As we jumped into a conversation about Jewish pride, ghosts of anti-Semitism began to fill the 3rd floor conference room of the Rashi School. While we proudly described moments of providing rich Jewish experiences for our kids, and seeing our kids confidently and competently stand before the congregation as B’nai Mitzvah, these ghosts slipped in and demanded to be heard. So in the same breath where one woman described how her daughter loved learning about the many ways we can practice Tikkun Olam, she began worrying how she’ll respond to anti-Semitism on the college campus – 5 years from now!
We were going to talk about anti-Semitism later in that session, but I hadn’t introduced it yet. We were still on the pride part of the conversation. But it was as if you couldn’t talk about pride without giving a serious nod to its shadow self, anti-Semitism. Can pride exist on its own? Are we too afraid to let it? If we do, will the ghost cease being a ghost and in some supernatural way come to full Technicolor life again? And who would want to take responsibility for that? Many in the room thought, better to live quietly under the radar.
Now mind you, many of the 14 women in this class had never experienced anti-Semitism in their own lives. But that didn’t matter. For many, those ghosts lurk in the DNA. The study of epigenetics describes how past trauma lives in the cellular memory of future generations. That’s what I experienced that morning as we talked about pride in being Jewish and our deep fears of anti-Semitism. I wondered how the children of these moms will respond if I were to engage them in this same conversation 20-30 years from now. Are these ghosts already deeply embedded in their cells and they don’t know it?
I was left with these questions: as parents how do we WANT to consciously and deliberately teach Jewish pride to our kids and how do we want to respond to our ghosts of anti-Semitism? While many of us are now more afraid after the recent election, our responsibility is both not to bury our heads in the sand AND to create, celebrate and cherish moments of Jewish pride for our kids and our family. Frankly, there’s more to fear if we don’t.