he month of Nisan commences the Jewish calendar year, and with it the festival of Pesach. This is yet another opportunity for new year’s resolutions. What kind of intentional Jewish parenting does Pesach 2022 provoke us to consider?
Pesach implores us to lean. We’re told to lean left, but each year with the challenges COVID has provided us, we can feel more compelled to lean in other directions – sometimes even leaning out. Over two years, we have seen the interruption to habit through lockdown, the tiresome nature of online family interactions either before or during seder; and now we face the complication of holding large family events whilst living with COVID.
As Jewish parents and grandparents, leaning into our children’s Jewish and Israel engagement is important now more than ever because the messaging they often receive from social and traditional media lacks nuance where we should be seeking and celebrating it.
The sudden intrusion of the outside world into our homes brought many new Jewish parenting experiences during 2020-21. The first Australian lockdown took place just before Yom HaShoah. As a third-generation holocaust survivor,
I have joined my peers in traipsing from hall to cemetery to living room over the years, in search of an event that would sit right. That first COVID year, amid the pandemic, I found it. With school taking place remotely, parents were invited to sit with our children at home, light a Yizkor candle together, and hear students share stories of their great-grandparents. It was the most beautiful, memorable and touching way to mark that day.
How can Jewish parents intentionally model leaning into Jewish practice, complexity, knowledge and connection with Israel in this new world of hybrid work and learning? There were two years in which schools, shules, youth movements and learning organisations Zoomed straight into our lounge rooms so that we did not need to make much effort in order to activate our children’s Jewish and Israel aspiration and curiosity.
Like our slave ancestors in Egypt, there were many decisions we did not have to make. 2022 invites us to leave the house, which requires more effort, more decisions. This year we are pulled to lean in all directions. It means seeking and choosing Israel programs for our young people in senior years of secondary school, because now they are possible. It means considering the topics of seder table conversation because this year it will take place. It means considering active physical, rather than digital, participation in shules, communal organisations, sport and social groups.
Pesach, the festival of freedom, demands of us an answer to a question: What does life as a nation look like once we are free? We know that once freed, the Israelites struggled with the responsibility that freedom brought. We now appreciate from COVID that decision fatigue is real.
We wonder what was happening for those rabbis who coached, “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it” (Pirkei Avot 2:21). They were highlighting that engaging with action is important, not in order to finish the job but simply in order to be contributing to the community.
As children return to more normative youth movement and Hebrew lesson weekly experiences in person, physical school attendance and Israel gap years, it may be tempting for us as parents to step away and leave them to it: job done!
Leaning in is not always straightforward. An interesting example of complex identity is the late Madeleine Albright. In 1997 she discovered three of her Jewish grandparents were killed in the Holocaust. Her parents had not told her of her heritage and raised her as Catholic. It is common to hear of past generations understandably remaining quiet about Jewish identity, but those times have passed.
Pirkei Avot nudges us: the job is never done. This year presents a more complex and exciting opportunity for parents: how do we bring with us what we learnt from 2020-21 lockdowns and the new world order, so as to make the most impact in the next decade of Jewish parenting? Using creativity, technology and nuance for Jewish community engagement right now, we invite young people to lean in along with us, and this leaning is what will define what our communities and identities will look like for many decades to come.
Adele Stowe-Lindner is Information Chairperson at the ZFA and Vice President of Kehilat Nitzan Synagogue.
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