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Last spring, the time of the year when in the Reform movement our adolescents celebrate their Confirmations, did not turn out as I had anticipated. I had thought I would sit in the pews and listen as my daughter Erica read from her speech, expounding upon what Judaism means to her and her commitment to it. However, this was not to be.
I thought I had done all of the right things--Sunday school beginning when Erica was three years old, Hebrew school, Bat Mitzvah. She attended religious instruction on Wednesday evenings after becoming a Bat Mitzvah, as well as Confirmation classes and retreats. As a family, we observed the High Holy Days, built a sukkah in our backyard, lit menorahs for Hanukkah, and held and participated in Passover seders. We lit Shabbat (Sabbath) candles, blessed the wine and challah on Friday nights. Erica participates in the local Jewish youth group, was a camper and worked as a lifeguard at the local Jewish Community Center. Judaism has always been a central part of life in our household.
My daughter did study and prepare, we ordered the gown and started to talk about the topic of her speech. So what went wrong?
While preparing for her Confirmation--which marks graduation from religious school and is a time teens can look at Judaism in an adult manner and reflect upon what it means to them--my daughter started questioning the meaning of it and why only the Reform movement participated in the practice. Her arguments were thoughtful and posed important questions that she needed to ask: "I am a Jew. Why do I need to announce it publicly at a ceremony? What will that prove? Will I be a better Jew for doing this?"
I went the route many parents go when trying to get their teen to do something: bribes, threats, flattery, and tears. She stood her ground and said that she needed to determine what type of Jew she would be and that Judaism would be something for her to think about and practice all through her life. She implied, correctly, that Confirmation was becoming my issue--that I was focusing on how my peers and friends might perceive me--a former board member, an outreach leader, a Jew-by-choice--if my daughter weren't confirmed.
If Confirmation is a time for our teens to look honestly at Judaism to determine where it fits into their lives and how they wish to live Jewishly, isn't it also a time for them to look at the whole concept of Confirmation and decide if it is what they wish to do? Should they make that public statement when they might not be quite ready or feel that it is necessary?
One of the hardest parts of parenting a teen is letting them make their own decisions, especially when those decisions may be different from yours. In order to let our sons and daughters become adults it is important that we respect their opinions, and after much discussion and thought, I decided to stand by her and respect her decision.
During prayers, we state, "We are Israel," something I always interpreted as meaning that we are a people who struggle with life and question our relationship with God. My daughter is doing this, struggling, asking questions, and trying to figure out herself and Judaism. There is some sorrow that I did not sit and kvell (burst with pride) as my daughter read from her speech on Shavout, but in my heart, I know that she went through the most important part of Confirmation--coming to terms with how she wanted to be Jewish.