Today I got a phone call, asking about homeschooling and one of the questions raised was, what do I do to make being Jewish special to my kids? In other words, how am I assured that my kids will not turn after the surrounding world and abandon Judaism at the first opportunity.
I did not have a good answer on the phone. I said that, in my opinion, for kids, making being Jewish special sometimes leads to being snobby and thinking that others are somehow less than you. I said that my kids are confronted with being Jewish and being different all the time; when they are asked about the head covering, when they are asked how they celebrate holidays, when we skip on certain events because they conflict with Shabbos or take place in a church. They know that they are different. The caller was insisting that I need to make being Jewish special, or it will be too late, and they will be not religious.
Once I got off the phone, I started thinking: do I really need to pull out Uncle Moishy "I am so happy to be a Jew" to increase my kids' positive feelings about Judaism? Is being Jewish to them all just about restrictions and differences and not fitting in?
Then I thought about the reasons I am homeschooling. One of them, from the outset, was to make Judaism not just something that we do because everyone else is doing it, but to bring meaning and logic to it. When I learn Chumash with 8 yo, I try to stick to the p'shat, and show him how many wonderful lessons we can learn. When we talk about davening, I explain how it builds our relationship with Hashem. When we talk about halacha, I mention the underlying logic. When Israel comes up, it is a holy place, our land, with a long and storied history. When we go to a rally, it is about showing our support for other Jews. Somehow, I hope, my kids get the idea that being Jewish is different and special.
Since this question was still bugging me, I asked the boys during dinner what they thought about being Jewish. In hindsight, it is quite brave, because it is not like they have a choice. 8 yo immediately gave it thumbs-up. 6 yo was more nuanced, he said being Jewish is sometimes good and sometimes bad. I asked him to elaborate. His answer: "It is good because we know about the true G-d, and it is bad because we don't get to do everything." 8 yo changed his mind, and sided with his brother's answer. He added that being Jewish is good when you can say Shema and think about Hashem protecting you. It is bad when you cannot drum on Shabbos, or watch Pokemon.
And that was it, no dwelling on missing out, no confusion over what it means to be Jewish.
So, for now, I think we are OK.
When we were in Houston, an old rabbi gave a d'var torah in which he said an amazing thing. He said that he was not guaranteed that his kids will stay religious, but now, that he sees that his grandchildren are frum, he feels assured that he has a legacy. Think about it: he waited till his grandchildren to see how his children will turn out. There are no guarantees. Nobody knows what will happen. You do your best, and hope for the best. And you think about these things, not just assume that because the kids are getting a Jewish education, or you keep mitzvot, that everything will turn out fine.
What do you do to make sure that your kids feel special about being Jewish?