Moses looks at the traits of the Israelites and predicts a future…. In a recent book by author Marjorie Ingall she looks at today’s Jews and sees a different future.
This week’s reading, often called the Song of Moses, takes the form of a “song” or poem presented by Moses to the Israelites. It is interesting to note that the “song” form both starts (the Song of the Sea – Ex. 15:1-21) and concludes the journey of the Israelites through the wilderness (Song of Moses – Deut. 32:1 – 52). This Song of Moses tells of Israel’s relationship with the Eternal. Then, it looks into the future when the people become unfaithful to God.
But we live in the 21st Century where things and beliefs are very different. One way we can look to the future of Judaism is to look at the children of this current generation. A new book by Marjorie Ingall, Mamaleh Knows Best: What Jewish Mothers Do to Raise Successful, Creative, Empathetic, Independent Children, focuses in on what Jewish parents have done right. The following information was taken from a book review by Nara Schoenberg featuring this book. The reviews appeared in the October 9, 2016 Chicago Tribune Sunday LifeStyle section.
To grasp the success of the Jewish population in the 21st Century the review states that “Although Jews make up less than 1 percent of the world’s population, we constitute 170 of 850 Nobel Prize winners, 21 percent of Ivy League students, 37 percent of Academy Award-winning directors, and 51 percent of Pulitzer Prize winners for nonfiction.”
Ingall asks, “What are Jewish parents doing to foster that out-sized achievement?”
In the book she presents the theory that Jewish tradition “stresses learning and debate combined with a long history of religious persecution to create a distinctive approach to child rearing that’s heavy on learning, humor, and skepticism, embracing geekiness in all its forms and encouraging children to pursue their own passions.”
This theory is put into practice through the following four traits that are common of many successful Jewish mothers.
1 – Distrust Authority
Jews have grown to question and distrust authority because so often they have settled in a place, only to be driven out by hateful and self-serving authorities. This distrust of authorities has led to a decentralized religion that has much friendly debate and dissent. This has offered a great opportunity to sharpen critical-thinking skills.
The Talmud is an excellent example of the results of this style of thought. Each page of the Talmud has a big box containing the law in the center of the page. Then, wrapped around this box is lots of discussion and debate. Often, there is no real statement of meaning… just many viewpoints. Today, this way of thinking is expressed in the joke; “Wherever there are two Jews, there are three opinions.”
Successful parents question assumptions…. They engage their children in healthy debate. They talk about questions that they are struggling with, and ask for their children’s opinions.
2 – Encourage Geekiness
Accepting academic study may not have been considered the “coolest” thing to do. But, it was encouraged by Jewish parents throughout history. Popularity and conformity were not major goals. Children were encouraged to follow their passionate interests. Ingall writes: “Pay attention to what really fascinates your kid, even if it’s not what you might expect.”
3 – Read and Laugh
Ingall writes: “research suggests that both humor and storytelling can contribute to a child’s success…. And, both are central to Jewish culture.” She suggests the following tips for parents: “Ask your kids lots of questions about what they’re reading, and listen to the answers. And be sneaky. Judy Blume suggests that if we want our kids to read, simply leave books lying around the house and periodically say nonchalantly,’You’re not ready to read this yet.’”
4 – Heal the World
This is a tough concept to show children …. And no religion has a monopoly in this concept. One of the ways that Judaism has achieved it is through meaningful connections with other people. This may be the major reason why, for so many years, a great number of Jews have become successful artists, songwriters, performers, doctors, and lawyers. Ingall states that Jews”have insight into the human condition because from childhood we’ve been brought up to consider the feelings of others.”
“Ingall recommends starting early with our kids; even a preschooler can help donate old toys to a homeless shelter. You and your kids don’t have to do astonishing, creative things… Small acts can be powerful.”
In this week’s Torah portion, Moses sees the Jews heading into a negative future…. Ingall sees a future filled with success.
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