Friday, April 20, 2012

All of You Who Stand Here

Parshat Shemini
28 Nisan, 5772
April 20th. 2012
13th Day of the Omer, Yesod in Gevurah

            Among the regular responses I get to being a rabbi is one that is particularly adorable: if a family has a child in Jewish preschool, said child will be duly trotted out before me and prodded to recite whichever blessings he or she learned in school. The kid will be shy and sweet in the way only preschoolers can be, and the whole experience is quite enjoyable.
            But it can also make me sad. I know that I cannot ascribe identical motivation to everyone – sometimes parents are just being proud. But sometimes I hear, when the adult pushes the child forward, “see – I know we don’t make these blessing ourselves, but we’re educating our children.” As someone whose passion it is to spread vibrant, relevant Judaism, this message goes down with difficulty.
            So I had a hard time with Laurel Snyder’s Beliefnet piece, “My faith: Raising religious (but not too religious) children.”
            The piece is beautifully written (winning my immediate respect); however, its thrust is that Snyder has become involved in Jewish life – synagogue, havurah – for the sake of her children. As she puts it, “Because there’s something about having kids that makes me want to be a better version of my Jewish self. I want something special to pass on to them.”
            I am conscious that I am about to touch a real nerve. So many people whom I love and respect have voiced the exact same sentiment to me. But, beautiful as its articulation is, there’s a problem.
            You see, when I ask why people involve themselves in Jewish life I overwhelmingly get one of two answers: “because of my ancestors/tradition,” “for my children.”
            More importantly, when I ask children why Jewish life is important to them – and I ask every single bnai mitzvah student – I only receive these two answers. I have yet to hear a student say the 13 year old version of, “I practice Judaism because it fills my life with meaning, purpose, and Godliness.”
            Why is there a vacancy between the past and the future? What about the present? What about us?
            So, with a lot of love, I put forward questions I think are worth asking:
Is it worthwhile to engage in a tradition we value for our ancestors and our children, but rarely for ourselves? What do children learn by being educated in ways they know their parents do not practice? Is there something that prevents us from practicing Judaism for ourselves, and what should we, the synagogue, the rabbi, do about it?
            Near the end of the Torah, it is written, “You are standing here today, all of you, before HaShem your God…” (Deut. 29:9) Only the covenant we create for ourselves can be given to others.

No comments:

Post a Comment