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Become a Jewish Father

Thursday, 8 December, 2016 - 12:06 am

My son the doctor had a son: he is now a neurosurgeon.  His son is a forest-ranger in Yosemite: the girl he is not married to is not Jewish.  My son the lawyer had a daughter: she is a senior analyst with Morgan Stanley:  she’s forty-three and just met Mr. Right. 

A survey of Jewish America was unveiled recently, containing little we didn’t already know anecdotally. Still, some of the numbers were shocking. 

Three hundred thousand less Jews than there were only ten years ago?  Forget Zero Population Growth: we’re eating away at our capital. 

And for what? Because we earn $8,000 per year more than the average American family!  We’re not having kids so we can go out and earn an extra minimum wage.  My kingdom for a horse; my birthright for $8,000 worth of lentils.

The problem is not simply that Jewish women don’t want to become Jewish mothers: it’s that Jewish men don’t want to become Jewish fathers.  Manis Freidman sees feminism as a cry piercing through the upshot of the Industrial Revolution: give us back the husbands that you stole from us!  Until that revolt, men grew into fathers: fathers needed to provide, so men worked. Gradually men stopped merely working and providing, they went off to pursue a career, self- fulfillment, a more meaningful life(style).  If there are no fathers than who wants to be a mother? 

Perhaps more than any parsha ours is laden with domesticity:  from our perspective at least, it is painful to hear the women pining after children and the husband’s attention that childbearing would earn them.  More easily overlooked is the husband who watches sheep all day in order to raise a family.  Bucolic as it may sound, this was not a sign of the times; his twin brother led a high- pressured, adventurous, corporate-mogul lifestyle.   

‘Will our children say kaddish for us’ was the worry of a generation gone by.  We have no children, is the silent scream of the most comfort-conscious generation.  Worry and concern of a Jewish future is misused, overplayed and gauche.  Charged-up activism is annoying.  Go get a job!  Become successful! is the cry.  And the kids listen, in droves.

One of the positive aspects of the Sixties–Seventies is idealism: a greasy-haired, pot-induced, thoroughly-off-base idealism, but an idealism nevertheless.  When the surviving hippies (the ones who didn’t OD in Marrakech) took a bath and trimmed their hair they were also cleansed of selflessness and had their strife of the spirit cut short.  The lucky ones had someone to help them channel their idealism.

Parents want to provide their children with that what the parents grew up without.  That is good thing and a difficult accomplishment.  A perhaps greater accomplishment is to provide their children with that what the parent took for granted.  When that is overlooked, and the children are not given that what the parent had, then the children grow up without.   

It is not enough to want grandchildren.  You must want to have children who are parents: want sons who are fathers more than sons who are doctors, want daughters who are mothers more than daughters who are market analysts.  And especially, want sons-in-law who are fathers more than sons-in-law who are neurosurgeons. 

My mother taught me that you can never choose to have a child: you can only choose not to have a child.  Never take for granted the blessing of life that you hold: that what made you what you are. 

For these are the children of Jacob: an unmitiagated faith that the chain has an inherent worth greater than what the link may empirically lack.  We have nachas that our children are part of this chain, and we say a little prayer that they earn (how else to pay for day-school tuition?) a whole lot more than $8,000 a year.  

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