Rabbi Ross. My husband and I have 2 children ages 4 (boy) and 1 (girl). It might sound like it’s a bit early for parenting advice relating to Yiddishkeit, but we’re wondering one thing. How can we make our children love being Jewish? We feel like it’s such a crazy world, and we would love to get a head start. Thanks in advance. S & D in Queens
You’re not early; if anything, you’re late. I’m sure you’re well aware of the famous story about the Chofetz Chaim. When a mother who recently gave birth asked for advice on raising her child, he told her (not a direct quote) that she was already 9 months too late. The first step in raising children is working on yourself.
In any case, your question is an excellent one. So many parents tell me, “I just want my son to be happy!” Happiness that is not based on anything substantial won’t last. The same holds true for love. Your children need to love being Yidden, and then everything else will fall into place.
A few weeks ago we wrote an article in memory of Rav Binyamin Kamenetzky zt”l, discussing this concept. “If we want our children to love Yiddeshkeit, we have to genuinely love being Yidden. We have to be excited about every day.”
That is, I believe, the most crucial way of imparting a love of Yiddishkeit. Both parents need to be excited about being a Yid. This means saying Modeh Ani with enthusiasm in the morning, making Brachos out loud, bringing in Shabbos with a smile, and more. When your children see the happiness radiating from you every day, it will make an impression that will last a lifetime.
Another idea which bears mentioning, is staying away from negativity associated with religion. Allow me to explain. As parents, there are times we need to put our foot down. Saying “No” occasionally is actually a good thing. Children do require discipline and a consequence can certainly help keep them in line. However, many parents blame religion for anything requiring discipline. Here are some examples.
The last piece of advice I will share is called complimenting. Many parents compliment their children for the silliest reasons. I recently saw a young mother eating with her children in a pizza store on Central Avenue. She complimented her children approximately five times while I was waiting on line.
“You chew so nicely! I love the way you’re sitting! You really know how to stay clean!” I got a huge kick out of the way she made everything into a big deal. It sounds great, but it can result in two problems. First, her children might become addicted, if I may, and expect to be complimented for everything. When they aren’t complimented, they might feel insulted. Second, it becomes difficult to ever give them a sincere compliment when they do something truly deserving of one.
What does this have to do with a love for Yiddishkeit? When you compliment your children, you can do it in a special way. Here’s an example. If your son shares his blocks or snacks, you can say, “Hashem loves when kinderlach share! You are such a wonderful Ben Torah!” You not only gave him a compliment, you gave it in such a way that he is excited to be a Yid!
Keep in mind that you should never do the opposite. Years ago, I saw a father tell his 14-year-old son, “Hashem despises kids that don’t look inside the siddur!” Aside from that being completely untrue, it’s an insane comment to make. Incidentally, that boy is completely non-religious now. Although I don’t know all the details, I can assure you that using Hashem as a disciplinary tool was not a great idea.
To summarize, the three main ways to give over a love of Yiddishkeit to your children are:
Wishing you much hatzlacha in raising your children to develop a genuine love and enthusiasm for Torah and Mitzvos.
If you have any other ideas, please share it with everyone by commenting.
Have a great Shabbos.
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a Rebbe and has been working with parents and kids for many years. You can read more about him in the "about" section.