With Yom Kippur coming up this Wednesday, my son reminds me that this teacher planning day is a Jewish holiday.
He says, “Memember?” tugging on my shirt, looking up at me. Yes, I thought, I do. I remember it all. How could I ever forget?
When he was turning four years old, I searched for a good school because the one he had attended when he was three left him acting like a mini hoodlum. I found a lot of good ones, but they were either too expensive or too snooty. I kept rolling right back to the Jewish Community Center. It housed a small, early childhood education center, and everyone there seemed so welcoming. I’d also heard some wonderful word-of-mouth reviews about the school and read some great articles about it.
So, I consulted my husband whose very Catholic parents applauded the idea. They themselves were members of the JCC gym. So, with the whole family’s approval, I confidently registered my son for Pre-K.
Not everything went smoothly. For one, I hadn’t thought about the difficulty of packing a Kosher lunch.
But, that wasn’t the most difficult part. It was the part about Christ because, yes, this four year old asked me about it. So, I did what any self-respecting parent would do. I first contemplated lying. After scrapping that pathetic idea, I asked him some questions instead.
The answers I got made all the difference.
According to him, Christ was a Jew so anyone who was Christian should also be Jewish. I told him that was the best answer to any question I had ever asked.
And it was. Not because it fulfilled my desire to avoid an answer I didn’t really have but because it was the kind of answer most adults can’t give.
We can’t give an answer because we forget. We forget the real meaning of religion. With all our piety, we forget that religion offers us a set of standards with which to understand our fellow human being, not destroy him.
The world we live in right now. This angry, vengeful place we all should share but can’t and won’t. In this world, we refuse to share. That’s the most basic concept we teach a baby. a child.
We can’t seem to get past those moments when we first possessed a toy and screamed then cried when another child tore it from our grip. We grow, we learn then we return back to being a baby, constantly craving more.
All those babies, screaming over who’s right and who’s wrong, could learn a profound lesson from a little boy.
He will always feel that a piece of him is Jewish. He keeps his kipas or yarmulkes in a drawer and asks me when’s the next Bar Mitzvah. He likes to bring out his menorah placemat during Christmastime. When we’re driving and pass the JCC, he asks when we’re going to visit again. I smile and remind myself we have to go back someday soon.
Liquid in my Eyes
Then, I read the latest news or listen to a report on National Public Radio and I’m reminded of the divide, the extreme, the hell we put each other through because of our beliefs. Instead of proudly admiring my son’s views, I begin to obsess over when he will change. When will he become one of us? Or worse, when will he turn into a baby all over again, screaming for what belongs to him, for what is “right”?
The shape of our world feels like liquid in my eyes, things always changing, but there’s a fire burning that the water can’t seem to extinguish.
We’re so furious, so hateful. It’s not just religion that fuels this fire. It’s the fact that so many of us lost the true value of it.
This is not to say that only a four year old possesses the ability to catapult right over knowledge into power.
I do see hope in the wisdom of his grandparents who rallied around my decision to put him in a Jewish school. I saw it in the JCC leaders and members. I see it in those who volunteer their time for various organizations such as Amnesty International.
But, for most it’s momentary.
The minute we insist we’re right and another person is wrong. It’s gone.
So, what if we didn’t try to be right? What if we just tried to make sense of the rights and wrongs by fitting them into each other? Like this little boy, what if we go back to Kindergarten and take our own basic lessons to heart?
Every Jewish holiday reminds me to do this. Don’t ever forget.
Written by Lisa Chesser