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Will My Children Share My Beliefs?
by Yosef Y. Jacobson

Question:

How can I be sure that my children will share the Jewish values and beliefs that I hold dear. The world has changed so much since I was young, and I can only imagine how much more it will change by the time my children grow up. How can I pass on my convictions to my children?

Answer:

Ideologies are too abstract to pass on. For your beliefs to be conveyed to the next generation, they need to ride on the back of concrete rituals. You can’t expect your children to share all of your sentiments and feelings, but you can teach them to continue your customs.

One of the geniuses of Judaism is its emphasis on doing. Pesach is a great example. It is a festival full of demonstrative rituals that convey a deeper message.

We may not all remember exactly how many Israelites left Egypt, or the order of the ten plagues, but we all remember eating Matzah at the Seder. And by power of association we remember the core messages of the Seder - that freedom is an ideal worth celebrating, and that from humble beginnings a nation can reach greatness. These abstract ideals have seeped into the Jewish psyche from generation to generation by being linked with ritual and custom.

But it could have been otherwise. Imagine the Seder was observed as a group meditation on the virtues of liberty. Instead of eating Matzah and horseradish we would read odes to freedom from such great writers as Tolstoy and Plato, Shakespeare and Rowling. Then we would end with some quotes from Nelson Mandela, and sing a few songs of peace and love from Woodstock.

What would be the result? Nothing. There would be no result because such a commemoration would be quite forgettable. The kids would be completely unengaged and the message totally lost on them. What makes the Seder memorable is the action: the crunch of the Matzah that reminds us of the freedom, the red faces from the horseradish that commemorates slavery, spilling the wine for each of the ten plagues, and the search for the Afikoman. By punctuating the exodus story with these hands-on experiences, we etch it into our children’s memory forever.

There is no guarantee that your children will follow your ways. But three thousand years of evidence suggests that living your beliefs through ritual works. The Jewish people has survived with our message in tact because we are still eating Matzah. Lofty ideals are difficult to pass on, but crunchy Matzah stays fresh for millennia.

 

 


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