I always thought that parenting an Orthodox Jewish child would be harder. I feel, and so does my husband, a serious obligation to pass on our Jewish heritage to our kids. When my first son was born I felt pressured.
Am I really capable of transmitting my heritage to my son? Will I do a good job?
Will he be proud to be Jewish?
Will he feel the meaning and the joy in the mitzvoth?
As an Orthodox Jew, there are so many restrictions. Would I be able to show him how Jewish law, Halacha, is pliable yet firm, how the strictures can feel tight but are there to enhance our lives?
You can see how, as a Jewish mother, I worry and feel guilty with the best of them. I was taking my rightful place among my predecessors.
As my family grew up though, I relaxed more. I saw the pure delight on my child’s face as we lit Shabbat candles and sang zmirot and how my kids brought home pictures and stories of the weekly Torah parsha and loved sharing what they learned.
Their excitement was palpable with each coming holiday. One Pesach, my son kept nodding off at the table and desperately tried to rouse himself so he could stay up until the end. He was just that invested in the seder.
In all the parenting books I’ve read they teach about the importance of ritual and tradition in building a healthy home and a resilient child. As Jews, we’ve got it. Not a day goes by without prayer, blessings, or kosher food. Not a week goes by without our holiday, Shabbos.
Feeling acceptance and being a part of a group is another thing that builds good kids. We’ve got it. Just try to move into a Jewish community without someone greeting you or showing up at your door with a cake or kugel. Need a place for Shabbat? Jews will open up their homes just because you are Jewish. Lately I have heard of this fad of calling ourselves “The Tribe,” like, “Oh are you a part of the tribe?” It seems as if all Jews have some sort of a connection no matter how far we have drifted.
Having a mission and purpose is also important in raising solid kids. We’ve got that too. Serving G-d to the best of our ability and being a light unto the nations are jobs that require stamina, fortitude, and morals. Teaching this to kids helps them grow.
The best thing though, is that my kids learn in their Jewish school about the character traits (midot) they should espouse as a Jew. I can use these lessons to keep poor behavior at bay in our home.
I know that when I say the words “Kibud Av Ve’em” (respect your parents), they snap to attention and change the way they are talking to me. When they are being mean to their siblings, I just need to say, “Vahavta Lereacha Kamocha” (love your neighbor like yourself). If they lie, I just need to raise my eyebrows and say, “Midvar Sheker Tirchak” (Stay away from untruths).
And no, they are not perfect and they don’t always change what they are doing- but there is a look of recognition because they know one of the “Tribe’s” principles have been breached.
So, is it harder to raise a Jewish kid to be Jewish? I’m not sure, but I do know that I am loving every minute of it.