Children never cease to amaze me …This past Sunday, Prof. James Cohen invited me to speak to his Sunday school class to examine whether having a religious identity is more important than having a Jewish ethnic identity. Personally, I believe that being a healthy Jew involves a mixture of both the religious and the cultural. Of course such discussions often lead to broader issues pertaining to the age-old question: What does it mean to be a Jew today?
In the interest of brevity, like many other ethnic groups, being Jewish certainly has a rich ethnic dimension that can be seen in terms of its food, art, theater, humor, music–in short all the things that define a Jewish culture. But is Jewish culture enough to preserve Jewish identity?
The answer is, “No, it is not.” Without Jewish values, even the cultural aspects of Jewish life will eventually cease and disappear. On the other hand, culture, when combined with Jewish ethical and spiritual values forms a winning formula for Jewish survival.
In the final analysis, it really doesn’t matter which kind of Jewish denominational group a Jew religiously identifies with–from the Orthodox to the Humanistic. What really matters is how a Jew seriously takes his or her religion. It is far more important to take our Judaism seriously than anything else. I asked the youngsters, “Tell me, in what way do you take your Judaism seriously?” Several said, “I go to Hebrew School every week,” while others said, “I go to synagogue every Shabbat . . .” “Well,” I said, “studying is really important as are synagogue attendance and holiday observances. However, there is yet another way taking our Judaism seriously, can you think of a different way we can take our faith seriously?” Continue reading “Teaching our children to become “Serious Jews.””