Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Guest Posting By Alice Jonsson - The Jonsson-er Rebbe

How on earth will we pass on our B'nai Noach religious views to our son? Here’s the answer: I really don’t know. We weren’t raised in anything ourselves, so we are really making this up as we go on many levels. That’s the cold hard truth.

Way back in the 80s, one of my neighbors - we’ll call him Chris - used to come over to my house every Sunday at 11:45 sharp and stay until about 1:10. Why? Well if any recovering Catholics are reading this, you probably guessed. He was being raised in a Catholic home and was faking going to services. His parents went to an earlier service, so he thought he was really pulling the wool over their eyes. These were nice people, trying to raise nice little Catholics, just like we would try to raise a nice little Ben Noach.

It didn’t take much for some of their kids to rebel. They just brought them to church every Sunday, prayed before meals, took them to Bible classes now and then- probably what would seem like a nice balance between the two worlds to your average person looking in. They volunteered in the church regularly. But they weren’t unhinged and speaking in tongues and surrounding their kids with icons and glow-in-the-dark statues of saints.

I was raised by people who really couldn’t stand institutionalized religion, yet I watched religious programming as a small child, alone in the den for hours. I thought it was fascinating. My mom would whisper to my dad, “Seth! She’s watching it again.” A favorite was the Ernest Angsley hour, and boy was he a whopper. He had this intense comb-over and preached his head off. He said, “Put your hand on the TV screen! I’m going to heal you!” I lifted my little foot and stuck it up there. I’d give him my foot. Nothing happened. I went with my friends to church now and then, Chris’ little sister was my best bud, but ultimately I knew even at that early age that they were barking up the wrong tree. It just never made sense to me once they got beyond the God part and started talking about that guy. No offense.

I can’t explain why some kids are spiritual and some are not- some religious, some not. It seems like some just come out that way, as I did. Then some are nurtured. And some are forged. There is really no rational explanation for why I have ended up where I am. So how will our son end up wherever he will end up?

1. Hypnotism.

2. He will watch what we do. So we need to set the best example we can.

3. He will listen to some of what we say and teach. He will listen to some of what the people around him say and teach.

4. Here’s a question, if Moshiach is supposed to arrive any moment, what’s the point in worrying? So no worrying.

5. Can’t really figure out how we would send him to a Jewish day school. Even if we could afford it.

6. I was kidding about the hypnotism. Although when people asked us what we were going to name him, we’d say Mezmer, just to mess with them. (You know, the famous Austrian hypnotist? Really drag out the ‘z’.)

7. If he is anything at all like his mommy and daddy he will rebel against us like crazy, so he might do the opposite of what we do. So we should do the opposite of what we want him to do?

Jake’s First Hanukah:

We’re not so into holidays. This year I bought the menorah the day before Hanukah because I’m smart and love having a nice selection. In my price range. Not. So the only ones left were really beautiful but way too expensive, or ugly, or thematic. So I thought maybe a theme menorah would be cute for Jake, get him excited. There was a ceramic fire truck, he loves ‘fiya twups’ so I considered it. Then rejected it. Would he then associate Hanukah with firemen? Plus the flames coming out of the top of the fire truck just seemed odd. Should a fire truck be on fire? Reject.

I chose a standard silver-plated deal. The quintessential menorah. With a music box built in. It plays a song I can’t name and have never heard before, but it’s pretty and Jake liked the music and the pretty candles. And my husband made latkes that were great with chunky apple sauce. Yum. So that’s what the holiday was like. Again, not into holidays.

I’m into every day. The days surrounding the holiday- without getting too technical and realizing that I’m generalizing too much- seem way more important than the actual holidays themselves. That’s what we’ll teach Jake. Be as moral as you can and as happy as you can, everyday.

I will pray to Hashem for help in raising him religious, because that’s really the best I can do. I am really uncomfortable talking about religion with him because it feels so unreal that the words are coming out of my mouth. I have always felt drawn to God, yet it feels really crazy to me to talk about it and to share it with my son. And to describe what has happened to me in my life and how Hashem has made it all happen, how do I find those words? If I told you the stories, you wouldn’t believe them.

Maybe I need someone else’s words. Rabbi Shapiro, a terrific rabbi with whom I study, said that structured prayers are provided in part because there are moments where we don’t know what to say. Something might be so awe inspiring, so frightening, so painful, so befuddling, we don’t know what to say. I need for someone to tell me what to say.

I want for Jake to know that the Torah is the answer book. I want him to know that real power is feeling so loved by Hashem that no bully at school can ever really bother you. No scary stuff can be too scary for Hashem. I want him to know that feeling joyful and grateful plug you in to the Source and that He can make anything happen, like a dream.


At March 12, 2008 at 10:39:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I heard b'shem the heintiger Lubavitcher Rebbe zt"l the following:

There is an idol called Ba'al Pe'or, and the way it is worshipped is that the worshipper goes in front of it and defecates.

How is it possible that people -- even primitive idol worshippers -- would perform such a disgusting mode of worship?

The answer, the Rebbe zt"l replied, is that originally, the worshippers of Ba'al Pe'or would sit for a long time in front of the idol and meditate so deeply that they would lose conscious control of their bodily functions. However, these original idolaters did not explain to their children what they were doing and teach them how to meditate. So, the children only saw the external actions of their parents -- that they were relieving themselves in front of the idol, and the children assumed that that was the main essence of worship.

The moral is that we (Jews, and presumably Bnei Noach as well) need to educate our children by explaining deep concepts to them, not just by having them parrot our external actions. (Ad kan toichen devorov zt"l -- That's the end of the summary of what I heard in the name of the Rebbe zt"l.)

Of course, convincing our children to follow in our footsteps is a tremendous challenge. Giving them unconditional love is a good way to encourage them. But, I can say from personal experience with my own children, that each child is different. Some of my children ended up being moderately rebellious no matter what I've tried, and some have ended up very frum, even though I didn't provide them with the best model parenting.

At March 12, 2008 at 12:15:00 PM EDT, Blogger Alice said...

Point taken! : )

At March 12, 2008 at 4:35:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If my wife and I did not know deep down that our path and hope lie together with the Jewish people, and that we will work towards geyrus before we have children, I can't imagine how we'd manage to transmit our values to the next generation as bney noach. Even in a strong faith community it's a huge concern!

I have been comforted in the past by R' A. I. Kook's words in his Orot (especially pp. 124-28): "The infinite transcends every particular content of faith."

If my children learn and retain from me only that H' is without boundary or limitation, they will always be able to find their way back to proper faith and practice.

At March 13, 2008 at 10:46:00 AM EDT, Blogger yitz said...


to me, in my limited understanding, a bright child growing up bnei noach would most likely ask his parents why they are putting in all the effort when HaShem seems more interested in the Jews?

Ie. a (spiritual) young teenager who has issues with hypocrisy might say if you really believe in all this stuff, why didn't you convert to Judaism and get the full deal?

(of course a good answer might involve why not everyone takes on the oath of a nazir)

i'm truly not levelling that question at you, but i would think that would be a child's question.

[my mom when she was three or four years old, was told by a reconstructionist rabbi about how God doesn't actually exist. Her response was, "well, if he does exist, isn't he going to be awfully mad at you?"]

At March 13, 2008 at 2:15:00 PM EDT, Blogger Alice said...

I hope he's smart enough to give us a run for our money and to ask us plenty of questions that stump us. : )

I know this may not be exactly what you are saying in part of your comment, but for what it's worth, I don't feel like Hashem loves me less than anyone else. (You said ‘interested’ which is a totally different thing of course.) Now my feelings may be irrelevant and/or incorrect. I'm just not insecure about Hashem loving a Jewish person more than me. It’s like a sort of sibling rivalry which strikes me as silly. And I feel like Hashem is right at my back so often, I don’t feel like I’m not getting enough attention.

We all have the option of converting of course and for us, at this time, that's of no interest, which is what we would tell him. Of course we would be totally supportive of our son doing that if he chooses at some point. I think Gentiles can be spectacular people who change the world for the better in amazing and beautiful ways, as many have, despite our often horrible behavior. So that is what we will tell him, God willing.

Hashem made this family Gentiles for a reason and it’s up to us to figure out what special job(s) He has in store for us as the people we are right now. At least that’s my very simple way of looking at it. Maybe there is something we can do as non-Jews to make the world better that we could not do as Jews. Maybe we would make terrible Jews. Who knows? I think there is something so powerful about living in the moment and making the absolute best of this day, that fretting about identity seems like a waste of time, or maybe like something from the Evil Inclination. Why not thank Hashem for making us who we are, which is what Jews do every Saturday? Hopefully. : )

Thank you all for you astute comments.

At March 13, 2008 at 2:25:00 PM EDT, Blogger Alice said...

In terms of putting in lots of effort, etc. We both come from hard working people from way back. Pat's ancestors fished the Baltic (burrr) for hundreds of years until the 1970s. My ancestors left England in the 1630's and started a town in what is now Maine. I can't imagine the effort that required. And our parents all work and volunteer like crazy. We are blessed to live with great role models in many ways. So if he's wondering why we put in the effort, I would tell him that that's what we are made of as people. We work! Which was a trait of Noach, not ironically. That's what Hashem wants of us I think.

Hashem works for us non-stop. We give back so little in return. Know what I mean? Jew, non-Jew- doesn't matter.


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