Are There are Different Ways to be Jewish?

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Dear Miriam,

My son constantly wonders why some members of the family are intermarried and some aren’t, why some are observant and some aren’t, some are raising Jewish kids and some aren’t. I’ve settled with, “there are many ways to be Jewish,” but it’s hard to do that while also communicating our family’s values around observance.

Signed,

Ways to be Jewish

Dear Ways,

My daughter’s favorite movie franchise, Disney’s Descendants, features a song called, “So Many Ways to be Wicked.” I’m imagining a rewrite called “So Many Ways to be Jewish,” and while writing this and imagining that, I’ve managed to create my own ear worm. So if nothing else productive comes from this column, at least I’ll be humming that for the rest of the week while scheming up Purim shpiels for the elementary-aged set who would appreciate the reference.

Your line is a good one, though, for real. There are many ways to be a family, there are many ways to celebrate holidays, there are infinite ways to be different while also being accepting and accepted. You don’t need to explain the intricacies of people’s life choices to communicate the importance of valuing people and respecting their choices.

If you are concerned about your son embracing someone else’s choices, whether it’s dating or eventually marrying non-Jews or about having a different kind of Jewish observance than the one in which you’re raising him, exposing your children to people outside of your home always means opening up those questions.

One of the hardest one in our house has been, “Why does everyone else get treats in their lunchboxes?” Sure, it’s not Jewish values based in the same way as “Who do we know who uses lights on Shabbat and who doesn’t?” but it’s similarly challenging to lifestyle and parenting choices.

Cases of difference that aren’t based in Jewish values may actually be good tests for how you want to handle your son’s questions. If it’s easier to explain, say, why a friend is vegetarian, than why a friend doesn’t keep kosher, you could examine how food decisions are talked about overall in your family. Talking about Jewish choices often does feel much more loaded, but if you take his questions in stride, he will learn to feel comfortable continuing to ask, and you’ll get better at answering.

You should also treat your family’s practices with the same respect you want to communicate about everyone else’s. So when your son, inevitably, questions something about your Jewish life, the same line about so many ways to be Jewish, and this is what our family has chosen, will continue to serve you and your purposes.

Be well,

Miriam

2 COMMENTS

  1. Shimon Peres, who I despised, said one wonderful thing about who is a Jew. From memory: “A Jew is one who cares about Israel.”

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