Now that the New Year is upon us, it’s time to kick my yiddishe mamma tushie into gear. We are recuperating from the lingering malaise of our family Christmas visit with our Christian in-laws. The two holidays coinciding made it even worse, stirring up my not-very-latent, seemingly genetic Jewish guilt.
Not only did we have our annual Christmas Eve gift-giving and tree, but my 4-year-old was exposed to hours of television, including many Christmas specials. We had to alternatively force and entice her to watch Hanukah programs as well. Somehow she decided in her precociously defiant way that it was something to avoid since we really wanted her to do it.
To minimize such future struggles and set my year straight, I am committing to some basic Jewish parenting resolutions for 2017:
1. Stop hating preschool and start talking to the director. We only have one more semester of preschool to go, but Easter is coming. Every other Christmas and Easter, we have pulled our daughter from school on particular days to avoid visits from the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus, but this has cost me work time and not minimized her exposure to Christmas ornaments and Easter eggs.
While we have to go through this for one more Easter, I pledge to have a polite yet firm conversation with the preschool director well in advance about why these activities are problematic for us as paying parents. We want to see more inclusiveness and less cultural domination in our school. It may not change our immediate circumstances but it won’t be passively accepting them, either.
2. Get more sophisticated Jewish books and read them with our daughter on a consistent basis. We get books from PJ Library, but it’s not enough for us. We need ongoing fresh material that covers Jewish religion and culture in a meaningful, yet accessible way in order to feel like we are getting somewhere. Ditto with TV programming. Hebrew School is not an easy option for us where we currently live, so we need to make our own resources.
3. On a related note, read up on Hebrew homeschooling and try to suss out some kind of meaningful curriculum, including but not exclusive to the holidays. The resources are out there for full time Jewish homeschool and the resources are out there for part time Hebrew schools but, surprisingly, I don’t know how much is out there for the independent parent-teacher who wants one or two hours a week worth of material. I need to spend some of my surfing time on figuring this out.
4. Ditch the guilt. I grew up secular Jewish in an isolated, racist area. I was a latchkey kid of divorce, substance abuse, other kinds of abuse, and anti-Semitism. Consequently, I struggled with my Jewish identity as a child and I still do, even after 15 years of having worked in the Jewish communal profession. We have connections with several synagogue communities and even belong to one, but for various reasons, we currently live an hour and a half away from it. We had been going to services on Shabbat and socializing more, but at this distance it’s been hard to sustain. I know that our backgrounds and choices have led us to our current situation, which needs to change, but we are educated, committed Jewish parents and that consistently shines through, too.
As Rabbi Tarfon says in Pirkei Avot, “You are not obligated to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it.” Our Jewish parenting is nowhere near what I wish it to be, and our current, temporary, location has a great impact on that. But we are not moving for a while yet, so rather than wallow in guilt, I will take baby steps to make sure our lives continue to grow in sync with our values.