Being a Jew usually means dressing the part

by Ellie Grossman

As I struggle everyday to pick my battles with my children, I usually surrender in the wardrobe war. In fact, I let my 11-year-old son Jack and 7-year-old daughter Sari wear what they want for the most part. Jack’s usual attire consists of a Hanes undershirt and athletic shorts. When he dresses formal, he hangs a shark’s tooth around his neck. Sari, on the other hand, showcases more outfits than my fat and skinny clothes combined. Still, she grabs the same striped pink tank top and ruffled skirt every time. Whenever I suggest that she wear something different, she looks at me like I’m as outdated as a taffeta prom gown.

With kids, their clothing is all about control and self-expression. Jack never even notices the short-sleeved plaid shirt that hangs on his bedroom doorknob all summer long. A true baseball fan, he would rather sport his favorite Ozzie Smith Cardinals jersey. Sari has a mind of her own as well. Whatever ensemble I suggest, she picks an entirely different outfit. I say bolero jacket; she says hooded sweater. In most cases, clothes are not worth fighting about. If Sari wants to wear white sandals after Labor Day, I promise to overlook the fashion faux pas when we go to Rosh Hashanah services.

In fact, the upcoming High Holidays are the perfect time to teach our children how clothes can make the man, literally. In the Torah, many verses are devoted to the subject of Bigdei Kodesh, which is the holy clothing or ritual garments for the high priests. In the Bible, Moses is told, “Make Bigdei Kodesh — holy garments — for Aaron your brother, for dignity and splendor.” Then the text goes on to describe how the robe is made of “turquoise wool … pomegranates of blue, purple and scarlet yarns … twisted and finely woven linen … bells of pure gold … with the inscription: Holy to the Lord.”

Judaism teaches us a couple of lessons here: Inner beauty and how we treat others is what matters most. However, outward beauty is also symbolic when our apparel is used for a holy purpose. When we pray at temple, that’s a holy purpose. Plus, the clothing we wear influences how we feel about ourselves and how others see us; just as with the high priest Aaron.

I’m not asking Sari to squeeze into tights unless for some reason she wants to torture herself during the sermon. And I’m not asking Jack to put on a suit and tie. In fact, the only criterion that I enforce for Jack is to remove his sweaty, filthy Rams football cap that he worships like an heirloom yarmulke. All I ask is that at synagogue my children dress a little differently than they normally would if they were at Busch Stadium. Sure I want my kids to feel comfortable, and at the same time, I want them to show some respect in our house of worship.

I understand why many Reform temples these days allow a casual dress code. A relaxed atmosphere encourages families with young children to walk in the door. A rabbi wants everyone to feel welcome no matter what. Even so, it won’t keep many of us moms from buying a new outfit for the Jewish New Year.

“The Mishegas of Motherhood” is the creation of Ellie S. Grossman, a St. Louis freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom who never stays home. Her stories are inspired by the real life of her family, including her two children, toy poodle named Luci, and her husband, but not necessarily in that order. Feel free to send any comments, prayers or recipes to [email protected].