Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Jewish education my kids are not getting

Being a baalat teshuva and not attending day school makes me nervous about my Judaic knowledge. I am even more jittery when it comes to educating boys. When do they start mishna? When do they start Gemara? What format does halacha learning take? What about Jewish philosophy? I don't even know what it is supposed to look like, let along teach it. I feel so inadequate, so ready to put them into dayschool or hire a rebbe, someone who knows this stuff, who can teach them.

What I tend to forget is that learning without application is worthless. Luckily, there are plenty of situations to remind me about it.

Today the kids held a "student council meeting" and decided among themselves that they want to be governed by republican democracy. Well, 2 yo objected by saying no. When 11 yo offered tyranny, 2 yo jumped excitedly up and down. Part of this new system of rule included taxation. The kids set a tax rate at 10% of their allowance, after tzedakah. They decided to store their taxes in an envelope in 5 yo's drawer (being the most responsible and the least likely to lose it). They also entered a clause about stealing from the tax fund and that was set by 11 yo straight from his mishna.

Later on today, we had an afternoon bris to attend. (The baby was jaundiced, so the bris was delayed). This is a sibling of one of their friends, so the kids were quite eager to go. As the crowds shuffled into the shul, I surveyed the situation and decided that it might not be worth it to stay for the סעודה afterwards, as it looked very crowded and I had all five kids by myself. Moreover, the boys went downstairs while I stayed upstairs with three younger ones. 5 yo asked to go down to the boys, but since this is not the building that we usually go to, I was not sure whether she knew her way around. I let her go, but then I could not find her afterwards. As I was trying to get the stroller into the corner and find a seat for 2 yo, I saw people trolling next to the food table, with the staff telling them that the food is not being served yet. I saw kids grab fistfuls of candy from the sweet table, more that any one child can eat at a time. I stopped mine from doing the same. I saw a rabbi hover around the food with the plate, trading remarks with the staff as to why he is not filling his plate yet. And I saw kids swoop in and repeatedly grab cookies from the sides, where the staff could not get them to stop.

All these kids are going to local Jewish schools, getting a Jewish education. The rabbi is a teacher in one of these schools. Yet all I saw was a lack of דרך ארץ. If the purpose of learning all those mishnayot is to pass a test and then leave them behind in the classroom, I am not sure whether that can be called education. If the rabbi teaches Pirkei Avot, yet fails to behave as a mentch, I am not sure whether his teaching means anything.

I gathered up my kids and left, not waiting to see the stampede of everyone else once the food will be opened up. I did not want to see people pushing and shoving to fill their plates. I did not want my kids to see people piling on more food that they can eat. I did not want to see the parents of the baby shake their heads and regret this late afternoon bris and the crowd of hungry Jews that were lured by a free dinner. But before I walked out, I saw the disgust in the eyes of a not religious grandma, surely produced by the less than fine behavior of the religious Jews.

My kids might be missing out on Jewish education, but they will not miss out on being educated in how to be a mentch.