, fifteen of us crammed into Joey’s outdoor Jacuzzi for a hot soak and cold Coronas.
As we were about to leave, Jennifer received a distressing call: her dear stepfather was on his last legs. He had been suffering for the past year and prognosis was dismal. She panicked, sobbed and told Joey he would have to drive her several hours back to the Las Vegas airport. Well, that was exactly the direction we were going. We were able to do the mitzvah of rushing her to her stepfather and comforting her on the way. We also got to salvage Joey and the kids’ vacation. We said our goodbyes, stuffed into the van and got Jennifer to the airport just in time for the flight, allowing her to share her stepdad’s final hours, may his memory be for a blessing.
At my wedding, one of my rabbi friends settled my nerves by giving me a simple prayer to say under the chuppah (marriage canopy): over the course of my life, I should always give God nachas. That sums it up. We give God nachas by being the best versions of ourselves. In the immortal words of Sting, “Be yourself, no matter what they say.”
May we all have lives filled with sweet song and abundant nachas. May we serve God with joy and merit a speedy redemption for our beautiful world.
Sam Glaser is a performer, composer, producer and author in Los Angeles. He has released 25 CDs of his music and his book The Joy of Judaism is an Amazon bestseller. He produces albums and scores for media in his Glaser Musicworks recording studio. Visit him online at www.samglaser.com. Join Sam for a weekly uplifting hour of study every Wednesday night – 7:30 pm PST. Presented with love, humor and music for learners of all ages and levels of knowledge. https://us02web.zoom.us/j/6136132436 – Meeting ID: 6136132436