I was recently giving a presentation about being sensitive to interfaith families and we talked about how Judaism has changed. I compared Judaismâ€™s motivations to “the carrot or the stick.” Many of us were taught that we must follow the commandments or elseâ€¦(the stick). I felt like scare tactics were part of the education. How many people hated their Hebrew school? And now, how many people really want to put their children through a rite of passage that they despised?
But now, in a society where we can do anything with just a few clicks, there needs to be an alternate approach showing the positive side of Judaism. Judaism teaches us a structure to lifeâ€”how to celebrate, how to mourn, how to be healthy. There are also so many wonderful aspects about Judaismâ€”the joy of decorating a sukkah, the peace of a beautiful Shabbat dinner, the joy of singing and cheering for a couple after their wedding.
One of my favorite childrenâ€™s books is The Runaway Bunny. In this story, the bunny talks about running away from his mother and the mother replies each time that she will be there for him no matter where he goes. At the end, he gives up. The motherâ€™s response is â€śHave a carrot.â€ť â€śHave a carrotâ€ť is a wonderful metaphor for Judaism. No matter where we go, our ancestors have provided us with the sustenance to go forward. It may not be super sweet but it will be nourishing. Indeed, the positive carrot (rather than the stick) will sustain us and give us energy and nourishment for the future. Negative motivations may work in the short term but are unlikely to work for future generations.
I want my kids to enjoy Hebrew school and learning about Judaism. I am proud to say that through Jewish camp, and a lot of active parents in the religious school, the kids are having a good time.Â My husband and I also incorporate fun stuff relating to Judaism into our lives whenever possible. My kids enjoy learning when itâ€™s fun. I hope that all children who are getting a Jewish education are enjoying it on a regular basis; perhaps through fun songs, Jewish cooking, a quiz bowl or a Hanukah party. If not, it is our responsibility to insist that their education be pleasant and not torture. Surely, religious education (in any religion) isnâ€™t all joy and play but it should provide us sustenance for our future as human beings.