Letters to the editor:Encouraging — and not commanding — our children’s Jewish identity

[In response to the Dec. 8 commentary, “A new 10 Commandments for Jews” by Archie Gottesman]

Toward the end of Ms. Gottesman’s op-ed she says, “You probably have an issue with one commandment or another.” As a Jewish parent of two young daughters, I not only take issue with some of her commandments, but the aggressive, didactic tone of her entire proposal.

I’m bothered that someone would actually suggest less open-mindedness and champion “non-negotiables” as a strategy for not only deterring interfaith marriages, but for solving any problem for that matter.

I think it is the persistence of this rigid attitude and inflexibility that has often steered Jews away from Judaism – not the opposite, as she suggests. Don’t misunderstand me: I too, hope my daughters would choose to marry Jewish men, embrace our rich culture and beautiful traditions,and one day bless us with Jewish grandchildren. But even more important than my wishes and hopes for them, is my desire to see that they reach these important decisions independently.


It has always been my experience that when you constantly force something upon someone, once they are free to decide for themselves, the result is often the opposite of the intended goal – no matter how good those intentions might be.

I believe that it is precisely because my parents allowed me the freedom to explore religion on my own terms that I have been able to arrive at Judaism more clearly. Even though it may have pained them to see me drop out of Sunday school mere months before confirmation, they respected me enough to allow this when I told them I was really struggling with my personal beliefs and felt I could no longer continue with my Jewish education. Nor did I receive lectures or judgments when I chose to date a few non-Jewish boys in high school or college, even though I knew this wasn’t their preference. The fact that they didn’t constantly interfere spoke volumes to me and may have even been the catalyst for embarking on my individual Jewish journey – no suffocating commandments or strict requirements along the way.

Additionally, and this is not to diminish the importance of Israel or the meaningful experience one may have there (I’ve been twice myself and gained many wonderful Jewish insights), but it is worrisome to me that like Ms. Gottesman, many in our community fervently devote time, energy and money promoting trips there, when I believe visits to Holocaust museums or to the actual concentration camps are far more vital and enduring. It might not be as fun as floating in the Dead Sea or climbing to the top of Masada, but I assure you, my visit to Auschwitz was the single most transformative moment in my journey toward Judaism. And the profound impressions from that trip when I was a teenager haunt me still – in a way that won’t allow me to ever turn my back on my people, no matter what contradictions I see or disagreements there may be among us.

One of the few, new commandments of Ms. Gottesman’s I do agree with is number two: “Belief in God is not required.” I sure would’ve liked someone to tell me that when I was a kid. If I had been reassured sooner that I could still be a good Jew without a complete understanding of how I felt about God, perhaps my journey wouldn’t have taken quite so long. And despite what I think are healthy doses of skepticism and doubt, I’ve still managed to marry a Jew, belong to a synagogue, send our kids to Jewish preschool and day camp, observe Shabbat together, become a regular fixture at the Jewish Community Center, volunteer for Jewish charities and participate in and enjoy all this wonderful community has to offer. And I am quite positive this was not the result of attending Jewish overnight camp, staying home on Friday nights, giving only to Jewish causes or partaking in more exciting services. I say out with the new commandments and in with trusting our kids to make the right decisions at their own pace and in a way that’s comfortable for them. Sincere devotion toward anything can take years. Perhaps if we don’t force our beliefs and faith upon them, but instead have a more open-minded faith in them to make the right choices, our kids actually will.

My advice to Archie Gottesman: If you wish to have Jewish grandchildren one day, start by making it less about what you want but rather what you can open-mindedly encourage – not command – your kids to discover for themselves.

Meredith Musen-Johns

University City