Sharing Our History

history

I haven’t thought much about educating my daughter in a Jewish way. We live in a very secular world, rarely observe shabbos and don’t participate beyond the occasional visit to a shul on Chanukah or Rosh Hashone. I don’t know if it’s an outright rejection of my upbringing, but even speaking Yiddish in front of my little ones have – for the most part – been very rare.

However, at a birthday party for one of my kid’s friends today, the parents and family started singing in Arabic. It threw me for a loop at first – there’s a regular reaction for me to keep my guard up – but then I started thinking how lucky my child was to be experiencing this. Her siblings will never hear happy birthday in Arabic, play with Dora the Explorer, or hold hands with a child of the opposite gender while playing house. With the birthday party having a cultural, Arabic twist, I couldn’t help asking myself if I was depriving my youngest of a basic cultural and heritage education. Of the chance to reconnect with a past without the negative connotations of the chareidi velt. Of common ground between siblings raised in completely separate universes.

I’m not a frum Jew anymore. I left my uniform buried a long time ago, never to resurface as it once was. In the same way I can’t bring myself to celebrate Christmas or eat pork on a pizza at a child’s birthday party, I can’t seem to leave everything behind either.

My daughter is a link, ledor vador, to a cultural heritage which is rich with history and meaning. While I don’t have to expose her to a life of chumros and segregation, I still see Yiddishkeit as a positive lesson. I am a bit rare among OTDers because I still believe in a G-d – just not perhaps the way my parents or extended family want me to.

How can I encourage an interest in Yiddishkeit while my child is without community? How do I foster links to a family which has all but excised me like an errant fall leaf which stubbornly refuses to fall to the ground?

I’ve resolved to start small. More Yiddish at home. Focus on things to not make her feel left out when visiting with family. Of setting aside my aversion to Yiddish things, mannerisms, the constant barrage of questions about my level of frumkeit.

So I’m signing up for some age-appropriate classes. Nothing extravagant, just 101 on observance, a little bit of dancing and singing. I’ll be in the classes too – learning about how Israeli music can speak directly to the Jew’s neshoma (or so they promised).

I have to think I’m doing my daughter a disservice not to try at least a modicum of Jewish learning. I’m not looking for an outcome, just suggestions on how I can still plant my feet firmly in the secular world while giving my kid a chance to experience Yiddishkeit without the BS. More importantly, how we can merge the two worlds to create a (good) hybrid version to find meaning for ourselves in a bridged world.

Wish me luck.

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3 responses to “Sharing Our History

  1. It’s a challenge many a Former-Frum parent has – how to find the right balance between the beauty and meaning of the culture we grew up in (and there WAS so much of that), and at the same time keep out the VERY negative and xenophobic aspects of our background, also teaching respect and understanding for other cultures’ beauty too. Can we be Jewish without the extreme self-righteousness that Judaism has so built-into it? It is indeed a challenge. It’s an even greater challenge for those of us (like me) who no longer “believe” but are still living very much within the community. There are so many things I want to say to my kids that I currently cannot.

  2. We also navigate the tightrope, though not in the extremes from which you’ve emerged, I don’t really have any profound suggestions, but from a secular perspective, the programs at the JCC work well for us, and my kids also enjoy the Shalom Sesame series.

    • I’ve been thinking a lot about some secular/cultural education, I might check some of those options out. Thanks!

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