by Annette van de Kamp-Wright
Jewish Press Editor
We use the word “Jewish” often in this paper. We talk about Jewish people, and Jewish books, movies and events. We talk about Jewish politicians, and clergy, and education; angles and interpretations and simchas, fears and concerns. We discuss “what this means for the Jewish people,” and what’s Jewishly ethical and relevant. The Jewish view, it’s everywhere.
What we don’t address as often is what it really means to be Jewish. Because there are so many different answers, it’s just a little too close to the “who is a Jew” debate, which few people like to touch. However, at the same time we all have a personal conviction of what it means to be a Jew; I’d be surprised if any two of us would come up with exactly the same answer. We sort of agree with each other on many things, but the ability to simultaneously disagree is to most of us just as vital.
Being Jewish is personal. It doesn’t always come easy, it involves the tough questions, and it’s often a work in progress. That’s right, I used the word “work.” Because being Jewish is an active thing; it’s a commitment, much more than background noise. At least, it is to me. Like I said: personal.
It’s also fluid: as life changes us, it changes what we see as important. Being a Jewish parent is different than being a Jewish single 18-year-old, and it comes with different responsibilities. I am not convinced those responsibilities necessarily get bigger as we grow up; I just think we change our focus.
Take shopping for groceries, for instance. Bacon is not just there to be ignored; it’s a teaching opportunity. There’s a reason I expect my kids home on Friday night, rather than busy with extra-curricular activities. I don’t want my children to do homework on Saturday, so I don’t do it either. Allowance means allowance with built-in Tzedakah. Before I’m willing to sign my daughter up for soccer somewhere else, I plan to inquire as to whether the J will offer it this year (how about it, Mark?). When we watch the news, it comes with a running commentary on my part about “what it means for Israel.”
My children attend a Jewish school, a Bat Mitzvah is coming next year, and they attend Jewish summer camps and extra curricular activities at the J. They are immersed in learning about Judaism every day, and right now, that is the most important part of what it means to be Jewish: teaching my kids, giving them a platform, and providing them with resources.
I imagine when my daughter gets a little older (30 or so) and starts dating, I’ll get to agonize over who she brings home, but it’s a little early to start worrying now. Now, I mostly get to worry about her going off to public school and keeping her Jewishness intact. Not much, because she’s very prepared, but you know how it is. We definitely won’t be signing her up for any cheeseburger and porkchop school lunches. And what about school related activities on Friday night? What if Prom is on a Friday? What about Homecoming?
So here’s the question: being Jewish used to refer to me, and me alone. Nowadays, it doesn’t; it has become all about the children. In focusing so much on their needs, do I forget myself? Do I still grow Jewishly while fretting over whether my children get everything they need?
That question is very uncomfortable (I’m very tempted to erase the last paragraph), which possibly means the answer is ‘no.’
So now what?
To be honest, I’m not quite sure. How do other parents deal with this? Is anyone else out there asking him – or herself the same question? And those who don’t struggle with this, how do they do it?
Maybe, being Jewish, at this stage, simply means asking the tough questions—without always having an immediate answer. And then deciding to be okay with that.
Maybe getting a grip on what it means to be a Jewish parent is growing Jewishly. Of course, that means when they grow up and leave the nest we’ll have issues. But since that is pretty much a given for any parent who watches their children grow up, we’ll just try not to think about that too much.