Sunday, October 21, 2007

Falling Apples of My Eye

Children, even the best brought-up of all, like mine, have a nasty tendency to grow up. I should not have been surprised therefore when my son announced that he is considering going abroad to study next year. As the perspective merits of different yeshivas were bandied around and I glibly and lightly helped them weigh the merits of the brash but proud Jewishness of the American model against the arrogant but more spiritual intensity of the Jerusalem one, inside my heart sank down into my nether regions.

If there is one question that I have always avoided answering readers of this blog with any clarity it is about how I bring up my children, torn as I am between the intellectual freedom I have chosen and the closed insularity of the community I reside within.

The years I spent in yeshiva in Israel were among the most miserable of my life. Separated from my books, radio and indeed any contact with the outside world, I felt lost and trapped. The study of Talmud, although in fact difficult enough to be a satisfying challenge, was carried out under such duress and with such dogmatic simplicity that I spent every waking moment dreaming of what I would do when I was old enough to assert my independence and live in the way I saw fit.

The lack of physical comforts were easier to bear for one like me, brought up in the poverty inherent to families where learning is the only respected profession. As my father tarried in the evening with his true love in the hallowed halls of learning, we regularly sat alone to our meagre supper and my mother would remind us that to those who valued learning above those prized above rubies, greater rewards await in the kingdom come. That argument sometimes lacked conviction for me and I often swore to myself that my children would have a loving and warm family and as many creature comforts as I could possibly provide.

As soon as I was old enough to shake off the heavy hand of parental and rabbinical authority, I left, and celebrated my new-found freedom with gusto. The liberty to do as I pleased was a revelation, and I revelled in it. Yet the happiness and peace of mind I had envisaged and yearned for eluded me, and following each euphoric high I found myself tumbling into the inevitable and interminable nights of gnawing guilt, doubts, and the sure and certain knowledge that His vengeance would be visited upon me unless I repented and returned to the yiddishkeit I was brought up in.

I do not regret either the break with my past that forced me to examine and justify my lifestyle nor the decision to return and marry within the fold. The first, because I can today honestly say that any hardships I endure for my religion are of my own choosing, the latter, for the blessing of a perfect and loving soulmate and equally perfect children.

I know in my heart however, that although I have managed to subject my independence of spirit and effectively hide much of the rebellion that rules within my mind it is only because I went through all I did that I am able to thus straddle the fence. Those born outside our closed world and who chose to enter it, inevitably find themselves either unable to exercise their own freedom of thought or else unable to enjoy the serenity and utter conviction they so sought, and envy in the mindless sheep around them. It is for this reason that if I wish to offer my children a choice of membership or not they have to fully belong first.

And although I could sow the seeds of rebellion, and I dearly am tempted to with the more naturally rebellious of my offspring, I choose not to. Because revolution is painful and its outcome uncertain and the prospect of pain, and risks, should only be taken on by each individual for their self. Because we are all victims of circumstance, and I cannot force these upon them if I am not to be like my father, forcing my own choices upon my children.

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