‘Cultural Judaism’ is simply not enough
My life’s passion has been Jewish early childhood education. I have come to understand that the portal for many families into Jewish identity and practice is distilled through the rich experiences their young children acquire in their early years.
The recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center lends credence to the notion that Jewish practice among young families is being negated. The survey suggests that the concepts of “time” and “space,” theological foundations for Jewish belief and practice, are not even being recognized as relevant.
If we are to be concerned Jewish parents, there are two things we need to fix.
First, when we measure Jewish “time” we must do so with a luach – a Jewish calendar. Sure, we will use this luach to record our secular activities, but by doing so we will also be more mindful of Jewish time.
The luach helps prevent us from sending our children to soccer and hockey on Friday night and reminds us to sign ourselves out of work on yamim tovim, so that we may take our children to synagogue or temple. Keeping the luach current helps us separate the sacred from the trivial.
To me, celebrating Shabbat at home is another minimum requirement for Jewish families living in today’s fast-paced, success-oriented, hedonistic, high-achieving society. Spending quiet time together as a family – with the cellphones and iPads turned off – blessing the candles and the children, sitting down to talk about the week that was and sharing the dinner table with family and friends should be highly anticipated after the technological bombardment of another hectic week. Denominational lines are not the issue here. Stopping to honour God’s commandment is.
Parents today are so extraordinarily well educated. They excel in business and professional spheres. They travel extensively with their families and offer their children every possible advantage the world has to offer. They rule their own destinies and reach for opportunities of which their parents and grandparents could only dream. But what seems to be missing in action is transmitting the gift of true spirituality, a belief in something bigger than us. Many Jewish parents do not – or cannot – express this basic religious concept to their children.
I am of the generation that constantly asked itself, “Will my grandchildren be Jewish?” In my family, we worked very hard to build Jewish memories, creating meaningful traditions, filling our home with Jewish journals, books and newspapers, inviting families and newcomers to our Shabbat table, studying, practicing mitzvot, and supporting and working for Jewish communal institutions. We did not separate ourselves from our Jewish community.
Of course, I am quite sure as young parents we made mistakes and had more than a few false starts, but, after all, life is a journey and we are all works in progress. I am a far better bubbie than I was a young parent. In my defence, I always tried to act with pure kavanah, and the long-term goal of raising responsible Jewish children informed my actions. It was not an easy task, but that was the most important element in my life.
I ask parents and grandparents to re-evaluate the Jewish goals they plan to give to their children and grandchildren. We are a people of several thousand years of belief and culture. We have endured because of our belief in God and our covenant, which has given us a code of living. We are not better than anybody else, but we are different. Maybe it is more difficult to be different in today’s world.
Those who have the wherewithal need to question their life’s goals, and to do something positive for their children and grandchildren, and the Jewish community at large. Those who find the Jewish community inaccessible, unwelcoming and expensive should have their voices heard so that they may be invited and encouraged into the fold with genuine inclusiveness.
One cannot be a proud Jew without a basic understanding of our texts, teachings and obligations, without a belief in God and an unconditional love of, and devotion to, Israel. The Pew Report found that many Jews today consider themselves “cultural Jews.” They belong to the Jewish people but not to organized Jewish life. On what grounds, may I ask, are Jews without affiliation and any concern for tomorrow basing their pride?
Is this only the memory of bubbie, zaidie and bagels? If so, that kind of pride cannot endure beyond oneself. This challenge is not about ourselves – it’s about something far greater: a people who have passed their rich legacy on, from generation to generation. A people that endured for generations because of Torah and a devotion to Israel. That is our Jewish people.
What will it take for this generation to understand?
Lorraine Sandler has been a Jewish Early childhood educator for over 50years. She was principal of the Holy Blossom Temple pre school, was consultant to the Early Years Dept. at RHA and to many pre schools across North America. She is presently a parenting consultant with a private practice.