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Apr 16 2012

Not All Cantors Raise Super Jewish Kids

By at 2:33 pm

super jewSince I’m a cantor, many people assume that my kids will be “Super Jews.” I’m not so sure about that.

I was asked recently what I thought about sending my child to the local Jewish Day School. For multiple reasons, my family does not find it to be a good option. Not only are we fortunate to be in a very good school district, that, while not perfect, will provide my children with a good education, the Day School is more traditional than is our preference. If we had a Reform community school, I would seriously consider it. But alas, we don’t.

The mother who asked me about Day School said she wanted her child to learn a lot about Judaism, all the things she herself did not learn and that one cannot learn in a supplemental synagogue school program. I said yes, I would want that as well, but I like the idea of a public and diverse education. She replied laughingly, “Well, your kids have you and the temple–they’ll get so much more Judaism, you don’t have to worry.”

I’m not at all convinced that my children will be the “Super Jews” I perhaps want them to be, or that others assume they’ll be. For example, my older daughter does NOT like services. She feels comfortable with me at the temple, but is often unhappy to sit in the sanctuary and even draw or read– she’d rather do those things in my office. She isn’t a HATER, and the suggestion to leave her at home often ignites whining or frustration, but she doesn’t sing along to the prayers and songs she knows; she won’t even sing the Shabbat blessings at home. While she will definitely absorb more Judaism than families who do not live their lives by the rhythm of the Jewish calendar, and who don’t talk about tikkun olam (repairing the world), and bikkur cholim (visiting the sick) at home, I’m not sure that she will know scads more than other kids, particularly those whose families are fully engaged in Jewish living.

My younger one, on the other hand, is delighted to be at temple, to sing, and to be at services. Perhaps it is because she was in the full-day early childhood program at the temple for three years (as opposed to just one year for my oldest). Or perhaps because she loves to sing and entertain, she’s social, and a bit more willing to please (to a fault sometimes). She talks non-stop in the car, singing her own songs, Hebrew songs, asking when holidays and Shabbat are (yes, Mom, she is a lot like her mother!). She loves to sit in the sanctuary and follow in the prayer book or draw and read but she’s always quietly singing along. Will she be my “Super Jew” kid? Or will she feel so comfortable in the building that she yammers her way through religious school and has to come and see the Director of Ed for not behaving in class?

My clergy colleagues and friends have similarly diverse experiences. While I am envious of those clergy who can be on the bimah while their kids sit in the congregation happily without spousal supervision, cheerily singing and clapping along, I also appreciate my girls finding their own way through what it means not only to be Jewish in this world, but to be the daughter of a cantor. Some CKs (like Preacher Kids, but Clergy or Cantor’s kids) are ambivalent, do not continue past Bar/Bat Mitzvah, and choose their own path that might only be distantly connected to Jewish life.

It’s hard enough raising Jewish kids and creating a Jewish family. My kids often resent how much I have to go back to work. “Why can’t you just stay home Friday nights and hang out for Shabbat? Why do you have to go visit someone in the hospital, or go to that meeting or rehearsal?” For those who think that being clergy means that our kids will get all the great Jewish education, love of Jewish life, commitment to the Jewish community that we may want, I’m here to tell you–ain’t no guarantee. We’re just as unsure and apt to make mistakes along the way as everyone else. But the fact that I am committed to challenging the educational models, to providing formal and informal Jewish learning to my children in the home and out in the community, is what being a modern Jewish mother (who happens to be a cantor) is all about.


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