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August 25, 1989 - Image 109

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-08-25

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values they hold most
I strongly suspect that
most Jewish parents have
already formulated their list
of priorities, and that for
most, brilliance and success
rank well above Jewishness.
Let us be honest with our-
selves. Most parents do raise
their children in the light of
their most cherished values.
And for the past two genera-
tions in Jewish life those
values have been primarily
professional and economic
success. In those areas, Jews'
success is legendary. In culti-
vating commitment to a
Jewish life or to ethical ex-
cellence, our failures are also
becoming legendary.


It is often said that the dif-
ficulty in raising a Jewish
child is that we live in a Chris-
tian society. This is simply
not so. It is not Christianity
that challenges our children's
Jewish identity. It is secular-
Thus the first thing Amer-
ican Jewish parents who want
their children to be Jewish
need to realize is that an open
secular society — with all its
advantages — poses greater
challenge to raising a Jewish
child than did a Christian
America. Today, we do not
lose our children to Chris-
tianity; we lose them to
everything else.
Some time ago, a Jewish
mother came up to me after
a lecture and said: "You keep
telling us to stay home on Fri-
day nights to celebrate the
Shabbat with our families.
Well, let me tell you some-
thing. My daughter is a
junior in high school and
after two years of trying out
for the cheerleaders she final-
ly made it as a cheerleader,
and cheerleading • practice
happens to be on Friday
nights. Now, do you expect
me to say to my daughter,
'Stay home on Friday nights
and don't be a cheerleader?' "
Nothing better illustrates
the state of contemporary
Judaism. There was a time
when Judaism had to corn-
pete with Christianity; today
it has to compete with cheer-
leading practice. And it usual-
ly loses.
Parents must ask them-
selves if there is any time
when they sacrifice the
secular for the Jewish. If you
have playoff tickets for a Fri-
day night or Rosh Hashan-
nah game, do you give them

up? Will your child ever have
to say no to a party, to band
or soccer practice for the sake
of something Jewish? Have
you ever chosen Israel over a
European, Hawaiian, or other
trip solely in order to further
your family's links with Is-
It is not Christianity that
competes for our children's al-
legiances today. It is cheer-
leading, sports, band practice,
homework, movies, television,
and, of course, friends whose
values are not Jewish.
Our children are growing
up in a world that is as non-
Jewish as the medieval Chris-
tian world was. While the
modern secular world is con-
siderably less dangerous to
Jewish bodies, it is con-
siderably more dangerous to
Jewish souls. If your child at-
tends public school or a pri-
vate secular school, your child
is as immersed in a way of life
as far from Judaism as if he
or she were being educated in
a monastery. Moreover, being
in a secular school with many
other Jewish students is
worse than irrelevant to a
child's Jewish identity; it
deludes many Jewish parents
into thinking that proximity
to other Jews will keep their
child Jewish.
Jews whO know little or
nothing about Judaism know
that Judaism differs from
Christianity; at least they
know, "We don't believe in
Jesus:' Thus, in a Christian
society, even Jewish children
entirely ignorant of Judaism
were aware that they are dif-
ferent. But in a secular socie-
ty, most Jews, especially
children, do not have a clue as
to how they differ. Jews
should be able to say, "We
don't believe in secularism:'
But most Jews do believe in


Knowing that one is dif-
ferent is the obvious prere-
quisite to the survival of any
minority. If we are not dis-
tinctive, if our values are not
distinctive, we have no reason
to survive. Parents who want
their children to remain Jew-
ish need to create a home that
is Jewishly distinctive. The
more distinctive, the greater
the chance of one's child's re-
maining Jewish; the less dis-
tinctive the greater the
chance of assimilation.
This leads to a simple rule
in raising Jewish children —
the more Judaism, i.e., the
more distinctive Jewish prac-
tices the better.
Lighting Shabbat candles,

for example, serves this pur-
pose. But while it is one of the
more widespread Jewish prac-
tices, it renders the home dis-
tinctly Jewish for only a few
moments a week. Parents
must ask themselves how
their home differs from non-
Jewish homes on Wednes-
days, not just on Friday
nights or on some Jewish hol-
I have found the kippah to
be extraordinarily effective in
this regard. In my parents'
home, my father, my brother
and I wore a kippah at home
but not outside. With the
birth of my son, I resumed
this practice. Its impact is in-
calculable. The moment the
kippah goes on, the house
takes on an aura of holiness
and Jewish distinctiveness,
(in fact, the Hebrew word for
holy, kadosh, means distinc-
tive). For those uncomfor-
table wearing it all the time
in the home, how about wear-
ing it at mealtimes? If that is
too much, how about at meal-
times on Shabbat? But if
even that is too much, ask
yourself, why?
I have also found the ban-
ning of television on Shabbat
to be one of the most effective

ing ethical without acting
ethically. It doesn't count.
The deeds count, not the feel-
ing. That is the power of
Jewish "rituals!'
Keeping Jewish children
Jewish without Jewish
religious practices is virtual-
ly impossible outside of
Israel. But the prospect of
Jewish observance arouses
fear (and often loathing) in
many Jewish parents. Those
parental fears need to be


Many Jewish parents fear
giving their child more Juda-
ism lest the child become "too
Jewish!' What is most note-
worthy about this fear is that
it is the only fear most Jewish
parents have about anything
positive in their child's life.
Parents do not fear that their
child will be too brilliant, or
too attractive, or too success-
ful. And among parents who
fear their child will become
"too Jewish," I have never
met one who was afraid the
child might become too secu-
lar — something that ought
to be far more frightening,
especially because it is far

The moment the kippah
goes on, the house takes on
an aura of holiness and
Jewish distinctiveness
(in fact, the Hebrew word
for holy, kadosh,
means distinctive).

antidotes to the worship of
the many gods of secular civ-
ilization, so many of which
coalesce around television —
most particularly material-
ism and sports.
In addition, Jewish day
schools and Jewish camps
(that is, Reform, Conser-
vative, and Orthodox camps,
not secular camps for Jews)
. are incomparable for giving a
Jewish child an all-day ex-
perience of Jewish identity.
And of course, the more
time spent in Israel, the bet-
ter. A high school or college
year in Israel might be'able to
compensate for much of the
Jewish deprivation in a young
Jew's life.
Judaism is a very physical
religion. lb be Jewish is to do.
It does not suffice to "feel"
Jewish. Feeling Jewish with-
out acting Jewish is like feel-

more likely.
Now, what does a parent
who fears a child may become
"too Jewish" really fear? It is
probably that the child will be
more observant than the par-
ent (or simply observant at
all). But what if that were to
happen? Why is that so
frightening? I strongly urge
parents to speak to parents
whose children have become
observant, and to parents
whose children have dropped
whatever observance they
were raised with. Find out
which group is more pleased
with the results.
Another fear among par-
ents who are contemplating
increased Judaism in the
home is that the child will
rebel — against the parents
and against Judaism. I say
that parents need to stand for
ideals — Jewish and other-

wise. Then, if the children
rebel, they will at least have
something to return to after
the rebellion.
Another argument fre-
quently offered against in-
creased observance in - the
home is that unless the par-
ent truly "believes in it,- do-
ing something Jewish for the
sake of a child is hypocritical.
This is unwise thinking.
May God spare us a world in
which parents act in the
presence of children just, as
they always act among them-
selves. I assume that most
parents occasionally use foul
language. Are they then
hypocritical for not using
such language in the presence
of children? When parents
who usually fail to fasten
their own seat belt fasten it
when traveling with a child,
are the parents hypocritical?
Moreover, beginning to ob-
serve Jewish practices for the
sake of one's children is more
than not hypocritical; and it
does more than benefit the
children. It can positively
transform the parent. Parents
who begin to incorporate Jew-
ish practices into their homes
for the sake of their children,
often end up loving the prac-
tices for their own sake.
Finally, some parents say
they object to establishing a
more religious home because
a Jewish home would deprive
the child of a choice. "If my
child wants to be religious, he
will decide on his own later in
life. I won't ram it down his
This thinking is worse that
unwise. It is backwards. The
only way to give children a
choice is to give them all the
Judaism you can. Only then
will they really have a choice.
How can they choose what
they never see? By giving a
child only minimal exposure
to Judaism, Jewish parents
more or less ensure an ir-
religious adult, devoid of any
real Jewish identity. The child
will associate the tepid, vapid
Judaism of their upbringing
with Judaism, and conclude
that it is meaningless.
It is the typical Jewish
home, not the religious Jew-
ish home, that truly deprives
its children of choice. Most
Jewish children experience
only the secular life — at
home, in school, in film, on
television, with their peers.
And it is that life, those
values — and that identity —
with which they will end up.
We should not delude our-
selves, however, into thinking
that their secularism was
freely chosen. ❑

THE DETROIT a/L1:111E0ing__

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