Jewish World Review Sept. 7 , 1998 / 16, 5758

Atlanta Diarist


For too many Jews today, Judaism emphasizes the "OYS!" more than the joys.

By Neil Rubin

The best part about my childhood Jewish memories is that I have them.

Not everyone, particularly some of the more active members of Jewish life these days, can say that. Some of these people are Jews By Choice, meaning they weren't born Jewish. While crafting Jewish memories for their own children, they shape such scenes for themselves for the first time. Others grew up in households that were only marginally Jewish; these people are now more observant than in those years.

I am one of the lucky ones. My parents, without overdoing, made Judaism a natural part of our lives. We didn'thave to talk about and analyze it.We just did it.

We lived in a world of Friday night Shabbat dinners with grandparents --- and a choice of "school or shul" on minor Jewish holidays. And then there were the big, fun Passover seders that featured rituals only our family would embrace, such as betting on when Uncle Richard would spill something and chanting "Amen" like Baptist preachers.

And none of this was forcefully shoved down our throats, meaning that I could walk away from it as an adult if I wanted to.

Today, our Jewish world often seems to emphasizes its "oys" more than its "joys." I join others in occasional paranoia as we fight what's deemed the twin modern monsters -- intermarriage and assimilation.

Sadly, most of us define Jewish success as having our kids marry other Jews. But we shouldn't worry so much about that -- some intermarriage will happen in America no matter what. Our energy should be directed at making our lives examples of how Judaism's inherently wonderful values will provide fortitude along life's twisting journey. Those values include teamwork (needed in worship), helping the less fortunate (as the Torah commands) and hosting family holiday celebrations -- even when the family makes you want to be a revolutionary atheist.

This will create a series of Jewish memories with a much more powerful and enjoyable goal: ones that teach how of all the world's philosophies, Judaism offers an unsurpassed emotional, intellectual and cultural package.

In striving to do all this, we need to give our kids Jewish experiences in schools, camps and youth groups. And it all needs to be more fun than educational. That's because the best education is one that kids don't know they're getting.

Two underrated efforts to do this recently crossed my desk. One was an invitation to an alumni program of the Alexander Muss High School in Israel. I didn't experience HSI as a teen, but the directors wanted to recognize the work our newspaper has done in promoting them.

So on Monday evening I joined about 75 people, ages 16 to 40, at a Buckhead brewery to reminisce with a long-time teacher and tell some stories, ones that only those who participated in this special community could understand.

HSI's North Miami-based President Joe Breman rattled off impressive statistics. Of alumni, 88 percent married Jews, 65 percent belong to synagogues (more than double Atlanta's rate), 70 percent give to Jewish causes and 94 percent rank the program as one of the most important educational experiences (Jewish or not) of their life.

I've participated in enough Jewish education programs to know why. This is just fun stuff with stimulating teachers, something not confined to the classroom.

The second item was a new book, Jewish Family & Life, written by Jewish journalist colleague Yossi Abramowitz and his wife (Golden Books, $15). Yossi, as prolific as he is creative in Jewish family issues, and his spouse have penned a meaningful and well-organized text. With personal stories, focused questions and practical and entertaining activities, it's a blueprint for living a Jewish family life.

And you don't even have to send your kids to Jewish private schools to do it, something 80 percent of us don't do.

You can take all the detail-laden studies, speeches and preachy columns in Jewish newspapers and shove them in a kishka wrap. The next time you're worried about the direction your kids are heading, take a look at what works and become part of the action.

Of course, your kids are unlikely to thank you now. But if they don't grow up feeling good about being Jewish, which comes from having solid Jewish memories, why would they want to raise Jewish kids of their own?

JWR contributor Neil Rubin is Editor of the Atlanta Jewish Times.


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Passover, 1998: Wait! You're not finished!
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3/9/98: Downsizing Jewish life
2/10/98: Film, Lies And Jewish Mothers
2/1/98: The news according to Sid

©1998, Neil Rubin