Last October, I wrote a satirical op-ed about things Jewish parents should not do if they wanted their children to have a strong Jewish connection.
I did get a few complaints about the negative tone, which was done specifically to be provocative, but also I heard a lot of acknowledgment that many parents today might want to re-think (albeit briefly) their priorities. With Chanukah, one of the most universally celebrated Jewish holidays, almost here and conveniently overlapping with Christmas, I thought it would be appropriate to add some more “Things” to the list. Other than the “Do Nots” in the headings, I will write this in a more positive way and without (most) of the snarky commentary.
- Do not identify with other Jews who look or observe differently.
There are only about 13 to 15 million Jewish people worldwide. We are a very small group. Therefore, our identification with Jewish “peoplehood” is very important for our continuity. We cannot afford to see Jewish people who look or observe differently as “the Other” and marginalize them in our thinking or our behavior toward them. Though the ultra-religious, with their black dress, long beards, and often large families may not seem familiar to most secular Jews, their history — and more importantly — their values are. Our children need to be taught that these are our people, not foreigners whose strange ways are to be avoided. In our society, when every color, sexual orientation, gender identification, national origin, etc. is welcomed, we cannot afford to ostracize members of our tribe and then expect our people to avoid the fate of the American Indian.
- Do not respect Jewish traditions you’re not interested in following
As a corollary to 1 above, even if you do not observe Shabbat, attend synagogue regularly, or keep kosher, do not put down those who do or suggest that those things are not worthwhile. Make sure that your children know that these are our traditions and are core aspects of Judaism. Let them understand that your personal beliefs or lifestyle do not include them, but that these traditions represent important components of Jewish life, with deep meaning and strong history. Expose them at various times to these traditions, and let them know that they have value. And as with other choices they may make that differ from yours (such as their jobs, housing, location, or choice of the Jets v. Giants), they may want to consider some of them when they become adults.
- Do not have your children dress appropriately for synagogue.
While none of us would consider showing up to a wedding or funeral without a suit or dress, we think nothing of letting our children come to synagogue in t-shirts, shorts, skirts of nebulous lengths, and even flip flops. While casual dress has become accepted in our society, and certainly neat shorts and pants often are perfectly fine, there are limits. Sometimes the dress — or lack thereof — demonstrates a lack of respect for the institution and other congregants. If a child’s post-synagogue sports or other extracurricular activity necessitates a certain uniform, then bring along that uniform and change after the service. The same way that the child would not go to the activity in dress clothes, in most cases they should not attend synagogue in a soccer uniform!
- Do not respect the cell phone rules of the synagogue.
Unless you are a physician on call or have a family member in peril (in which case you may not want to attend anyway), there is no reason to have your cell phone on in the sanctuary during Shabbat or holiday services. If you are that important, if you really cannot be unavailable for 1 to 3 hours, especially on a Friday night or Saturday morning, when little or no business is being transacted, then you and your phone probably should stay home to attend to your urgent business. That text from your friend about dinner reservations or a hackneyed, pro/anti Trump Facebook post certainly can wait until services are over. Once again, it is disrespectful to the institution and to other congregants to use your cell phone while in the sanctuary (or for many synagogues even while on their grounds). How do you expect your children to obey rules or understand that there are things more important than themselves and their social life, when they see you flouting them?
- Do not take pride in the incredible number of Jewish accomplishments.
As Adam Sandler reminds us in his Chanukah songs, despite the small number of Jewish people in the world, it is indisputable that our influence and our successes have been outsized. Though many non-affiliated and overly assimilated Jews struggle to accept this, throughout time, Jewish people have flourished despite enormous obstacles. One reason was to overcome discrimination. This forced us to innovate by creating new industries, such as movies and TV, and also to go into others where there was a void like medicine, banking, and law. Other reasons are our strong family relationships, which often are cemented over Rosh Hashanah meals and Passover seders, community connections, emphasis on education, and focus on creativity.
Though many of these reasons no longer exist, some of them still do, especially the emphasis on education. But our community connections are the ones that helped us flourish in the United States in the 20th century and will be most important if we continue to flourish in the 21st century. So, when the founders of Google and Facebook are Jewish, that needs to be pointed out to our children as a source of Jewish pride. Jewish connectivity is the glue that will keep us strong. We must know which successful people are Jewish, and, unfortunately, which bad ones, like Madoff, are as well, so that we can teach our children the importance of being a member of the Jewish people and keeping our identity strong.
- Be the first to call out racism, sexism, and homophobia, but the last to identify anti-Semitism.
When every cause of perceived hate or discrimination is met with outrage (as it usually should be), but any type of anti-Semitism is met with benign indifference, our children are being taught to forget the lessons of the past. They also are being set up to question and often distance themselves from their Judaism, because being associated with it becomes too difficult or too painful. This often happens now on college campuses with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
There is growing anti-Semitism in the world today, and in the United States as well. Our country is accepting of anti-Semitism in many cases, especially when it relates to Israel. And our continued assimilation into American society is causing it to increase not decrease. If you want your children to identify as Jewish and to continue the chain of Jewish history, they must stand up for themselves and for their people. There are plenty of critics of Israel, and there also is plenty of time for us to criticize Israel as well. But, if the only discrimination that does not outrage you is the one that is leveled against your own people, then you are greatly diminishing the chances that your children will have a Jewish identity.