Lessons in Memory of my brother Dale Alan Konigsburg
November 1, 2004 – Number 5765-6
Raising Jewish Children
There is a well known story about a woman who came to a famous educator to ask about when was the best time to begin a child’s education. The Professor asked the woman, “How old is your child?” The woman replied, “He is five years old.”
“Good Lord, woman,” the Professor exclaimed, “You have already wasted five years!!”
Many parents believe that education begins with Pre-School and Jewish Education begins in the third grade. Such parents indeed have wasted much time. From the moment of birth a child is learning, learning both the way of the world and the child’s own Jewish inheritance. What then do we need to know to raise healthy Jewish children?
First of all, to raise Jewish children we need a Jewish home. The Jewish home is the primary location for all Jewish learning. How can we create a Jewish home? It means putting a Mezuzah on our doors and Jewish books on our shelves. It means having and using the ritual items for Passover, Shavuot, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Hanukkah and Purim. It means having a Shabbat meal every Friday night, with every member of the family present, and it means making time to pray as a family. Jewish guests should be invited for Jewish occasions and every member of the family should be enrolled in some form of Jewish Education. The Sages of the Talmud ask “If there is only enough money in the family to hire one teacher, who should be the one to study, the parent or the child?” The sages answer with great wisdom, “The teacher should be hired for the parent who will then turn and teach his or her child.”
A proper Jewish home should also be a Kosher home. What we put in our mouths should be as important as what comes out of our mouth. The laws of Kashrut teach us to control our appetites and not to let our appetites control us. A Jewish home should be a place where Lashon HaRa, evil speech is never allowed. This means that gossip, trash talk, and even words that are true but hurtful, are never spoken.
When we raise a child in this kind of an environment, the consistency and rules will be a comfort to the child, and the world around this child will be filled with loving moments and warm attention. It is important for a child to know that no matter how busy the week will be, parents can always be found around the Shabbat Table. That there is a way to celebrate the seasons of the year, always showing our thanks to G-d for allowing us to reach this next milestone. Even when, G-d forbid, there is a death in the family, a child in a Shiva home easily understands that everyone is there to make those who are hurt feel better. In their own way, they too can have a part in comforting the mourners. The blessing of children on Shabbat eve is one way that we can show our children the important place they hold in our lives. Pesach, Hanukkah and Purim are magical times for both parents and children.
The best way to raise Jewish children is to be a Jewish parent. One can not expect a child to come to love whatever it is that we are avoiding. I know parents who will never miss a child’s soccer match or baseball game, but would never think of attending synagogue with their children. There are so many families who stress training for a Bar or Bat Mitzvah but never show any interest in what they are learning, other than to remind them that they will have to do a “good job” at services. And yes, service to the Jewish community is very important. The work of those who serve on the committees of Federation and a host of other Jewish organizations is of vital concern to Jews not just in our own community but across the globe as well. Committee work, however, is not enough to raise a Jewish child. One needs to also take part in the religious and ritual parts of Judaism, so that Judaism will not just be another reason mom or dad is never home at night.
To raise a good Jew, we have to be a good Jew. If we want our children to live by Jewish values, we need to live by those very same values. If we want our children to be comfortable with G-d, we need to understand what we believe about G-d. If we want our children to pray, we need to pray and to know why we are praying as well. Our children will try their hand at leading services, reading Torah and reading Jewish books if we go out first to set the example. Our secular society is interested in teaching children a “values free” education. We have no such interest. We are very interested in teaching our children Jewish values, and before we can teach them, we have to live them ourselves. This is why we must always remember that the most important part of my education, is my Jewish education. It provides the context for everything else we have to learn.
Next week: Bar and Bat Mitzvah