Before you were born, the excitement of pending parenthood and preparation for infancy were the focus – writing birth plans and researching bottles. We were dedicated to creating a home steeped in our [Jewish] values, but didn’t yet know what that would look like beyond Shabbat dinners and Shema at bedtime. We rejoiced when we celebrated our first Shabbat with each of you. The picture of Daddy with his hands out to bless you will forever be burned in our memories. We breathed deeply into the sacred moments of each of your welcome ceremonies, surrounded by community, reveling the public statement of Jewish continuity. Those were the values and the directions in those days, together with the instilling of profound love.
As you grew, the foundation evolved, the lessons seemingly simple. Say please and thank you; hands are for hugging, not hitting; sharing is caring. Over time, the complexity of the conversation developed. How do we treat others? What is socially appropriate? Where is your responsibility to family and community? Tzedakah is paramount. We sought with devotion to impart Hillel’s pinnacle teaching – “what is hateful to you, do not do to another.” We did our best to model, imperfectly, and to teach and redirect when we had the opportunity to help you practice the lesson.
Fast forward to this new school year, where we found ourselves drowning in the frenzy of the election cycle. In-school assignments, reading, writing and discussion about the election were coming home. The entertainment value “news” becoming louder and our democratic process unraveling as the personalities and the sensationalized reality unfolded daily. Inevitably, the discussion came to our dinner table. The reflections back to us of your early political opinions were both heartening and shocking as we took pride in your awareness and of course, gratification in your alliance with us.This was entertaining for a moment, and then we realized that you were simply parroting us – your role models to whom you look for direction in all things. Being of true service to the world, the core value we wish to instill requires more than echoing those we revere. What we were teaching you with our quips and storytelling of the days news only reflected the same behavior which we were telling you was not ok.
Here is what we truly want you to take from this profound and distressing moment in history:
“In a place where no one is human, one should strive to be human.” – Pirkei Avot 2:5
This is our obligation, to make conscious and deliberate choices rooted in our values and authenticity – even when it means standing on your own. You can advocate and stand your ground without getting sucked into the anger and hatred that is swirling around you. And this doesn’t have to happen on a public stage. The way that you treat others, in your daily encounters, has deep impact. One person’s kindness, respect, and empathy can start a chain reaction that reaches countless others. To see ourselves in others is what allows the Divine to dwell between two people – for love to overcome hate, peace to overcome violence.
This work requires learning how to pause. It means not reacting to your first feeling, but taking a breath in order to check in with what really matters to you, and to act accordingly. From here, you have a chance not to be guided by the hurts of the past or the fears of the future, but to be grounded in who you are today, which allows you to be your best selves.
For our son: you can be a fully expressed human being, replete with the breadth of human emotion. You can establish deep and connected relationships, and express yourself completely while still being a strong and successful man, even more so.
Dehumanizing or degrading women, anyone for that matter should never be an option; not in a locker room, a frat party, at work or in the bedroom.
Lifting others up will only serve to elevate you, not diminish you.
For our daughter: you can be a fully expressed human being, though you live in a world that still places tremendous limits upon you. Those limits, today, are your reality; they are not your destiny.
You are worthy and powerful because of ‘who’ and ‘how’ you are in the world. Your value and your body have nothing to do with each other, despite the constant messages that they do. The assumption that your body or your sexuality belong in any way to anyone other than you is a LIE.
Your passion, your fire, your voice, your opinion, your contributions are much needed in the world, and solely unique to you. They should never, EVER, be silenced.
Raising both of you in this unprecedented world of technology and social media, the endless barrage of information and access – our parenting looks far different than your grandparent’s did to us. We have been learning alongside you how to navigate this world and weave our values through the thorny labyrinth. We have come to realize that our job is less to tell and show you how to be and more to help you develop the skills; to identify your own sense of justice, morals and values and to act accordingly, working on acceptance even when your sensibilities and choices differ.
As we blessed you on those first Shabbat evenings of your lives, we bless you on the eve of this historic election… with presence so you may be present for others; with strength and pride in your convictions and identity while respecting and honoring those different from you. May you both be the fully expressed versions of your wonderful selves, unlimited by your ideals, and deeply empowered by your authenticity. We are already in awe of you!
Love- Mom and Dad
I am proud to have written this post with my wife and partner, Nicole Nevarez.
Nicole Nevarez is the New York Director for Moving Traditions, a national Jewish education organization that applies a gender and Jewish lens to engage and empower healthy teens. She is a longtime Jewish educator and lifelong spiritual seeker.