Prevent Your Children From Intermarrying


The calls increase in frequency as Rosh Hashana gets closer. "Rabbi, I’m thinking of putting my kids in Hebrew school. Could you tell me a bit about it?" So I give the usual descriptions. We meet twice a week. Your child will learn Hebrew reading, history, holidays and traditions. On the holidays we have all kinds of interesting projects, on Rosh Hashana they will learn to make a shofar, Chanukah make a menorah and Passover bake matzah. By the way, I sometimes say, our Hebrew school is great, but day school, like the Hebrew Academy, is a much better choice for a more comprehensive Jewish education.

"Oh," they say, "that sounds interesting. But I’ve got one problem. The program conflicts with soccer on Tuesday." So I try to be a bit tough. "Look, the program is twice a week. If you don’t send Timmy or maybe Tiffany both days, they really won’t be getting that much of an education."

"Rabbi, we are really not so religious, and anyway the kids learn the traditions at home."

So I wonder if I should lay it on the line or not. Chances are the amount of "traditions in the home" was a dinner last Passover. The family gathered and read the Maxwell House edition of the haggadah. After about 20 minutes, Aunt Sadie started complaining that it was getting late and they should move on to dinner. The older sister’s cell phone was ringing with some friend from school. And the 10-year-old kid is thinking to himself, "Ah, this must be Judaism." Mom can’t read Hebrew, and dad can somehow figure out the four questions since he had a bar mitzvah some 20 years ago.

Instead, I try to be the nice guy. Usually I try to cajole, encourage and hopefully convince them that the kids will have a great time. Hebrew school does not have to be a drag, and if you can only do one day a week, we will try to accommodate you.

Hoping that by first getting in the front door, maybe I will have a chance to slowly interest the children — and then maybe down the line the parents, whose Jewish attention span lasts no longer than the bar mitzvah anyway.

At times, I will try to enter into a philosophical discussion. Judaism gives us answers to the inner meaning of life. It leads us down a path of holiness, imbuing us with spiritual purpose and direction. But few are interested in engaging in a philosophical dialogue. They are more interested in the important issues: tuition, carpool, homework loads, etc.

What I don’t tell them is the harshest truth. "Listen, your observance is not so strong, and unless your kids get an education chances are it will be less. And if you want your children to marry a fellow Jew, the only thing that really insures that is giving the children a Jewish education."

But rarely are they interested in hearing the statistics of the National Jewish Population Study that clearly prove the more Jewish education, the lower the rate of intermarriage and assimilation.

I feel like I am witnessing assimilation at work. Parents who make Judaism a priority to their kids will have children that carry it on. Most importantly, they will gain an appreciation of the richness of Jewish tradition that will impact their lives. Sadly, we live in a time where most Jews are three and even four generations removed from full observance.

Daily, I see parents making decisions that will effect their children’s identity for decades to come. "Oh, Rabbi, we’ll make a small bar mitzvah and invite over the family," they say. I wonder, what’s the celebration if the kid knows as much about Judaism as I do about Zulu Indians?

Still there are the good stories. Parents who for years have invested much in their kids and are seeing the rewards of having the right priorities. Families who make a decision to seize the opportunity before it’s too late, and give their children some Jewish education. The best news is that what we are teaching the kids has an impact. According to all the surveys, the more years they learn — and in particular if they choose a day school over a Hebrew school — they grow to love Judaism.

It’s all very simple: the more hours they put in, the more they value the ideals and traditions that reach down to us from Mount Sinai.

Friends


One glorious sunny day, my girlfriend "C" and I share a seaside restaurant table with a married couple, call them Harry and Sylvia.

Harry gazes at Sylvia with such a glow. I tingled with memory.

"What a look!" I say to Sylvia, while Harry goes to the pickup window for their order. "He seems to love you so much."

"I didn’t notice," she says.

Only a second before, I thought the sun rose in his eyes. I wanted for myself what Harry gives Sylvia. I kiddingly consider placing a personal ad: "Done with chemo. Are you man enough for me?"

It was just a thought.

Harry returns, followed by C, with our own fish orders. It’s so easy to read bliss into marriage, especially if you’re single and imagine that fate cut you short.

Romantic ideals mislead us into regressing into the heroism of King Arthur; that one person can fulfill all needs, not only providing companionship in good times, but compassion during the bad. Long love means ancient patience, selflessness and a willingness to read medical charts and search for Web sites on new experimental solutions; on such myths is domestic rancor born.

Meanwhile, we don’t see the light in our loved one’s eyes.

With friendship, we suffer no such delusions; gladly, we share the tasks with as many as are willing.

Over time, with each of my friends I have forged marriage-like bonds, comfortable and committed. C won’t let me get up to get an extra tartar sauce. We go back more than 30 years, to the days when designer Perry Ellis was alive.

"My friends take turns staying with me," I tell Sylvia. "They hardly leave me alone."

"You’re lucky," she says. "All my friends are dead."

I’ve lived 15 years without a husband. But I wouldn’t last a week without my friends.

Disease makes the distinctions between marriage and friendship all the clearer. One man, no matter how good, can only do so much. It takes an e-mail list to heal a woman.

Friendship is the harvest of living. How valuable is the crop.

There is an economy among friends, much like setting the interest rate. Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan weighs the financial growth of the nation using job expansion, consumer confidence, unemployment.

So life, too, has its own complex "economic indicators." Health, friendship, intimacy, creativity, finance, shelter, spirituality.

Through these, I assess my own personal treasury, deciding how much to rely on each factor. Whatever my troubles, in terms of friends, there is a strong, good yield.

This week’s Torah portion, KiTetze, contrasts the conflicts of marriage to the obligations of friendship.

In marriage, the Torah warns that anything can go wrong. Love starts strong, but can wither. Passion can lead to divorce, and with it comes the obligation to a lovelorn child. No wonder so much space is devoted to care of the orphan, the widow and the stranger, those who suffer innocently when marriage ends.

Friendship expects less, yields more. Even distant friends must be treated like brothers. My favorite of this week’s biblical passages suggests that if you see a fellow’s ox has fallen on the road, don’t ignore it; help him raise it.

Friendship depends on the raising up of each other, on being there for the visits and the comfort. Knowing when to act and when to leave.

A few weeks ago, when my body weight was at its ninth-grade low, my buddies assigned themselves the task of putting meat on my bones.

Some of them did the shopping. Others the cooking. Still others sat with me during the torture of watching me clean my plate, while I was learning once again to swallow.

They didn’t ask my permission. Good thing, too. I couldn’t speak, but I was tempted to say "no thanks." Part of me rebelled, another part dripped with ego. I was the ox that had fallen. I needed raising up.

My friends were my mirror, and I let them reflect back at me. I needed feeding.

Soup, salmon and ice cream help gain weight faster than false pride.

"Be tranquil," the sages say. "If there is anything needed, my friend will see it and do it for me."