Parenting is all about making choices. Some seem small, like what to make for dinner, which park to visit, or which bedtime story to read. Others are bigger – choosing a doctor, a pre-school, an elementary school. Of course, as your kids get bigger, the choices get bigger, until you’re helping them to make choices, and ultimately sending them off into the world to make choices – big and small – on their own.
As Jewish parents, we felt that raising our children Jewish was a given. But very early we found ourselves faced with choices about what that looks like, and the only thing that was clear is that they’re different for every family.
Like many of our friends, we started with the Early Childhood Center at our temple. Jewish pre-school felt like a great beginning to a Jewish education, and we watched with joy as our children practiced the Shabbat and holiday rituals, learned Hebrew songs that they would chant regularly, and began to engage in Jewish values such as tzedakah and acts of kindness.
When it came time for our older daughter to start elementary school, we had another choice to make. For our family, a secular elementary school made the most sense, so that is what we chose. We also enrolled her in religious school at the temple, as we were committed to continuing her Jewish education.
The summer she was turning nine, she decided she was ready to go away to sleepover camp. Again, we had a choice to make (we had no idea there would be so many!) We chose a JCC camp, one where I myself spent many happy summers. This year, she is heading off for her third summer there, and our younger daughter is going, too, for the first time.
I’m happy to report that they seem to love the Jewish experiences we’ve chosen for them. Both kids actually love religious school (which seems hard to believe given the moaning and groaning most of us remember about having to go to religious school.) They’re more and more comfortable chanting the prayers during tefillah, and fill long car rides singing all the great camps songs at the top of their lungs.
They’re engaged, having a great time, and have a deepening appreciation for their heritage. They like being Jewish, and they see it as both a privilege and a pleasure.
As far as I can tell, this is really the goal of choosing to raise our children Jewish: to engage them, educate them, and inspire them to make their own choice to lead Jewish lives as adults.
Deborah Dragon is a baker/confectioner, communications consultant, overcommitted volunteer and mom – not always in that order! After years doing public relations for a wide range of corporations, cities, government agencies and nonprofits, she pursued a dream of working with food, went to culinary school and started a baking business. Her days are filled with a mix of meetings, copywriting, shuttling between school, softball and drama lessons, and big batches of salted fudge brownies. Deborah lives with her husband and two daughters in the Los Angeles area.