So often I hear from parents that they belong to a synagogue, go to services or have Shabbat dinner for the kids. It is great when parents are interested and willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that their children develop a strong Jewish identity. All those things (and more) are important but there is something even more important: Don’t do it just for the kids — do it for the family! Modeling behavior is crucial; our kids have to see us doing it!
I recently read the book “Raising Kids to Love Being Jewish” by Doron Kornbluth. It is filled with great ideas and stories. Here is a great story that reminds us we can’t just “talk the talk,” we must “walk the walk.”
Kornbluth relates the “60 Minutes” discussion during the 1984 re-election campaign of Ronald Reagan. Diane Sawyer did a scathing eight-minute report: pictures of Reagan visiting a homeless shelter and Sawyer said that Reagan did not support affirmative action; pictures of Reagan with school children and Sawyer said he cut school funding; pictures of Reagan at the stock exchange and Sawyer said experts did not like his policies — the report continued with pictures, and damage was done to Reagan’s administration. After the show, the White House press secretary called to say “thank you.” Sawyer was surprised: “I spent eight minutes attacking you. Why are you thanking me?” He replied, “You are one of the best, most respected journalists in the world today and you still don’t understand. No one listens to the news. People watch the news. We call it television and they are viewers. You gave us eight minutes of golden images. We couldn’t have paid for better.”
We are a visual society and what we see is more compelling than what we hear. Our children need to see us engaged in Jewish activities — reading Jewish books, lighting candles, going to synagogue, studying and even writing a check (yes, you should give and show your children what that looks like, whether it is writing a check or putting money in a tzedakah box). We are all role models — our children are watching! Make sure they see your Jewish identity in action and they will follow your lead.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services and Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.