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Ah, yes, itâs summer at last. Time, maybe, to wind down a little bit and contemplate some bigger-picture lessons that get lost in the shuffle during the school year. We talked toÂ Rabbi Jillian CameronÂ ofÂ NewtonâsÂ InterfaithFamily, which supports interfaith families in embracingÂ Jewish life, about three important Jewish values that kids should absorb as early as possible. Nothing big or daunting, just simple lessons to instill in everyday moments.
Compassion and respect
âWeâre all created in the image of God,â says Cameron. âWeâre each special and unique, but weâre also connected through a larger image of something greater, whether people look or act like us, or are different. Weâre all worthy of respect.â
This can be tough for little kids to grasp: Why does one kid have two moms, and another has a mom and a dad? Why do some kids get to go to summer camp, and others canât afford to go? Kids tend to define themselves by their visibleÂ differences, not by their unseen similarities, so they need some prompting.
Since this concept is abstract, Cameron recommends tying similaritiesÂ to a real-life example through a story, like playing with a friend from a different country.Â âYou have white skin and your friend has dark skin, but you both love âDespicable Me,â right?â The more you can make those connections for your kids now, the less scary differences will be as they get older.
Ah, peace. This can be elusive when your kids are bickering over who ate the last cookie,Â or who gets to sit by the window on the car ride to the beach, or whoâs taller orâŚyou name it.
In this case, Cameron recommends âgoing big.â Instead of beggingÂ your kids not to fight (ha!), try to help them think about peace on a larger scale.
âGet them talking: What does peace look like for you? When do you feel peaceful? Is it when youâre falling asleep? What makes you feel at peace? Is it living in a comfortable home or having toys to play with? How can you help create that for yourself, for your friends and for the whole world?â
Make them part of the big-picture solution, instead of admonishing them. If they realize how important peace is on a bigger scale, they might be more likely to think about how it applies to their own lives, too.
Itâs never too early to teach your kids the importance of charitable giving. While Jewish tradition holds that we should give 10 percent of our income to charity, kids donât need to worry about that. At this stage, itâs more about seeing charity with their own eyes, like visiting a shelter to drop off toys or a soup kitchen and helping out.
Kids benefit from participating in theseÂ hands-on, real-world experiences far more than hearing about them. Offer your child experiences where he or she can see their impact firsthand.
âItâs not just about giving money. Itâs about thinking of how to create a more just world,â Cameron says. âInstead of thinking about helping others in terms of financial giving, think about it as giving back a part of your life. Thereâs action involved in justice; we canât rest on our laurels.â
The earlier your kids see that their actions can make a difference, the easier it will be to make giving back a habit.
Reprinted with permission from JewishBoston.com
This past week, the JCC Maccabi Games were played in my city, Dallas. Dallas was one of three cities hosting regional games this summer.
The Maccabi Games are an Olympic-style sports competition held each summer in North America. Itâs the second largest organized sports program for Jewish teenagers in the world and is part of the worldwide Maccabi Movement. Jewish kids, age 12-16, from all over the world compete. Thirty delegations competed in Dallas including ones from Australia, Mexico, Panama, Israel, and cities across the United States.
The games strive to instill a deeper understanding and appreciation of Jewish values in participants and strengthen their Jewish identity and connection to Israel. The other goal is to foster many of the same values as the Olympicsârespect and sportsmanship, excellence on and off the field, and friendships that transcend gender, racial, ethnic, cultural, political and religious differences.
Itâs the last of these values that I appreciate the most. Sure, there are kids from across the denominational spectrum competing but athletes from interfaith homes can participate too. The Maccabi Gamesâ definition of âJewishâ is having âat least one Jewish parent.â At the Maccabi Games, there are no half-Jewish, sort-of-Jewish, not-really-Jewish athletes. There is no one checking whether kids are matrilineal or patrilineal Jews. There is simply one kind of competitor, Jewish.
Matrilineal and patrilineal Jews compete side by side, as teammates and competitors. Children from wholly Jewish and interfaith homes share the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Reconstructionist, Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, nondenominational and unaffiliated; and those with high levels of Jewish engagement and little Jewish connection work and play together. All the labels that the Jewish community allows to divide us melt away at the games.
As an intermarried Jewish mom of one of the boys in the Los Angeles Westside delegation said, âWe do the [Jewish] holidays, but my son never had a bar mitzvah. The generosity of spirit, of acceptance, was wonderful. No one treated him differently.â
At other times, differences were celebrated. A friend who hosted two basketball players from Australia told me with excitement about how they discovered at Shabbat dinner that the tune for the Hamotzi, or blessing over the challah, was not universal. She and her family were delighted to learn the Aussiesâ melody.
To me, these things are what make the event magical. They remind us (or should remind us) that there is more that unites us than divides us. Yet, as a community, we still spend so much time focusing on what makes us different and quantifying and measuring who is really or more Jewish. If we understand the power of respect and acceptance to build Jewish identity and connection, why do we allow the differences to separate us?
I donât know the answer. But I hope that these athletes, who are part of the Jewish future, will grow up to challenge the rhetoric. I hope they will see the rich diversity of the Jewish people as positive. I hope, that because of this experience they will work to create a more inclusive and united Jewish community.
Before my son, Sammy, left for overnight camp, my husband made him commit to writing us weekly. Sammy was not happy about being forced to communicate with us while he was enjoying his four weeks of freedom from parental oversight. About a week before camp, he complained to me before bed.
âDaddy says I have to write to you once a week. Iâm going to be too busy having fun! You know that. I told him you didn’t care if I write. I’ll write you one letter, but I don’t want to have to do it every week.”
âWe would love to hear from you while youâre away,â I said, âbut we also know that if we donât get a letter itâs because youâre having a great time.â
âThatâs what I told Daddy!â
âSammy, itâs up to you whether or not you write home. Neither Daddy nor I will be at camp to make you write. Weâd love to get an update on what youâre doing, but itâs your choice. Itâs not a big deal if you donât write.â
I donât like contradicting my husband and giving Sammy mixed messages, but as a former camper, I also know the reality of campâno news is usually good news. I was willing to suffer through a month of one-way communication.
But a few days after my conversation with Sammy, I changed my mind about him writing home. The catalyst for my change of heart was The Seesaw, the column about interfaith life in The Jewish Daily Forward.
As some Parenting Blog readers know, in addition to writing for InterfaithFamily, I am a contributor to The Seesaw. Shortly after my discussion with Sammy, I was asked to respond to a question submitted by a young woman raised in an interfaith home, who is now dating a Modern Orthodox man.
She said that her boyfriend asked her to dress modestly and participate in reciting blessings when they visit his mother. She goes along with his request even though it makes her uncomfortable. She asked, if she should continue to show respect to her boyfriendâs mother, or if she should âput her foot downâ before itâs too late.
I began my answer by reminding the questioner of the fifth commandment. I said, âThe Torah commands us to honor our parents by showing them appreciation, dignity, and reverence. It doesnât require us to love, blindly obey, or embrace our parentsâ choices.” I added that even though her boyfriend’s mother was not her mother, she still deserved deferential treatment. I also noted; that to get respect from others we need to show respect.
As I wrote my response to this young woman, I considered Cameronâs request that Sammy write weekly letters and my response to Sammy âputting his foot down.â I thought, âHow can I advise this woman to show respect for her boyfriendâs mother, and not ask my child to show respect to his father?â
I couldnât. So later that day, I spoke to Sammy. âYou know how I told you that it was your choice whether or not to write to us weekly as Daddy has asked you to do?â
“Yeah,” said Sammy.
âWell, I changed my mind. You do need to honor the commitment that you made to Daddy to write, and this is why: If you want Daddy to honor his commitments to you, such as taking you for your weekly father-son breakfast on Sundays or coming to school events, then you need to honor your commitments to him.
We respect the fact that you will be having fun and be busy doing things with other kids in your bunk during rest time. The letters you write do not have to be long and you can have fun with them, even be silly. But you have to write once a week as you promised Daddy. We work hard so that you can do fun things like camp. Writing to us shows us that you appreciate what we do to give you these kinds of experiences. Does that make sense?”
âYes,â said Sammy. Then in a perky voice, âMaybe Iâll write a silly letter like that one we read on that blog, you know, where the boy said he was using his toothbrush to dig for worms and using another kidâs to brush his teeth!â
âYou can be as creative as you like as long as you follow through on your commitment,â I said.
I didn’t consider what the letter writing debate was about until I began drafting my Seesaw response. Then I saw it for what it was â an opportunity to reinforce a core Jewish value.
In Deuteronomy 6:5-8, we are told to teach Godâs words diligently to our children, but often, imparting the lessons of the Torah to our children only happens in religious school classrooms. We think teaching Jewish values and ideas needs be explicitââThis is what the Torah says.â We forget, probably because we are caught up in our busyness, that there are opportunities in our daily lives to connect our actions and behaviors to Jewish teachings even in subtle ways.
The Seesaw question reminded me to be on the lookout for these opportunities. I donât expect to be present enough in every situation to seize each one of them, but hopefully Iâll be mindful enough to grab them more often.
And in case you’re wondering, Sammy has followed through on his promise. We’ve received two letters from camp.