A couple years ago I heard a mother interviewed on NPR. She was talking about her son, now a young adult, who had overcome serious learning disabilities. She said that her son had told her that despite all that he had gone through he would not wish away his condition because it had made him who he was. But, she said, as his mother, “I would wish he had not had these difficulties. I believe that he would still be a terrific person without the suffering.”
Often when I read stories written by young people about overcoming adversity, I think of that mother. Would the parents of these individuals want them to have endured their hard times? Are there not enough difficulties in life already, so that one need not add another “special” thing?
I felt this again when I hear some of the stories of adults of interfaith families. They had taken long and sometimes, trying, journeys to find their Jewish identities. In fact, some are still at it.
There are two groups that can make a difference to these individuals.
One is their own parents. Parents can shoulder the lion’s share of sorting out what a child will be taught, choosing an identity and giving it freely to the child, developing a spiritual community that will support that identity, sacrifice personal wants in order to give the child a strong foundation. The parents can be willing to hear hard questions, make tough decisions, determine when it is time for a course correction. They can tell the truth, admit error, try again. They can demonstrate strength, commitment, faith in the child, and an equilibrium in the family choices. They can be ready to change what isn’t working and they can be firm about parental responsibilities that don’t please a child’s passing whim.
Two is the Jewish community. Jews in every part of the community can be willing to accept a seeking child/young adult. We can have no age limit, a seeker may be 70 and still be a beginner at Judaism. We can be willing to teach, to befriend, to answer. Slow to judge. Ready to embrace. Jews can, as one rabbi put it, “cross the bridge into their world to be with them for a moment as a person.” We can be patient, we can believe in a process over an instant fix. We can allow time for these individuals to figure out what they want. We can remember that, “It is not our task to complete the work, nor are we free to desist from it.”
What have we got to lose? Our angst or our children?