In honor of Jewish American Heritage Month, Associate Vice President Susannah Rosenblatt wrote about what Judaism means to her family and how she is passing down traditions to her two sons.
I am the child of an interfaith marriage. My dad’s family is Jewish, from the Bronx by way of Romania and Yonkers. Growing up, the kids played stickball in the street and he and my uncle saved a jar of dirt from the old Polo Grounds baseball stadium where the New York Giants played. My mother’s family was Methodist, from the farms and factories of the Carolinas, where they went to church every Sunday and grew tomatoes in the summertime.
In my family, two cultures meant a smorgasbord of family rituals — lighting the menorah for Hanukkah and traveling to Nana’s house for Santa Claus to find us on Christmas morning. My parents never pressured me to choose a faith tradition. As a result, I’m a little bit of everything, observing the unique combination of holidays that were meaningful to my family. And my husband grew up interfaith like me, and finds comfort in the Hebrew prayers he sang when he was small.
Now, as a mom to two boys, I create the meaning and magic of custom and belief. I want my sons to recognize and be proud of the generations who came before.
I never went to Hebrew school, never had a bat mitzvah. I studied biblical Hebrew in college to try to fill in the gaps. I’ve always been drawn to stories of the Holocaust, and traveled to the chilling spot at Auschwitz where the train tracks simply stop — the end of the line.
I want my children to understand they are part Jewish, to know the music of ancient words and ideas, to be proud of ancestors who persevered in the face of persecution, to fight against hate. Yet as a largely secular person, I don’t want this teaching to feel forced or fake.
PJ Library offered the perfect opportunity to cultivate an important cultural connection in my toddler and second grader. Free, Jewish-themed age-appropriate kids books arrive every month. My older son has learned a Yiddish word or two and explored the Passover story leading up to our family seder. My younger son chews on colorful board books illustrated with cheerful forest animals baking hamantaschen for Purim. They’re learning, in their own way as we snuggle at bedtime, what it means to be Jewish. I’m learning right beside them.
One discovery: There’s no right way to be Jewish. What I am certain of is the Jewish values —the human values, really —I hope to instill in their hearts. A love of learning, curiosity and inquiry; a desire for justice, or tikkun olam in Hebrew, to heal the world. Open-mindedness and respect for the worth and dignity of all; gratitude and practicing peace.
Those are the values I work toward at Fenton, and endeavor to embody every day. Together, one page at a time, my boys and I are growing together. For that precious gift, I offer the Hebrew word for thank you that I conveniently picked up from my two-year-old’s board book of the same name: todah.