Getting To Choice

A lot of parents become frustrated when they see that their children are less than enthusiastic about Judaism–far less than the parents. This is particularly disconcerting for parents who are ba’alei teshuvah, who sacrificed so much in order to build a Torah life that, hopefully, has never lost its luster. Ba’alei teshuvah are generally maverick in nature, people who are willing and able to make deliberate decisions about what is meaningful to them, which aspects of their native cultures and mentalities to retain and which to jettison in the name of Judaism. That has entailed, for many people, changing their diet, dress, outlook on life, interpersonal connections, geographic location, choice of profession, education, and so much more. How is a BT to deal with an FFB child who takes it all for granted, eats kosher his or her whole life, keeps Shabbos, goes to the Jewish school his or her parents didn’t get to, and still emerges with a “been there, done that” attitude, so disparate from his or her “holy roller” parents’?

I think that it is important to keep in mind that the connection to Hashem and Torah that ba’alei teshuvah have is as intense, enriching, and joyful as it is because they chose it.

I have a friend who hated school as a child. He told me that, even at the young age of five, he was bored in kindergarten, so he just walked back home. Fortunately for him and his parents, he lived in a safe, upscale suburb of Detroit. When he recounted this to me, he was engaged in serious learning in a kollel in Jerusalem. He went on to say that, even though he never developed into the type of person who fit neatly into an educational framework, and even though he found it difficult at times to keep up with the demands of Torah learning now, he was able to remind himself that, unlike his days as an elementary school student who attends school involuntarily, he was choosing the learning now.

Herein lies an important key to being a Jewish parent, whether you are BT or FFB. In order for a person to invest him or herself in a spiritual life, he or she must choose it for themselves. Mesorah is a critical component in Jewish life to be sure, but so is making Yiddishkeit one’s own. Our job as parents may be to stop worrying about whether or not our kids will do what we do and start providing them with the incentives and tools to choose it for themselves. Let’s stop worrying about “at risk” and “off the derech” and start making Yiddishkeit an incredible option that is too good to refuse.

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