The Jewish Chronicle
My Jewish wishes for my newborn baby son…
IT’S BEEN a period of high emotion and histrionics; of sleepless nights and bargaining with a capricious audience, of considering the future and (occasionally) fondly recalling the past. Not the Conservative leadership contest, but my personal life, after we welcomed a son into the world in June. Amid the roller-coaster of new parenthood — what does that cry mean, when did he last feed, how many Amazon deliveries a day is too many? — I’ve found myself ruminating on his Jewish future.
On his eighth day, he was initiated into Judaism in keeping with tradition (taking our cues from Meghan and Harry, it was a private affair); a relationship I hope will sustain long after he has forgotten any introductory trauma.
But, as he grows up, what will form and forge his Jewish self ? What state will our community be in by his barmitzvah? And what do I hope for him from a Jewish perspective?
As last week’s Panorama made clear, recent events have thrown up questions about our place that I had assumed were long settled. If nothing else, I hope the British Jewish community that dates back to the great-great grandfather he is named after will flourish throughout my son’s life, and that he’ll find leaders who will fight for this. I hope the abhorrent anti-Jewish sentiment that is currently routine online is confined to history, and, especially, that the security measures that are necessary today at our shuls and schools are but a distant memory
by the time he is old enough to recognise them.
The existence of a community isn’t enough. He has to choose to belong; to actively want to be a part of it and live a life guided by Jewish values. As has been the case for me, I hope he will indeed develop a proud Jewish Identity; that he will be someone for whom his faith sits at the heart of his being. Not necessarily for him to be religious, but to have a connection with the heritage he was born into (and I don’t just mean Arsenal supporters).
Let him grow up deriving as much joy as his parents did in Jewish life as children, from the festivals to the foods and more besides. Whether it is singing anim zemirot for the first time, dancing awkwardly at barmitzvahs, or sneaking vodka shots on Simchat Torah, let these be the moments that forge his memories.
For that connection to happen, he will need to accept the quirks and perks of our faith— not easy in an era when religious observance often seems anachronistic — but it will need to be a quid pro quo. For religion to fit into the lives of the next generation and remain relevant to a changing society, British Jewry (and specifically Orthodox Jewry) will need to grow and become better at welcoming difference and diversity of opinion.
Speaking recently, Prince
William observed that he wouldn’t mind one of his brood being gay — which shouldn’t need saying but does — but that he would fear the “many barriers you know, hateful words, persecution, all that and discrimination that might come”. Whoever my son turns out to be, I would like to think there will be a place in our community for him.
As a boy in Orthodox Judaism, he takes on the mantle and privileges our faith bestows on his sex, but I wouldn’t want any less for him should he have been female. By the time he can daven, I hope we will have made great strides towards equality, with partnership minyanim as unremarkable as whisky at a kiddish, and progress on other areas of inequality, including the divorce process.
Judaism, for me, has been as much about social and cultural life as it has been about doctrinal observance. Having spent many hours benefiting from the structures of the British Jewish world — from summer camps and Israel tours with FZY, to JSoc Friday nights and “Booze for Jews” or charity events as a young professional — I hope his life will include places where he can meet other young Jews and form friendships to maintain into adulthood.
Today, he is under a month. This and so much is ahead. Perhaps one day he will read this and tell me my hopes have been fulfilled; that the community of tomorrow is going strong; that Jewishness is fundamental to his being.
More likely, of course, he’ll think I’m embarrassing for writing about him in the first place.