When we are busy parenting teaching the “what” and the “how”—making challah, making latkes, creating the most beautiful tzedekah boxes—when does the “why,” the deep-rooted meaning come in? Do we take for granted that it is there? Do we take for granted that personal connections are being made? I began thinking about this when I read Teaching the Why? by Rabbi Ari Moffic on InterfaithFamily.com, I found it to be an intriguing piece posing some very interesting questions. How do we teach culture and meaning?
I want my children to make those personal connections and integrate what they do Jewishly with who they are as people. As their mother, I take responsibility for making the connections possible and supporting their success. I do not believe this can be outsourced by sending my children to Hebrew school and Jewish day camp and other Jewish activities. I do send them to Hebrew school and Jewish day camp as wonderful supplements for Jewish infusion, but I don’t rely solely on them to make them feel Jewish. My children feel Jewish because of the home we have created. Mezuzahs don our doors. The Sabbath bride is a welcome guest in our home each week. We sing songs and pray together at religious services in our synagogue. We live Jewishly.
I made the commitment to raise our children in the Jewish tradition when I knew very little about how to do that. Raised Roman Catholic, I realized that I would be making a commitment to live a Jewish life without fully knowing what that would entail. Not knowing exactly how that would play out at the time, it was a pretty big leap of faith. One that meant I would look pretty Jewish for a long time. I do this to support the Jewish fluency in my children Rabbi Moffic talks about in her piece.
I think about the mitzvah in Judaism that commands parents to teach their child to swim. On a practical level, it is a good skill to have. But I think its deeper meaning calls parents to do everything they can to make sure their children can swim on their own and lead responsible, productive lives. Ensuring our children are well-equipped to go out on their own takes a great deal of personal commitment over many years. We don’t just throw them in the deep end and hope for the best. Learning anything—swimming, riding a bike, playing the piano—requires dedication and practice, lots of practice. Supporting my children’s spiritual development goes hand in hand with teaching them how to take care of themselves and others
My job is to provide the context for the content. Sometimes I am a student. I read a lot. I have taken classes in Judaism and attend seminars and workshops. Sometimes I am an educator. I lead challah-making workshops at synagogues and libraries in my area. Something that I like to do at my challah-making events while the dough is resting is to give a talk about the wonderful gift of Shabbat and how leading a Jewish life translates into leading a balanced life. I tell the story of the book. Jewish people are sometimes referred to as the people of the book. How many sides does a book have? You may say six—a front, back, top, bottom, and two sides. But there is one more side, the inside, where the important information for the book lives. We spend all week being busy, living our lives on the outside of the book. On Shabbat, we are called to go inside. And the inside is the best part.
When I started my Jewish journey, I knew what I was learning would be important for my family. Growing up Catholic, I was taught that Jewish people have a special covenant with God that will never be broken. I was impressed that my husband is part of this historic tradition. Abraham was the first Jewish person, and here is my husband five thousand plus years later keeping that tradition alive. Wow. It is amazing to think about. But it doesn’t mean I think less of the tradition I was raised in. So why did I make that leap of faith? Because I was raised by a mother who dedicated her life to make sure her children had a well-developed spiritual maturity as adults. She knew we would be swimming on our own one day and would be making our own choices. And she gave me the skills to learn another language.