There’s No Place Like Home

JULY 10, 2016

Source: eJewish Philanthropy


When primary encounters with Judaism happen outside the home, they are no longer connected to what our parents model as being truly significant and they are detached from the most impactful cocoon of all, where our life patterns are shaped. There can be little doubt that the priorities to which our parents commit themselves in the private domain are pivotal in signaling what they truly value, and have an enduring impact that is powerful.

For years, Jewish educators have bemoaned the “drop off” phenomenon, where kids are “dropped off” at schools and youth groups that are supposed to “make them Jewish,” while the parents drive away to other pursuits. Even in those instances when parents are devoted to their own Jewish communal activities, these have far less influence on the next generation if they fail to permeate the home and ensure a thick home practice.

Consider this picture: On a Friday night, a boy about to become Bar Mitzva the following day, is summoned to the bima of his congregation to lead kiddush. Awkwardly, he stumbles through the words. It is clear that kiddush is not part of his home experience. He has been taught the kiddush by an institution. Later, he may hear kiddush again at youth group activities, summer camp, at Hillel, or on a Birthright trip. But none of these institutions are likely to enable him to “own kiddush” or to make it a building block of his Jewishness if his home did not make it a part of his experience as he grew up.

And if making kiddush seems too “religious” an activity, then what about studying Jewish ethical or historic texts in the home, putting money in the tzedakah box at home, carving out a 25-hour Shabbat to be together as a family at home, eating in Jewish ways at home, observing Jewish holidays at home, and so on?

While we are doing well at working to improve the institutions of Jewish life and create new ones, it is time to acknowledge that, outside the Orthodox sector, the Jewish home is weakening. And bolstering institutional vitality is a far less certain path to the Jewish future than inculcating a rich, tangible Jewishness in a devoted home environment. The “building blocks” acquired at home are considerably more enduring than those assimilated elsewhere.

Not for nothing does the Shema instruct us to “teach them to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your home…”. Not for nothing are we to affix commandments, in the form of mezzuzot, to the “doorposts of your home and your gates” – but not to the entrances of institutions. Not for nothing did the rabbis designate the home, and specifically the dining room table, as a “mikdash me’at,” a miniature sanctuary, where the elevation of Judaism would be focused after the Temple disappeared.

Our tradition understands well that from a transmission perspective, there is no place like home. Jewish conversation, Jewish practice, Jewish ideas, and the art of real Jewish living are best imbibed at home. Consequently, the time has come: we need to think of creative ways to strengthen the Jewish home. It is a priority that should be high on our strategic list.

Read the entire article at eJewish Philanthropy.

Updated: Aug. 10, 2016