Sunday, October 23, 2005

Who’s on first?—on raising a Jew

Warning: Lonnnnnnnnnnng post

I read with great interest some of the posts and comments published on some Orthodox women’s blogs this holiday season. They gave me much food for thought.

“Eishes Cranky,” a new mom, commenting on someone else’s post, said, “I'm delurking to thank you from the bottom of my heart. I have a 2-month-old, and this was the first year I spent doing mommy things instead of davening and concentrating fiercely at shul. To say the least, it's an adjustment. Thank you for helping me feel less alone.”

Holy Moses, have I ever been there and done that! Even after 23 years, I remember well how overwhelmed I felt in the beginning, seeing my life turned upside down. Don’t worry, Cranky—one does get used to it after a while. Best wishes to you, your husband, and your baby.

Another mom posted, “Off I go to the supermarket. To shop for yet another Shabbos in the Shabbos-YomTov-Shabbos-YomTov-Shabbos-YomTov-Shabbos(YomTov)-YomTov-Shabbos cycle. Don't get me wrong, I love Shabbos and YomTov, because the kids (and their mom) actually get to spend a substantial amount of time with their dad, but I have already grated one too many potato, cracked one too many egg, and measured one too many cup of flour - and we're just halfway through the cycle.”

Well, as long as you’re at it, could you throw in a side order of laundry? To go? ;)

(Shira ducks and covers as the volleys of rotten tomatoes head her way. Incoming!!! Splat! :) )

But seriously folks, there were two posts that particularly caught my attention.

“There was a moment . . wherein I suddenly began to feel That Connection forming, the Yom Kippur connection, the kind I used to feel. And just as the feeling began to slowly seep through me, and somewhere in the back of my head I began to think I may actually have one precious moment of true daavening - of real avoda she'ba-lev - just as I was beginning to flood with relief, and to open my heart to pour out whatever's been buried in there, just at that moment - wouldn't you know it - a pair of arms flings around my legs, and a dear little voice whispers "Why is everyone standing? Can I go to Daddy now? Is it still Yom Kippur? Why is that lady punching herself?

. . . I know in my heart that focusing on my children is the most important thing in the world, and that it's what Hashem wants from me. I truly, truly believe that He would rather I do that than experience the Yom Kippur Feeling. I feel that, deep in my soul, and I accept it with love and without hesitation. And I also know that it won't be this way forever . . . I'm just saying, until then, it's hard. It's hard because I miss The Feeling. It's hard because I miss God. And I miss the release of the flood from my heart. I just hope, by the time I get the chance, that I'll even have it in me to release, and that I'll still remember how.”

Tzam’ah nafshi l’Elokim, l’Kel chai; matai avo v’éraeh p’né Elokim? My soul thirsts for G-d, for the living G-d; when will I come and appear before G-d?” (Psalm 42, verse 3)

I’ll call her the M’vakeshet Hashem—the Seeker of G-d.

And then there was another post. I’ll call both the post and the writer thereof “Morah N’vuchot,” A Woman(’s) Guide for Perplexed Women.”

Priority of priorities, quoth the Morah N’vuchot, choose your priorities.

With so many plates to juggle, it’s inevitable that you’ll drop one. It’s up to you to decide which one, and to determine whether there’s a pillow under it to break its fall.

Do whatever davvening (praying) you want to do at home. Know when to show up at shul (synagogue) with the kids, how to prep them ahead of time (with a snack and a trip to the bathroom/diaper change) and what to bring by way of toys, books, and snacks to keep them happy. When the baby wakes up and/or the kids have had enough, leave, while both you and the children are still in a good mood and have had a positive experience at synagogue. Don’t push your luck, or you’ll regret it.

Invite company for only one meal, so that you’re not cooking skeighty-eight courses for skeighty-eight people skeighty-eight times.

If you tend to “fade” after dark, invite your company to lunch. If you prefer to put the kids to bed so that you can actually have something remotely resembling an adult conversation, invite guests to dinner. Make sure that you and your husband agree on which meal will be the “company” meal—it takes two to host.

Last, but far from least, have fun. This is z’man simchaténu, the season of our joy—we’re supposed to have a good time. Eat whatever makes you feel good—milchig (dairy), fleishig (meat), fancy (pot roast) or simple (salmon burgers). Remember that you’re making memories, so make them good ones. Nobody’s going to remember how nicely the silverware was polished. What they’ll remember is hanging around together in the kitchen peeling potatoes by the ton, singing and yakking. What they’ll remember is the smell of the tzimmes that they helped you make. Enjoy yourself, your husband, your kids, your life. It’s a gift, and it’s up to you to make it happen.

I’m sure that many moms with kids younger than my 22-year-old found the post that I've just paraphrased very helpful.

I found the last paragraph very moving.

And yet . . .

And yet . . .

I’ve read many of her posts.

She’s spoken frequently about every mother’s need to remember that she’s still a human being who has to take care of herself in addition to her kids.

It’s not only the kids who need sleep—you need it, too.

Make sure that you get something to eat, even if that means that you grab a sandwich before feeding the kids—you don’t want to be practically passing out by the time you get a chance to eat dinner.

And a weekly aerobics class can’t hurt, either.

But there’s one thing of which she’s spoken almost not at all.

And that’s a woman’s spiritual needs.

So many women—and yes, it’s mostly the women—have chosen to put their own spiritual lives on hold for years—even decades—in order to ensure that their children learn the ways of our people and experience the joys of being Jewish.

I’m not speaking of Orthodox women only. My oldest friend, a sister tallit-wearing, egalitarian non-Orthodox but very-much-committed Jew, chose to go that route.

And then there are the rest of us.

Until he was roughly 10 or 11 years old, our son was borderline-hyperactive. One fine year, he decided that he’d had just about enough of staying with the synagogue babysitting service on the High Holidays, and, since yours truly was safely ensconced in the alto row of the choir in the very front of the sanctuary, the young’un proceeded to tug my poor husband, davvening in the back, out of shul repeatedly. Exasperated, my husband went on strike. And I refused to pick up the slack.

So, for the follow year’s High Holidays, we left him with our daycare lady.

Esther D. Kustanwotiz, of My Urban Kvetch, JDaters Anonymous, and Jewlicious fame, published a rather telling article, “Traveling on the Guilt Trip,” in the October 14, 2005 edition of the New York Jewish Week. Here’s her take on the Jewish single person’s version:

“We go out to parties and on blind dates because we feel guilty staying home. We have guilt from family and society, guilt for doing what we want and not what we should. We go out with our mother’s best friend-from-college’s son’s friend’s roommate, to help us answer a parental “but are you trying?” with a less guilt-ridden “yes.”

Well, Esther, this is a Jewish guilt trip in the motherhood manner.

Whoever heard of a pair of Jewish parents leaving their kid with a babysitter on the holiest days of the Jewish year? Shouldn’t he have been in there hearing the shofar, eating round challah, dipping apples in honey, watching the chazzan (cantor), who never kneels, kneel four times(!) on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) . . .

Nevertheless, truth to tell, if I had it to do all over again, I would probably not change that much, aside from choosing a more Jewish neighborhood.

There are so many of us who struggle to find something remotely resembling a reasonable compromise in childrearing. We try to create memories for our children, but we refuse to ignore our own spiritual needs.

And yet . . .

And yet . . .

What will become of our children?

Yes, yes, I know as well as you do that predicting the future is a risky business.

But I can’t imagine any other outcome:

In twenty-five years, all of the children of the M’vakeshet Hashem and the Morah N’vuchot will be married to Jews and will be “on The Derech,” firmly committed to "The Way" of Orthodox Judaism.

And our son?

Will his children sing z’mirot, Sabbath songs, around the family Shabbat dinner table?

Or will they sing carols around the family Xmas tree?

As the old saying goes, “You get what you pay for.”

And many’s the moment when I wonder whether I paid anywhere nearly enough.


Blogger Esther Kustanowitz said...

Payment of time and money still doesn't guarantee anything. To an extent, each person has to decide for him or herself whether Judaism plays an integral part in his or her life. I've never raised a Jew, so I may be speaking out of turn on this, but all a parent can do is give their kid the tools, the education, and the support system that they feel is possible and appropriate. The rest is up to them, and the process itself may present struggles for parents and children.

Does that in any way either make sense or help?

Sun Oct 23, 03:14:00 AM 2005  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

The education was hard to come by, given our child's special needs. He was turned down for admission to a Solomon Schechter (Conservative) Day School, and just barely avoided being thrown out of Hebrew School (probably because the principal had rachmones/mercy). As for the support system, well, we tried, but it's hard to raise a kid Jewish when none of the other Jewish kids in the nabe are really being raised Jewish (see one of my earliest posts, The tools? Well, we didn't do too badly on the home ritual. He knows kiddush, he *loves* challah--and, amazingly enough, matzah (!)--and we always let him get his jollies clunking us on the head with the lulav while making the customary "rounds" after reciting the brachah. (Three shakes forward, 3 shakes right--bonk Dad, 3 shakes over the right shoulder, 3 shakes left--bonk Mom, 3 shakes up, 3 shakes down. Not quite kosher, probably, but hey, at least he said the brachah first.) When he's home for Chanukah, he lights candles and munches chocolate gelt after playing dreidel. So maybe we have a fighting chance that he'll remain a Member of the Tribe. At this point, it's up to him, as you said. Only time will tell.

Sun Oct 23, 03:41:00 AM 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jewish schools on a whole usually don't provide for children with special needs- on either side of the spectrum. It's like a bell curve- the standardized portion works, nothing else does. I'm not sure how to fix that, but that's the way it is...

Sun Oct 23, 09:20:00 AM 2005  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Indeed, Chana, so I've noticed. Some efforts have been made, by organizations such as Y.E.S.S. (Yeshiva Education for Special Students) and P'TACH (Parents for Torah for All Children), and I applaud them. But so much more needs to be done. Children who don't benefit from even partial "mainstreaming/integration," as mine did not, seem to me to be particularly likely to fall between the cracks, as there are precious few Jewish day schools for students with disabilities exclusively.

And by the way, wow! I read your poem and your goosegirl story, and I'm sending your blog URL to another 16-year-old Jewish writer of my acquaintance.

Sun Oct 23, 12:08:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Unknown said...

I decided that next year I am NOT going to be guilted into the all-day daaven-a-thon on Yom Kippur. My son simply CANNOT take it and it ends up ruining what little enjoyment I get out of it. The morning seems to go by pleasantly and then my child, The Bear, comes out right around noon. If we had just left and let him vegetate...things would have been fine. But my Rabbi says we need to be there. ALL day not just part of it. And kids older than third grade must sit and be attentive (I let mine read Harry Potter). She drags it on and on and by the time Yizkor is over and the gates have's 8:00. EASY. And my kid can handle crowds and lots of people but not in big doses and by the time we got to break the fast...he was completely off the deep end. Is it fair to him? Does it make him want to be a Jew? Or would a shorter stay - the morning service - followed by an earlier Break the Fast with friends or even alone make him appreciate it more? He goes to Sunday School and Hebrew School (you're right, there's nothing else even though he's asked to go to yeshiva)...we celebrate every holiday that comes down the pike and granted we are not Orthodox - we are traditional. We do Shabbat and he sings the ha'motzi and says kiddush. He lit the candles at synagogue on Yom Tov last week. He LIKES being a Jew. And if this leads him to want to deepen his observance, I am all for it. But I also realize that going from 0-60mph before he's ready...will only serve to leave him behind.

I try to do whats right. I see the little blurb in the bulletin that says we ALL should be there - the rabbi feels it's what we MUST do. But this year I also felt I was being cruel to a child who can't handle ANYTHING that long no matter where it is. And there aren't sitters for 12 y/o Amazon kids either. Plus...all the questions, "where is your son?" and the accompanying guilt.

Not worth it.

Evan will be a Jew because that's what he is being raised as. He will be his own Jew when the time comes. And that may include a tree of some sort...I don't know. But last night he carefully explained to me what the rebbe in "A Stranger Amongst Us" meant when he said "In your world perhaps, not in ours." And he was right.

He knows the difference and he loves his world.

Mon Oct 24, 10:37:00 AM 2005  
Blogger Noam S said...

Any committed Jew wants his/her kids to be a committed Jew as an adult. Kids learn in many ways, home, school, role models, friends, environment, and family. The best anyone can do is to emphasis the proper path in all those situations. Having a Jewish home, and warm Jewish memories is important. Having parents(and siblings) who are examples and living the Jewish life(and showing happiness and enjoyment, not doing things 'because we have to') is important. Having a solid Jewish education and knowing why we are doing things(not just doing them because) is important. Having Jewish friends and a social community who reinforce Jewish behavior and activities is important. Despite all of that, there is no guarantee, but you do the best you can, and pray for help.

I dont want to give the wrong impression that all non-Jewish activity and culture is wrong, and that I dont want my kids to have non-Jewish friends and cut them off from secular society. However, there is good in secular society, and there is a lot that is not good(unfortunately, there seems to be more and more of the not good). I am happy that my kids take ballet with a mixed group, play soccer with kids from 5 different countries, and were comfortable having an intellegent discussion with a very religious moslem teacher about religion in family life.

As Rabbi Frand said in one of his tapes, long after your kids forget the words of Torah that you said about the parsha at the Shabbat table, they will remember sitting with you and singing zemirot. That is not to obviously denigrate Torah, but kids have to enjoy and want to live a Jewish life, and especially at a young age, not see it as a burden. You are doomed if thier attitude is "oh no, not Shabbos again...."

Mon Oct 24, 03:26:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Another meshugannah mommy said...

Wow - you have highlighted an issue with which I have been struggling, lately. Our family goes to "children's services" - great for them, but not nearly enough for me.

As for their religious education - we make the best decisions we can based on our values and finances! We are not a day school family - the cost is prohibitive. At the end of the day, I have always believed that it's what is in the home that counts. We try to emphasize the joy in being Jewish. I watched my six year old son's eyes shine last night as he danced with and kissed the Torah. I can only hope he takes these memories with him into adulthood as he makes his own choices.

Wed Oct 26, 11:59:00 AM 2005  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Another meshugannah mommy and Z—ah, yes, compromise, and trying to accommodate what one’s kid can handle, I remember it well. (And Z, I also remember all the delightful people who refused to make allowances for our son's disabilities. [Insert roll-eyes emoticon here.]) During our son’s pre-school years, I spent most of the services either schlepping our son out of the sanctuary because he was making too much noice or davvening while walking around the building. Upstairs to the classrooms, followed by the grand tour thereof. Downstairs to the reception room. With one eye on the siddur and the other on the boychikkle. I decided, early on, that if I waited until I had a opportunity to davven the Amidah with my heels together, in the traditional manner, it would be years before I could davven the Amidah again. So up the stairs I went, davvening the Sh’ma “section” all the way up and the Amidah all the way down. People asked why I didn’t just stay home. Well, first of all, the Punster and I had a deal—Dad got to stay in the sanctuary for the davvening, Mom got to stay in the sanctuary for the sermon. (They didn’t need a minyan while the rabbi was giving a d’var Torah.) Second, if I’d stayed home, I wouldn’t have been able to say hi to everyone at kiddush.

As the young’un got older, I assumed my Shabbat and holiday station on the bench by the coatroom. While the kid played with the toys that I’d brought in the backback (no, we don’t have an eruv, but I sure wish we did, so it wouldn’t have been such a guilt trip—what else was he supposed to do for two hours?), I davvened. Unless and until he asked for one of my bible stories, which I also used on long subway trips back from my best friend’s house in Brooklyn. Then I figured Hashem would just have to count “v’shinantam l’vanecha”—very loosely translated, teaching the words of tradition to one’s child—as the functional equivalent of davvening, and put down my siddur. “Then Yehudah said, ‘Please don’t be angry with me for daring to speak to you, for you are the great and mighty Par’oh, and I am merely your servant. My father had a favorite wife, and she had only two sons, and then she died. And then her older son died, and this one is the only one of her sons who’s still alive. He’s our father’s favorite son. The only reason my father let us bring him was that you said that you wouldn’t give us any more food to help us survive the famine unless you saw him. But I promised my father that I would bring him back safely. If we come home without Binyamin, our father will die of a broken heart—that would bring down the gray hair of our father, your servant, with sorrow to the grave. [I always did love that translation]. Please, oh great Par’oh, let me stay here and be your slave instead. For how could I bear to see such a terrible thing happen to my father?” (That’s my all-time favorite for storytelling, also known as the Tanach’s greatest cliffhanger. :) )

We do what we can. Is it enough? Sometimes, it has to be. Not all kids are “parlor children,” the kind who are perfectly content to sit still and be quiet. Some are just too young. Some have special needs. Do you stay home with them? Do you take them to shul with you? Do you try some combination of the above? Different parents have different answers.

Dilbert said, “kids have to enjoy and want to live a Jewish life, and especially at a young age, not see it as a burden. You are doomed if thier attitude is "oh no, not Shabbos again...." So you’re obviously doing something right, Z, since your son “. . . LIKES being a Jew.” (Don't let your rabbi bully you!!!) And Another meshugannah mommy, you’re obviously doing something right when your kid’s eye shine as he kisses the Torah. I’ve often told my husband that, in the end, there’s only one thing that’ll keep our son Jewish: challah. He *loves* challah (at least partly because it’s the only white bread that his health-conscious mom would ever let him eat). To this day, eating challah on a Shabbat or festival is a major treat for him. He can go through practically a whole loaf by himself, schmeared with cream cheese (if we’re having dairy) or loaded with egg salad (if we’re having meat). And we let him get away with it, too. Since shul was always problematic, there being so few kids there, we tried to make the home rituals enjoyable. Milk chocolate Chanukah gelt, even though the Punster and I prefer pareve. Way too much matzah, ‘cause he loves it so much that he’ll just keep eating it until we run out. Another meshugannah mommy, you’re not so meshugannah when you say, “At the end of the day, I have always believed that it's what is in the home that counts. We try to emphasize the joy in being Jewish.”

Wed Oct 26, 11:47:00 PM 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You mentioned in an email that your son currently considers himself a Buddhist. To which I say, nu? :-) I can think of many, many committed Jews who also consider themselves Buddhists.

I don't have children (yet?) so I can't speak from the experience of raising one. But it sounds like you've transmitted your love of Judaism to him, and like he's found pleasure in the tradition; I think you've done what you can, and the rest is between him and G-d. Who knows where his spiritual journey will take him? But I don't think it makes sense to flagellate yourself for leaving him with a babysitter when he couldn't handle shul -- or, for that matter, to flagellate yourself if he drifts away from Judaism for a while. You've given him roots, and that's incredibly important. Now he and G-d together will match those roots with wings, in whatever way his neshama requires.

Thu Oct 27, 06:24:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Yeah, my husband's been gettin' on my case for bein' Ms. Doom an' Gloom, and I did make an "Elul resolution" to try to stop being such a cockeyed pessimist. Self-flagellation doesn't really fit in with the attempt to develop a positive attitude very well, does it?

It's a combination of circumstances that has me concerned. One of the reasons why I came back to Judaism was that I had fond memories of shul. Given the relative lack of children in the shul in which we raised our son, he has almost no such fond memories. And, to make matters worse, his delay in developing age-appropriate social skills meant that we couldn't compensate by getting him involved in a Jewish youth group or camp. (We tried twice, two years apart, to put him into USY. But he simply couldn't handle such large groups. And by the time he'd gotten his social skills together, he was already too rebellious to be interested.) So, basically, the prospect of him returning to Judaism is riding pretty heavily on his love of challah, matzah, and Chanukah gelt--with several days annually of bonking his parents with the lulav (either in shul for the 1st & 2nd days or at home on Chol HaMoed) and the annual round of huddling with our friends' kids and whispering "let's hide the afikoman where your parents can't find it and drive them meshugah" thrown in on the side. We can only hope that those "roots" will turn out to be deep enough to make him think twice about who he wants to marry. I'm praying for Jewish grandchildren.

Fri Oct 28, 01:35:00 AM 2005  

Post a Comment

<< Home

<< List
Jewish Bloggers
Join >>