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Raising Your Children Jewish

Raising a child Jewish is not a problem for Orthodox parents because everything they do and model has Jewish content to it.

But what if you are a secular Jew, and more especially, what if you are a secular Jew married to a non-Jew? How do you establish a feeling of Jewishness in your children?

I. Start with God

What distinguished Judaism in the beginning, what has always distinguished Judaism from other religions, is a belief in a one God, a moral God, Who has made man in His own image, and wants a world full of righteousness and kindness and compassion.

We teach that God is invisible, that He is everywhere, and that He sees all and knows all and is available to us through prayer and conversation. We can talk to God, and sometimes He talks to us. How He talks to us varies from person to person. If you look for Him and listen for Him, you will discover how He talks to you.

We all of us have a God-given soul, which is a piece of God within us. Our soul is immortal and is the best part of us. We need to safeguard it and pay attention to it and look to it for guidance and comfort.

 II. Bible stories

The best way to learn about the Jewish people is through Bible stories, the story of our people and how we came to be. We learn that our God is a family God and that we are all part of the Jewish family. Non-Jews who marry a Jew are also a part of the Jewish family, just like whoever marries you becomes part of your family, and you become part of theirs.

It all started with Abraham who “discovered” God. He expected God to be a moral god or that god wouldn’t be worth worshipping. Jews today and ever since have that same expectation. The story of Abraham arguing with God over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah is the paradigm for how Jews view God.

For smaller children, I recommend that you give them Old Testament Bible stories in comic book form. The child will learn the stories and have pictures in his/her mind to go with them. What they learn and come to like when they are young will be with them always.

III. Send them to Sunday School

If you can, send them to a synagogue Sunday School where they will learn about Jewish history and customs. If you can’t do that, you will need to teach them yourself.

IV. Tell them they are Jewish

Jews come from a long and proud heritage and if you are Jewish (or part Jewish), tell them you are Jewish and tell them they are Jewish too. If not right away, someday that knowledge may be meaningful to them. Surveys show that even non-practicing Jews are in some manner proud of being Jewish. And they should be.

Teach them about Jewish celebrities and athletes and scientists and tell them about the high percentage of Jewish notables who are far out of proportion to our size in the world. Tell them about how Jews often gravitate toward medicine, the law and the arts. They should know that Jews are respected and respectable.

V. Take them to Jewish services

It is important for the children to have some degree of familiarity and comfort with Jewish services. Depending on your own orientation, you might take them to a traditional service, or if you are not inclined in that way yourself, take them to one that has singing and fun and is child-oriented at times.

Take them to High Holiday services, which are the most important Jewish services of the year, and where basic Judaism is on display like at no other time. You might also take them to fun holiday celebrations like Purim or Simchat Torah.

VI. Celebrate Jewish holidays

The most important family Jewish holiday is Passover. If you do not have your own Seder, go to one put on by a family member, or barring that, by a friend. Both you and your children need to do something Jewish at least once a year. The Seder is a perfect opportunity. It might be fun and it tells one of the founding stories of the Jewish people, the exodus from Egypt.

If you celebrate the Sabbath by lighting candles, it is important to include the children in that event and make it as special as possible, especially with your daughters. Girls raised with lighting the Sabbath candles are quite likely to continue that tradition into adulthood.

VII. Do Jewish things

Take Jewish classes, go to Jewish lectures and movies and plays, go to delis and have Jewish food at home. There are many ways for a person to be or feel Jewish. Some connect academically, intellectually, spiritually or culinarily. Expose your children to Jewish things and show them that you take especial interest in those things. These are things a Jew can do that the rest of the world does not do.

VIII. Send them to Israel

There is a magnificent program called Birthright Israel (http://www.birthrightisrael.com) that will send your children to Israel for 10 days for a nominal fee. Participants must be between 18 and 26 and have finished high school by the time their trip departs. Most of the young people who have gone on this trip come back with a greater appreciation of Israel and a greater appreciation for being Jewish that stays with them forever. Quite often they also make new lifelong friends. The program is currently adding programs for alumni of the trip so the feelings they experienced will hopefully be renewed.

 IX. Don’t worry about Jewish law

Traditional Jewish law may say that you or your children aren’t Jewish because you or they didn’t come from a Jewish mother. Jewish law on this matter doesn’t make any sense and doesn’t come from the Torah or the Bible. It was made by Orthodox rabbis some 1,500 years ago for unknown reasons and it is obvious that someday it will be changed. It has already been changed in the Reform and Reconstructionist Movements.

If you or your children are part Jewish, you are still Jewish, just like someone who is part Irish is Irish. Hitler said if you had one Jewish grandparent you were Jewish. Not that we want to agree with Hitler about anything, but I feel if someone was Jewish enough for Hitler, he is Jewish enough for us. Jewish law may not agree, the State of Israel may not even agree, but they are wrong and someday they will see the error of their ways.

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