How I raise proud Jewish children
My two young sons are part of a minority group here in Germany, but no one will ever know unless they choose to disclose it. They’re blonde, blue-eyed, and (obviously biased in my opinion) absolutely adorable. They love to play outdoors and with toy vehicles, listen and dance to music, hang out with friends and family, and help in the kitchen.
They are also Jews and I want them to be proud of that.
As one can imagine, many people have sensitive reactions when hearing “Jews” and “Germany” in the same sentence. When I first moved to Germany many years ago, many of my Jewish friends and family were concerned, as American Jews’ perceptions of contemporary Jewish life in Europe are often a bit biased; there is this idea that every European country is a dangerous place for Jews.
In fact, Germany today has treated us very well, in general and also as a Jewish family. We belong to a liberal synagogue with members from Chile, Croatia, Canada and many other international countries, and my children shared Jewish holidays at their daycare with their classmates. The Jewish community in Germany today is definitely different from that before WWII, as most of the community comes from the countries of the former Soviet Union which gained entry to Germany mainly in the years 1980 and 1990. The contemporary Jewish community in Germany is international in nature, with a fair number of American and Israeli Jews as well as in cities such as Berlin, Munich and Frankfurt.
I often find myself having a dozen conflicting thoughts at a time when it comes to raising Jewish children in our present day. Given the long and painful history of anti-Semitism on this planet, coupled with an excessive increase in anti-Semitic acts in recent years, I can’t help but fall into a dark spiral of guesswork at times: what if someone is mean my child because he is Jewish? What if they try to hurt them, because they’re Jews? Their Christian friends don’t have police cars constantly parked outside their churches, nor do churches need passports or IDs if they just want to attend a guest service like you do in most European synagogues. It may seem unfair and wrong, and I hate that it has to be.
However, I am proud to be a Jew and want my children to be proud and positive of their Jewish identity, with its thousands of years of rich traditions, artistic and literary achievements, and incredible humans in so many areas that have contributed to such treasures. in the world. I wish they knew that people who share their heritage brought the theory of relativity, blue jeans, klezmer music, drip irrigation systems, Pulitzer Prize winning novels, comedies to the world. staggered and pacemakers, while being such a small minority in the grand scheme of the world’s population.
I think it’s wonderful to have Judaism as an integral part of our family identity, and I’m delighted to share all of this with my sons. They already enjoy celebrating Jewish holidays throughout the year, learning Jewish songs, and hearing stories about different religious traditions.
Again, I also sometimes feel in conflict. I know when they go to school they will learn little or nothing about Judaism or Jewish culture. Children in Germany are divided into groups to learn religion based on their family’s religious background, and children with no Christian background usually end up in ethics class. As a result, the primary exposure of their peers to Jews or Jewish culture will be primarily through learning about the Holocaust, instead of learning more about a vibrant and prosperous community that still exists today all over the world. Ultimately, the knowledge of the Jews by my children’s friends outside of that will come from my children. We are already inviting non-Jewish friends to celebrate Shabbat or Hanukkah with us, and I brought some books and treats related to the daycare and preschool holidays for them to share.
It’s great that their peers can have this exposure to our Jewish heritage. But sometimes I get frustrated that it’s on our family’s shoulders to make it happen, and that there seems to be so little point in embracing more of a multicultural society. When you are part of a minority, by default you become an expert on the traditions and opinions of the majority. My children will be experts in everything from Christmas to cathedrals, while their peers are not likely to learn Passover or enter a synagogue at any point in their childhood.
Ultimately, I don’t really have a definitive answer on how to balance all of this: instill Jewish pride in my children while addressing my concerns about anti-Semitism and discrimination. It doesn’t matter, however. Something that I have always loved about Judaism is that it encourages questioning, analysis and exploration. I probably won’t have the answers on how to strike the perfect balance between education, security, and self-esteem when it comes to not only my children’s Jewish identity, but many other aspects of their identity as well, and how. they choose to see each other. I recognize that. In the words of a famous German Jew, Anne Frank, “Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right track, but the final formation of a person’s character rests in their own hands.”