The discussion and the texts had been too much for Diane. She needed to speak.
“I just don’t know… I mean, it’s the modern age now, does this old stuff still have anything valuable for us today? What would I tell my kid about this stuff? It all sounds just a bit offensive to me…” Diane was on a roll. I knew enough as a teacher to “teach with my mouth shut,” and see where her energy took the class. I hoped it would be somewhere good.
“This stuff about some kind of ‘specialness’… Just a few sessions ago, we were reading about Hasidic masters telling us to celebrate our individual uniqueness, our gifts to contribute. And you said…” (she pointed to me, the teacher) “that this could have a big effect on raising our children, seeing each kid for who he or she really is, and getting over the idea that they had to conform to a one-size-fits-all standard. I liked that.”
“But now you’re having us read these old texts about some weird ‘special sense of mission’ Jews are supposed to feel they have… I mean, isn’t that just the opposite, splitting the world into big groups, and feeling group superiority? Why can’t we just all be individuals, and teach that to our kids?“
It was a really good question. My mind raced ahead to possible answers. Aid came, however, from a different quarter.
“I don’t see it that way at all, Diane.” It was Fred, leaping into the conversation. “I always go back to how I was brought up. I was raised Catholic, you know, and I gotta tell you, all this debate and back and forth stuff we do in here, it’s different!”
Fred continued, “I like it better, but like I said last time, I’m not converting. My wife’s Jewish and she brought me into this thing, and I ‘m glad she did. I see it from both sides–you gotta love your kid for just who he is, but at the same time, you gotta try to teach him also how to have pride in himself, how to be proud to be a Jew.“
“Everyone should be proud of where they come from, and know about their religion. Maybe this is even more true for Jews! They didn’t have an army and over centuries endured horrible events. And here we are today, still doing this ‘Jewish thing’ with arguments all the time. That’s worth being proud of right there. For my two cents, that’s what our ‘mission’ is about–how to be proud to be a Jew, and bring your kid up to value his background. It doesn’t have to do with feeling better than anyone–it’s about walking around and having self-confidence, not being ashamed of where you come from, knowing that you’re doing good work for making the world a better place. I can get behind that.”
Diane looked much happier. I let out a quiet sigh of relief, and made a mental note to thank Fred after class. Now it was time to move on, more exciting texts still had to get their chance to wake everyone up…
By Dr. Jacob Meskin, Ikkarim instructor
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