IT’S RARE THAT I get to turn the lens (or computer in my case) and focus on myself in an article. It’s much easier for me to spotlight someone new to the community or interview a celebrity for an upcoming event. But this month’s theme of Generations got me thinking about my own generation and my future son who is rapidly approaching in October! More specifically, what are the morals and values my husband and I want to instill in him. In order to figure this out (and I better do it quickly!) we have to go back a bit to my upbringing and how I was raised in order to make sense of who I am today and what matters to me and the new family I’m starting.
My mom was Catholic (she died ten years ago, but that’s another article for another day) and my dad is Jewish. As one might imagine it was any kid’s dream because that meant double presents with Christmas and Hanukah. On Easter and Christmas my mom would drag us, bonnets and all, as we reluctantly attended church, and my dad would make us go to Hebrew school on Sundays where my only memory is a very small children’s toilet. I will say I felt very cool being the only Jewish person on our street- my dad was the convener in our neighborhood explaining to the kids the meaning of Passover every year. I also appreciated that my curiosity was always encouraged. I would constantly be the kid at the table asking “why?” – In fact, I still do. Christmas was (and still is) my favorite holiday and time of year. After my mom passed away it became even more important to me to keep her traditions alive. I should preface these “traditions” are not religious at all and mostly involve handmade ornaments, baked goods, and watching It’s a Wonderful Life on Christmas Eve.
I should also mention how I went on birthright at the age of 26, fell in love with Israel, the culture and the people, and even went back for an internship. When I came home I serendipitously found myself working for Jewish Federation and Family Services and have been here for the past 5 years. I’m also the Executive Editor and writer for Orange County Jewish Life magazine. I mean for a girl who was just “Jew-ish” growing up—there seems to be a lot of Judaism creeping its way into my everyday life, and I’m okay with it. After I met my atheist (and Jewish) husband on Jswipe I started to realize what it’s all about, at least for us; the traditions, the culture, the food, and our family. So when we met with the Rabbi to discuss our wedding ceremony it was very important for me to be completely honest and not to say anything I don’t believe in and agree with whole heartedly. When I mentioned my upbringing and raising our son with both of our cultures and backgrounds, including my mom’s traditions, he simply replied – “Yeah, you’re Jewish. That’s exactly what it means to be Jewish today – blending together what is important to both of you and passing that on to your son when you start your own family with your own traditions.” Whew, what a relief!
What do I want my son to learn about his Jewish heritage and the morals and values that come along with this? Hmm… no pressure…we still can’t even decide on a name. Here is what I know and what I will do my very best to instill in our little man. Be kind, honest, curious and compassionate. Respect and honor women. Work hard but don’t take life too seriously. Laugh a lot and eat delicious food with friends and family. When I approached my dad about this very important topic and asked him what he would want our son to learn he simply said, “The values I would like to see in my grandson are the same values that I see in all my children… compassion, tolerance, acceptance of all people no matter what color, religion, ethnic background, politics. A real grasp of social consciousness meaning an awareness of what is going on in the world around you and the ability to interact and communicate with others.” That’s a really good answer. I’m glad I have back up from my husband, his family and mine to help us teach these things along the way…from generation to generation.
Tanya Fein graduated from New York University, studied abroad in Israel, and works as the mangaer of Operations at Jewish Federation & Family Services, Orange County.