By Mindy Rubenstein
We had good intentions when we chose to take on a Torah-observant lifestyle. Already married for seven years, my husband and I had two toddlers when we started on this journey together. I wanted to go full-speed ahead, and he was more cautious and calculated.
But it’s not about him or me. It’s about our children. As our older two — now teenagers — have gotten to experience our transition from a completely secular life to one of Shabbat, kosher and all the laws and details of Torah, they are between two worlds.
Our children, including two teens and two in elementary school, have gone through the Jewish day school system. They are expected to live by the religious rules imposed upon them by their parents and educators, who may or may not be role models of love and acceptance.
For girls and women, it seems, religion has become more about the clothing than about what’s on the inside. Pants are considered a no-no because that would be considered dressing like a man. So skirts are the norm within Jewish communities and required at Orthodox Jewish schools. There are rules that guide the length of the skirt when sitting or standing. Knees, collar bones and elbows should be covered.
While I chose as an adult to adopt this modest mode of dress, my teenage daughter feels judged and stifled and is slipping further away from the Jewish life I fell in love with as an adult. I cry with her, literally, because I understand her pain.
The beauty that originally drew me to Torah Judaism has gotten lost in the stares and whispers of children and their parents, and in the pressure from school administrators.
Isn’t Judaism supposed to be about your personal relationship with G-d, about growing stronger as a person, and using your innate talents to serve Him?
As a baal teshuvah now questioning my path, I wonder: Is Judaism being expressed to our children with love and acceptance? That’s how you bring someone closer, to inspire a love of Torah and mitzvos, as I wrote recently for Aish.
It seems I have failed at this. And so have many of her educators. In my research as a journalist, I talk to parents from throughout the U.S. who are feeling the same challenge, especially with their teens.
We have worked hard to expose our children to halacha (Torah law) and to give them a solid dual-curriculum education. But was it done in an inspiring and loving way? Is there joy? Is it a judgment-free zone?
I am learning as I go, and I have made mistakes. But at least now I get it.
I chose to become closer to the mitzvot because the “frum” people I knew were loving, accepting and inspiring. I wanted to do what they were doing because I felt their unconditional love for all Jews. And nothing was forced upon me.
The biggest role models in my life accepted me for who I was and what I wore. And that made me want to do more, to be closer to Torah. This is what I want for my children as they learn to navigate this world with confidence.
If Judaism and Torah are not being given over in an inspiring, joyful way, then it’s not the real thing.
To really reach and inspire the next generation, we must awaken as a Jewish people — even if we look and dress like we are “Orthodox.” We should want with all our hearts to break out of our spiritual prisons, to focus not just on Halacha, but in being kind and positive.
As the Lubavitcher Rebbe said during his last public address: “Do everything you can–even if it demands the unconventional, maverick but down-to-earth–do everything you can that people will truly yearn… from their own hearts and their own understanding.”
Let’s learn how to inspire our children by setting an example, going beyond the rules, modeling a yearning for G-d that comes across with love.
Mindy Rubenstein has worked as a journalist since 1998 for Jewish and non-Jewish publications. She won a national journalism award for her Faith in Motion series at the Tampa Bay Times. She publishes Nishei, a magazine that encourages creative expression among Jewish women and teens of all backgrounds, and serves as a writing coach.