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Jewish World Review June 15, 2001 / 25 Sivan, 5761

Jonathan Tobin

Jonathan Tobin
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Face to Face With the Jewish Future

How to build a better world for one little girl -- FOR those of us who work and write in the Jewish community, talking about the future is second nature. We are continually jabbering about the sort of world we want the next generation to inherit.

This is, by and large, a productive exercise since we expect the ideas and debates generated by these discussions to motivate those in power to move in the right direction.

Of course, although newsprint is expensive, talk is cheap. But occasionally, even a journalist who is smart enough to stick to his trade finds himself face to face with the question of what he can do to leave a better world behind him.

At 10 a.m. on May 24, I found myself in just such a position. It was at that moment that my wife Paula gave birth to our first child, a little girl weighing just 6 pounds, 2 ounces, and measuring 18 1/2 inches. With a hand that was steadier than I had imagined it would be, I cut the umbilical cord and stared with wonder at the most beautiful sight I had ever seen.

We named her Moriah in honor of her late maternal grandfather, Marvin Mendel Gates of blessed memory. Her name has significance in terms its Hebrew meaning -- "G-d is my teacher" -- as well as the connection it conjures up with Jerusalem and the hill that bears the same name.

A day later, we finally decided on a middle name to match her grandfather's, arriving at Meital, the Hebrew word for "dewdrop." It fit, both because of her small stature and because just as we pray annually on the first day of Passover for the dew to come in the land of Israel, so, too, we prayed for her safe arrival.

As we gazed endlessly at her perfect little face and body, the lines of that liturgy spoke to me with special insight:

Dew, precious dew unto your land forlorn.
Pour out our blessing in your exultation.
To strengthen us with ample wine and corn.
In dew.

Thus, the future is no longer a theoretical question for me. It is now a matter of what sort of Jewish world my generation will leave for little Moriah Meital to live in after we are gone.

Moriah has been born into a world with many wonderful things to enjoy and learn. She will grow up in a household full of books, music, pets and love. We will do our best to educate her and teach her to worship the G-d of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs. We will teach her to love the Torah, respect her neighbors, and to be a proud Jew and American. We will want her to be happy and healthy but, most of all, we will try to teach her to be a good person.

Yet Moriah has also been introduced into the world when many things profoundly trouble us. Ours is a time filled with technological wonders and unrivaled opportunities, but it is also one where hatred and violence run rampant.

I am not exactly sure how we will teach her about what it means to be a Jew in this first part of the 21st century. We will hope to emphasize the joyous and positive aspects of being a Jew. But during her first few weeks, the vile hatred that has animated so much of the sorrowful history of her people has re-emerged into view.

In Israel, Palestinian Arab suicide bombers and snipers have been murdering Jews in increasing numbers every week, even as the world continues to unjustly condemn Israel for its faltering efforts to defend its citizens.

Just like countless Jewish children before her during the past 3,500 years, Moriah will have to come to terms with the idea that there are people out there who will hate her because of her religion. And just as parents of children far older than our newborn are struggling with the question of whether or not they will send their kids on summer trips to the Jewish state, sooner or later Moriah's mother and father will have to deal with a similar dilemma.

The irony is, if we do our job well in raising her to care about the Jewish people and see the achievements of Israel -- in addition to its perils -- as integral to her own identity, she is bound to make that decision even harder.

We will never want to place her in even the slightest danger. But we will try to raise her with the knowledge that other Jewish children like her, those who are growing up in Israel, are just as precious to us. Even as we will tell her that the plight of children less fortunate than her in our city cannot be ignored, we will also attempt to give her the sense that the danger faced by Jewish youngsters in Israel is something she must care about, too.

She is the center of our universe. Yet, as much as we will try to reinforce her individuality, our goal will be for her to see herself as part of something much bigger than herself. Moriah is, after all, another link in an unending chain that we hope will persist through all the generations to come. Just as my mother and father taught me that I was a vital link in a Jewish family chain that began long before me, so, too, is Moriah. They wanted me to understand my part in ensuring that chain would continue.

And now that next link has arrived.

Although we might have hoped that Moriah's time would be one in which anti-Semitism, racism and war would be gone, they are not. Instead, we are left with the job of equipping her with the knowledge that will enable her to choose her own role in the Jewish future and take pride in her own Jewish identity.

Moriah's future is, we pray, filled with birthday presents, toys, dolls, ball games, playing with her dog, cat and ducks (yes, we have ducks!), Shabbat blessings, Chanukah candles, Purim costumes and Simchat Torah parades. But if we do our job well, she will also be able to cope with the disappointments and the tragedies that are part of life, as well as of being a Jew in a world where anti-Semitism refuses to die.

What's more, we will be raising her in an American Jewish world that has only recently awakened to the idea that the future of our community will be determined by how we raise children like Moriah. It is no good to complain about problems like assimilation, intermarriage and indifference to Jewish identity if we don't give our kids the ability to make their own Jewish choices. That means treating her Jewish education as a priority and not as an after-school activity to be balanced against Girl Scouts, ballet and Little League.

We will do our best to make sure that she is not cheated out of the gift of her Jewish heritage through neglect or ignorance, no matter what sacrifices that may entail.

And though it is hard for me to envision this tiny baby being one day led to the chupah by her mom and dad, I know that it is our duty to make it possible for her to one day ponder the same questions when, G-d willing, she holds her own child in her arms just as I am holding her today.

Dew, Precious dew, to make the mountains sweet.
The savor of your excellence recalling.
Deliver us from exile, we entreat.
So we may sing Your praises, softly falling
As Dew.
We pray that Moriah will grow up to be a source of pride to her family and to herself, and that she will be ready to take on the same responsibilities of Jewish parenthood that now perplex her bedazzled parents. May she go from strength to strength. And may her parents be worthy of the challenge that G-d has set before us. Amen.

JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. Let him know what you think by clicking here.

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