IT WAS A recent encounter at the dentist. She was a Jewish teenager, together we were waiting with trepidation of the drill that awaited us inside. She talked of her dreams, telling me the colleges she hoped to attend and a career path she planned. Finally, I asked, what about getting married and having a family. Her reaction surprised me, but I should have known. “That is a far-off dream not a consideration for a long time.”
Society tells us that success is having a career, making money, rising up the corporate ladder. The message to young people in a thousand different ways is the definition of success, is academic and professional achievement. The deeper aspirations of life, family, and children, they are not as important.
In the quest for success, we have lost something. The most important decision we make in life is not the major we have in college, but the choice of a spouse. The most rewarding accomplishments are not the deal we made, the widget we created, or the tale how we outmaneuvered someone to climb the corporate ladder. It’s how we live our lives. What values animate us, how we treat our loved ones. Our greatest triumph is our children. Decades after our business and professional achievements will be forgotten; they will live on as our eternal legacy.
I will never forget coffee some years ago with my youngest daughter. She had spent a year in Israel after high school, and then another year teaching. Turning to me she told me, “I want to get married.” Truly I was a bit surprised; I shouldn’t have been. My wife and I and had always inculcated in our children the importance of family over career. We had educated our children that bringing children into the world, while being a Mitzvah, is the greatest human achievement.
In a recent survey by the Jewish People Planning Institute, a remarkable statistic emerged. Young Jews are deferring marriage to much later, having fewer children and some not even marrying. The researchers are worried about the Jewish future.
While Jewish survival is important, it is not the real reason we should rethink the aspirations we instill in our children. Building a family is the noblest and most important thing we can do. Loving another and bringing children into the world is the gift of life. It gives us so much more than the latest sales report or accolade from an employer.
It’s time for us to change the messaging to our kids. To encourage them to marry earlier and have families, to teach them what is truly important and what is secondary. A career is a tool to help us earn an income. A life filled with love of a spouse and children is what we call in Hebrew, true Nachas (pleasure).
My youngest daughter met a wonderful young man from Australia, she is the mother of two kids, and another on the way. She is attending college in Melbourne working on a degree in occupational therapy.
And as they say, grandchildren are the greatest reward. My wife and I are the beneficiaries of that blessing.
Rabbi David Eliezrie is at Congregation Beth Meir HaCohen/Chabad. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.