“We were always surrounded by books, there was always a high caliber of discussion at the dinner table.” He said his father, a Lithuanian Jew who was first in his class at Harvard, approached things “with great intellect and great curiosity.”
Rome’s family name is notarikon, or Hebrew acrostic, for Rosh Mativta, or “Head of the Yeshiva.” “Supposedly we’re descended from the Gaon of Vilna on my father’s side.” Elijah ben Solomon Zalman, the Gaon – or “eminence” – of Vilna was an outstanding eighteenth-century Lithuanian rabbi and one of the staunchest Orthodox opponents of the Hasidic movement. So David Rome could claim very serious yichus – Jewish lineage.
He was bar mitzvahed in White Plains, New York, and attended a Hebrew high school run by the Jewish Theological Seminary. But despite this rich Jewish background, he turned to Buddhism after college.
“I wasn’t really looking. It just happened. Hitchhiking in Europe with an old friend from high school who had an interest in Eastern religions. He dragged me along to Samye-ling, the meditation center in Scotland that Trungpa Rinpoche had started. That was in 1971. There I experienced meditation for the first time.”
Rome found in meditation “a sense that something was right – just very much intuition.” Powerful too was “the quality of discipline in Buddhism,” which gave “a way of working with yourself, a way of what Rinpoche called making friends with yourself. There was a path… you could actually have this commitment and work with it, work on it and progress, explore, go deeper, clarify.”
The Jew in the Lotus, Rodger Kamenetz
As an Orthodox Jew perusing these lines, and the many other lines of first-person accounts of bright, capable, active and affiliated Jews abandoning their Judaism for eastern religions, or synthesizing the two, my overriding emotion is regret.
The Jewish experience I grew up with contained many of the ingredients David and his fellow Jubus (Jewish-Buddhists) didn’t even know they were missing until they found them in Buddhism.
A sense that something was right? I felt it every time we learned something that just made so much sense. Every time my family sat down to a Shabbos dinner. Every time I attended a chuppah ceremony at a Jewish wedding.
Quality of discipline? Every time I went clothes shopping. Every time I refrained from breaking Shabbat. Every time I bypassed heavenly-smelling food at the mall food court.
A way of working with yourself? Every time we were called to introspection, whether before Rosh Hashanah, after a tragedy, or in honor of a happy occasion.
A path? A commitment? The word “halacha,” Jewish law, actually means “a way of walking,” or a path, if you will. It is both a path, a way to navigate life, and, yes, a commitment. What characterizes fealty to halacha in Orthodox Judaism is that commitment: it cannot be broken, unless halacha itself permits it.
Go deeper? Clarify? Oh my gosh, are you kidding? This theme probably emerged in every Torah lecture I’ve ever attended. Keep growing, keep striving, never stagnate.
Here’s the problem: youth, and thus youth education, is largely wasted on the young. I know there are Orthodox Jews reading these lines who will be like “where was all that in my schooling”? And I’d like to tell you that it was there. I’m sure of it. But in elementary school and high school and even post-high-school, we are often immature, watching the clock, passing notes (or texting in class – I clearly have been out of school for awhile), paying very close attention to our rumbling tummies, or catching up on homework. Everything but Paying Attention.
If we could, as adults, go back and receive that education, as newly motivated learners, I wonder what might happen.
One of my kids was at summer camp this year, and a friend of mine was giving a Torah class. My child was very enthused, and told the lecturer how much it was enjoyed. My friend asked my child, “Haven’t you ever heard these ideas?” My child replied, no, not really, school’s not really like that, blah blah blah.
But I taught in my kids’ school. I know the teachers personally. I know what and how they teach. They ARE giving over these ideas. I think the problem is that my child isn’t listening. My child is probably thinking about what to wear tomorrow and what’s for dinner.
When we lose our youth to other religions, we have to ask ourselves: what do those religions offer that ours doesn’t? If the answer, indeed, is “nothing,” that’s the saddest of all. Because that means the education, the beauty, the depth, is not traveling all the way, that long, long, journey, into the ears and hearts of our children. In no way do I believe the transmission is broken. I believe that the children are simply immature. We must continue to educate our children – one day, hopefully, the ideas will sink in. But most importantly, as adults, we have to find and avail ourselves of that depth, that beauty, that path, that commitment, that call to action, to introspection, that way of working with yourself, that discipline, and most of all, that sense that, indeed, something is very, very right.
so so true. every word…
I agree – but that is why there needs to be coherence between home and school – so the ideas do sink in, so children have a model of how they should act, behave and live the values that the family believes in. If a child lives the values and the teachings of school/home there is hope that they will continue in the path put out for them.
While I agree that part of those sentiments are important in a Jewish education, is it not also the parents' responsibility to impart some of these sentiments and thoughts to our children?
I find – at least in the public school system here – that often the teachers are blamed for a child doing poorly. There is no sense of responsibility placed on either the child to learn the material or the parent to encourage the child to learn. If the child doesn't learn it, it must be the teachers' fault.
If we don't want our children to leave the religion, perhaps we, as parents, also need to impart the wisdom we want our children to learn. We need to be the ones who make following our traditions and our laws something our children want to do and are excited to do. We can't expect the schools to be responsible for our children's religious education. Their job is to teach. Our job is to lead.
Hilary and Gayla, so true. Honestly, the home is the primary place where love of God, commitment, discipline and the like ought to be modeled. In looking at the model of David Rome, his home and school were synchronized – but it seems to have been more cerebral, and somehow the inner spirituality did not seem to reach him. He claims he found this for the first time in the East.
Even at home, though, sometimes we can model all we want and it just doesn't seem like our kids are listening. Each step ups the odds of our kids finding Judaism a satisfying place to stay: depth, spirituality, education at school, a home that models and encourages those things, a supportive peer group.
To develop Gayla's point further, I am going to venture a guess that the major difference between Rome's and your school years was not the school at all, but the home. It's a well publicized fact that many of the American Gedolim of the recent past went to public school.
True, but Jews know they're not going to get Judaism at public school, so it's not fraught. If you *do* receive a Jewish education, and it's incomplete, ineffective, or you're not ready/able to listen, you may conclude that Judaism is found wanting. Can your experience at home override it? Not sure.
Unfortunately, we've reduced Judaism to kashrus and Shabbos (and for women, tzniut). If being Jewish is about what you do or do not eat, how you do or do not dress, or what activities you do or do not partake of on Saturdays, then it's easy to miss the larger, overarching themes that can be found within Eastern religions.
I agree that is is extremely important, vital, actually, to retain the soul of Judaism along with the body.
What about the focus (at least where I live) on avoiding lashon hara (derogatory speech)? And I remember reading several years ago that a study had found that Orthodox Jews in Israel gave many times more charity than secular Jews. So it isn't just kashrus, Shabbos, and tzniut. There's a whole interpersonal side of things that Orthodox Jews who I know take seriously. I don't know if that exists in any Eastern religions. Judaism also calls for intensity in prayer and spirituality in all actions, but those are hard to achieve on a constant basis.
When we lose our youth to other religions
This is actually very rare in today's world (as opposed to centuries ago when it was the rule). Usually it occurs only if marriage out of the faith occurs (and some other rare circumstances such as infatuation with eastern mystical religions).
Today, most of the time we lose our youth to secularism. Secularism has a draw of it's own that is almost impossible to oppose. Probably because it isn't a "group" or a "person" doing the drawing, but because of an almost inexorable transition of humanity from a default of some sort of religion to a default of no religion at all. Centuries ago, everyone was a member of some religion, whether consciously chosen or forced upon you. Today that is not so.
Mark, that would be an interesting (and depressing) study – what kinds of Jews exit Judaism for no religion, and what kinds exit for other religions? Based on my reading about Jubus, eastern cults, and even Messianic Judaism (Christianity), it seems plenty of Jews are, unfortunately, leaving for other forms of spirituality.
Which is the greater tragedy? This I don't know. What do you think?
I've never heard of, or even imagined, an O Jew becoming a devout follower of another religion. Really? Then again, why would I have heard of that if I don't know any O Jews.
Like MarkSoFla, it seems to me far more likely that any stripe of Jew would become entirely secular. Or that a near-secular Jew who doesn't feel much intimacy with Judaism would find another religious practice or community more moving and meaningful (see below my comment about newness and remaking oneself, which seems a really likely scenario for a barely-affiliated Jew in search of meaning and belonging).
For you (Ruchi) I gather this is so sad because you believe that certain souls are Jewish and so they are not really fully unfolding themselves in life if they don't follow Judaism. Like they were 'meant to be and do' Judaism and so it is a sort of tragedy if they don't do what they were meant for. I don't know if other religions have that essential idea of some people having a different kind of soul, one that metaphysically belongs to that religion.
To your first point, right. Orthodox Jews who exit are far more likely to do so for one of two reasons: if they were raised "more Orthodox," and are exiting, likely they are done with God and done with religion, period. They would probably be even more cynical about other religions than about Judaism. If they are raised with less, they might just fall away ever so imperceptibly: no drama, no rebellion.
To your final point, yes. You are right. Christianity, at least, and I think Islam too, believe that *everyone* should follow its respective religion, so no differentiation of souls there, as far as I know.
I've heard that the Dalai Lama has told Jews interested in Buddhism to look into Judaism.
I've heard that too. Here are some sad facts: many of the most prominent American Zen practitioners and scholars are Jewish by birth, and more than 1/5 of all American Buddhists are Jewish.
Where I live there are plenty of Jew-Bu's and even a congregation for that. Mostly they started out as barely-affiliated types, in my impression. Again, I think this is about remaking themselves in a way that precisely involves rejecting some aspect of themselves. But if they are barely attached to Judaism to begin with, it's not that big a rejection (to them) to perform and in that way strikes me as not a very profound remaking. I guess I'm saying that I agree that there is something not totally mature about it. But then again, I'm not in their shoes and so shouldn't really make that judgment.
Still, I'm uncomfortable with the 'Jewish souls' idea that is the source of your sadness.
Why? Do you find it sad but for other reasons? Or do you not find it sad in general?
I was startled when I read the post by how sad you found it. So I guess I do not spontaneously find it sad. I suppose it is because I do not accept the idea of metaphysically differentiated souls, some Jewish and some not. Is your first 'Why?' asking why I am uncomfortable with that idea?
Yes. Also curious if it would affect your sadness level if the new religion were Christianity.
Hm, why am I uncomfortable with the idea of metaphysically differentiated souls? First response that comes to mind: I just don't believe it. And I imagine you would want to ask "why?" Because it doesn't make sense. Doesn't fit with science. Doesn't fit with my ideas about people and their equal worth and 'substance'. Feels all wrong to me. It just feels wrong. Really wrong. I realize that this feeling goes against the deepest beliefs of most of the posters here.
I don't think my sadness (or lack thereof) would be less or greater if it were Christianity instead of Buddhism that the Jew turned to. Well, I guess it depends on which kind of Christianity. A lax, Italian-style friendly Catholicism would not make me sad, but a John-Ashcroft-style Christian I would find very sad. Basically any joyful, open-minded variant of Christianity would not make me sad for that person.
But, and this is not at all to your own points with this post, actually I find the American (Jewish or not) adoptions and adaptations of Buddhism rather problematic. In my area we have a lot of people trying to adopt yoga/Buddhism/Zen/meditation and so forth. But I find actually that the so-called Buddhist influence correlates to an increase in passive-aggressiveness. People are trying to be all Zen and peaceful and yet were raised to be competitive (as Americans tend to be) and so they try to suppress all their competitiveness and get passive-aggressive. So any cheerful, open-minded version of Christianity would be to me preferable.
Many young Orthodox Jews, IMO, are educated in such a fashion as to make it more likely that if they quit Orthodoxy are more likely to leave Jewish affiliation behind rather than join another Jewish movement. I know a few people who left O and joined C over egalitarianism, but far more who left Judaism altogether. They reject their education as to the correctness of O, but retain the opinion they were taught that the heterodox movements are invalid. I think educators believe this is an acceptable side effect of a style of education designed to keep people O.
SBW: I think a Jew leaving Judaism is sad for other reasons too (nationhood, posterity). But your explanation vexes me. You're very umcomfortable with something that you think is wrong. That's interesting. Usually "uncomfortable" reminds me of something that is true but hard to accept. Things I disagree with don't make me uncomfortable. It's the things I agree with, but don't feel like following through on that make me uncomfortable. Maybe I'm unfairly mincing your words.
As far as science goes, does science support souls in general?
And as far the Jew-turned-happy-Christian, would it change the picture if it were your own child? I'm startled that my sadness startles you, to be honest. This is one thing I find rather universal among Jews of all affiliations: they want their kids to be identify Jewish, mostly, even if they can't articulate why.
Larry: you make it all sound so subversive.
'Uncomfortable' for me here means that it makes me squirm. I really truly tried out this idea on myself, 'tried it on for size' mentally, and it makes me squirm, because it feels-so-wrong uncomfortable. Not uncomfortable the way I feel when I know or worry that something is really true but don't want it to be.
But the point about my own child giving up all Jewish identification is a big one, and you are right. I would be sad, or at least alienated, by that.
Two things come to mind about your point: first, to me it is different if it's MY child than just 'some Jew somewhere'. Because MY child's identification connects her to me and makes me feel closer to her. I would feel a loss of closeness to me if she became even a 'happy Christian'. It would be a loss I would mourn personally. I don't feel the same, or much at all, connection to or solidarity with 'some Jew' and would not mourn that connection 'for the sake of all Jews' or even for that single unknown-to-me Jew. Second, she could practice Buddhism and keep the Jewish identity (west coast style), and this would be to me not such a big loss. She could even practice some lax forms of Christianity and retain a Jewish identity, which would be weird but not tragic.
I don't think the concept of different souls conflicts with the idea of equal worth. After all, we have vastly different bodies, preferences, and ideas despite our equal worth. Why not different souls? It doesn't mean that any of them are less worthy than others.
Personally, I think it's sad when Jews leave Judaism because I value the Jewish people. Those people are pulling out of my extended family, as it were.
I am not sure whether I should add the following story, which I feel is one that will alienate a lot of readers here. I think I'm the only one on here regularly who is 'out' as intermarried and probably that discredits me in some ways. Which I get.
My husband is Catholic and his parents really wanted us to baptize our first baby. I thought about it a lot and decided I would be ok with that, because to me it would not be meaningful (just some words and water on a baby) but to my in-laws it would mean so very much (and I know how much circumcision meant to my parents, and that is a genuine physical modification), and also to show my husband that I really consider the baby not just 'mine' but 'ours'.
I actually consulted an extremely progressive Catholic theologian friend about whether baptizing the baby would in the eyes of the church make her 'not Jewish'. He came back with the answer that the church would consider her Catholic but that in the eyes of the church that does not change her status as 'of the Hebrew race' or something like that. In the end it never happened, because my husband didn't organize it, that sort of thing would normally be my domain and is not his strength, and I made clear I wouldn't be doing it. And I sort of knew it would turn out that way. But it made for a respectful start with regard to how we handle these things.
Larry: you make it all sound so subversive
Subversive of what?
DG, good point about different bodies/different souls. But I thought the idea was that Jewish souls are chosen, special, somehow more loved by God, than the other souls? That he favors Jewish souls?
Rambam denies the whole idea of Jewish souls. He says we are special because of following Torah and mitzvot. I'm happier with that position than I am among the Kabbalists and Yehuda haLevi.
My Hebrew school education stressed that being the 'chosen people' meant we were chosen for greater responsibilities, not for greater privileges.
In many branches of orthodoxy, different souls most certainly equals different worth.
Larry, your position is standard in the Modern Orthodox world, but almost nowhere else. It's important for people to realize this.
Even so, to me Larry's position sounds like apologetics. In society at large, those people with greater responsibilities are unquestionably more valued, and have more priveleges, than those with less responsibilities. A CEO has more responsibilities and concurrently, more rights and privileges, than a cubicle worker in the same company. – MP
But still isn't the idea that Jews are closer to God? More special to him than others?
Wait, Larry, just reread your post. The Rambam position would then be that if you don't DO Jewish you can't BE Jewish?
MP: I'm not sure which part of Larry's response you think is exclusively MO. The part about being chosen for greater responsibilities is standard in most of the Orthodox spectrum in my experience.
Rambam holds, as do all pre-modern Jewish sources I am aware of, that one born of a Jewish woman is a Jew (as are converts). He holds that on average, Jews possess more of certain characteristics (modesty, mercy, and loving kindess for example) than do the surrounding gentile nations. But Rambam holds the reason Jews display these characteristics is that they cling to the Torah and the halacha, which inculcate these traits, rather than that some quality in their souls make them do this.
I have a friend who is very strongly in the HaLevi camp, who believes that the Jewish soul is different. I pointed out to him that in theory this claim is testable. Take 4 groups – Jews raised in complete non-observance, Jews raised in observance, non-Jews who have no interaction with Judaism, and converts.(*) Observe their behavior over 20 years and see if the Jews raised in complete non-observance were less merciful, modest, etc than the observant Jews, and how both groups compared to the non-Jewish group.
He said that for him this is a matter of faith, and that even in principal he couldn't accept the results of such a study compared to the words of the Sages. I think. to go back to an earlier discussion, this is an example of emunas chachamim (faith in the sages.)
Of course, then it depends on which sages, since as you say there's a difference of opinion on the subject.
SBW: what I hear from you is that you feel that a child of yours will be distanced from you by practicing a different religion. It is a relationship issue. For me, the entire Jewish nation is my family. I really mean that, though it might sound kind of cheesy. That's how I feel when *any* Jew drops out.
Larry: whether you follow the Rambam approach or the Yehudah Halevi approach, it would follow that a Jew exiting Judaism, whether for nothingness, or for another religion, would be sad. Whether because his unique soul somehow needs Judaism to be fulfilled, or because he is forfeiting his ability for specialness by opting out of Torah and mitzvot. It's kind of saying the same thing in different ways.
Because a non-Jew can't be Jewish just by following Torah and mitzvot. A conversion ceremony is required. What does Rambam say about the change in soul at a conversion?
DG: well put.
Rambam says nothing about a change of soul at a conversion. The whole concept is foreign to his world view. He uses the literary expression 'the convert is brought under the wings of the Shechina".
Doesn't Maimonides say *anything* about souls? (she asked with a note of desperation)
Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Yesodai Hatorah Chapter 3:
The soul of all flesh is the form which it was given by God. The extra dimension which is found in the soul of man is the form of man who is perfect in his knowledge. Concerning this form, the Torah states [Genesis 1:26]: "Let us make man in our image and in our likeness" – i.e., granting man a form which knows and comprehends ideas that are not material, like the angels, who are form without body, until he can resemble them.[This statement] does not refer to the form of the body perceived by the eye – i.e., the mouth, the nose, the cheeks, and the remainder of the structure of the body. This is referred to as to'ar (appearance).
It is not the soul found in all living flesh which allows it to eat, drink, reproduce, feel, and think. Rather, knowledge is the form of this [dimension of] soul and it is concerning this form of the soul, that the verse states: "in our image and in our likeness." Frequently, this form is referred to as nefesh or ruach. Therefore, one must be careful regarding these names, lest another person err regarding them. Each name reveals its characteristics.
The form of this soul is not a combination of the fundamental [elements] into which it will ultimately decompose, nor does it come from the neshamah so that it would require the neshamah, as the neshamah requires the body. Rather, it is from God, from heaven.
Therefore, when the matter [of the body], which is a combination of the fundamental [elements], decomposes, and the neshamah ceases to exist – for [the neshamah] exists only together with the body and requires the body for all its deeds – this form will not be cut off, for this form does not require the neshamah for its deeds. Rather, it knows and comprehends knowledge which is above matter, knows the Creator of all things, and exists forever. In his wisdom, Solomon [gave this description (Ecclesiastes 12:7)]: "The dust will return to the Earth as it [originally] was, and the ruach will return to God who granted it."
All these concepts which we have explained in this context are like a drop in a bucket. They are deep matters. Nevertheless, their depth does not approach the depth of the subject matter of the first and second chapters.
The explanation of all the subject matter in the third and fourth chapters is referred to as Ma'aseh Bereshit (“the work of Creation”).The Sages of the early generations commanded that these matters should not be expounded upon in public. Rather, a single individual should be informed about them and taught them.
Sorry, that was Chapter 4, not Chapter 3.
So how does Rambam account for an inborn Jewishness if the qualities develop from adhering to Torah?
Pirke Avot lists 7 qualities of a scholar. The 6th is that when he does not know, he says "I do not know." I could certainly imagine ways to justify it, but I am not arrogant enough to pass off my guesses as the knowledge of the Rambam. Bli neder (without making a vow) I'll see if I can do some research on the topic.
Rambam believes in an "inborn Jewishness", by which I mean a responsibility to follow the halacha based on who your mother was. This is based on the various covenants betwee God and Israel that are recorded in the bible. A Jew who was born and raised without contact with Jews and Judaism is still required to follow the mitzvot, but his punishment for failing to do so is waived because he is ignorant of what the commandments are. Rambam applies this category to second generation Kararites(*) (who do not believe in the Oral law) as well as the literal 'child kidnapped by gentiles'.Rambam says it is the Jewish community's responsibility to reach out to these people and bring them back to observance. We do not treat them as heretics.
As I stated above I don't know whether Rambam would expect such a person to exhibit the 'typical' Jewish character traits or not. But they are Jewish nonetheless.
(*) First genertion kararites (who were raised in traditional Judaism) would be full fledged heretics. Centuries down the line the question of whether we can assume maternal Jewish descent among Kararites is a matter of dispute.
The first time you visit a new place, feel a new sensation, or encounter a new idea is when that experience is most vivid. Subsequent encounters with the same sensations and experiences lose their power to transform us. Buddhism was new to David Rome and the newness enhanced the impression of its concepts. So I see the question as "How can we make Judaism new?" And that question presents different challenges and opportunities all along the spectrum of observance.
As the author if the book muses, there is a danger in comparing an idealized version of a new religion to a gritty and well-lived version of one's own religion. Your question is on the mark, but won't anything eventually feel old?
Randy said what I was going to say. It is sometimes easier to 'discover yourself' or better, 'remake yourself' in the context of something new.
Isn't this related to what motivates some people who go from secular/unaffiliated/Reform to O Judaism? It's new, it's a RE-making. The Judaism you show them is 'connected' to what they know, or maybe not, but that newness for them is part of the attraction.
Yes but then at some point the newness will wear off and then what? There needs to be something more compelling that will retain them.
I don't know what happens next. Maybe the feeling of having been 'remade' stays with them a long time, or the spiritual experience and community is itself deep enough that they do discover a grounding there and stay and the restlessness abates.
I think the latter is what you hope for with Jews who become more O? Maybe some of those people come to O Judaism not so much because of O Judaism (because they don't really know about it before they take it on), but because they are looking for grounding, self-remaking, depth, and then presumably many of them do remain O, find satisfaction in it. I could see the same thing happening for an unaffiliated Jew who becomes Buddhist. I guess I don't see the motivations for and the events in those two processes as that different, except that in one the Jew develops Jewishly and in the other the Jew develops Buddhist-ly.
Essentially you are describing two very different reasons why somebody might be interested in spirituality, whether in his own religion or in other religions. In the first case, a person is looking for newness, novelty, or maybe even some way to solve problems, or escape establishment. In the second scenario, it is a case of somebody who is restlessly searching for meaning, searching for spirituality, not because his life is unsatisfying or even boring but because they somehow feel that there is something more to life. In this situation I believe he's like a starving person looking for a meal. Whatever that will happen to be, that's what he will eat. If he finds it in Judaism, this is what will stick. If in another religion then that is what will stick.
Either way I think the following is true: if the person is in search of novelty eventually the new religion that he discovers will become old and boring and he will continue to the next thing. Unless what he has discovered is so qualitatively different from anything else that it really is just beyond compare. But if this search was for meaning, then I don't see why this should wear off.
Admittedly, no matter what it is that we are in in our lives we have to continue to search for a way to keep it fresh and interesting. This is true of many many things in our lives, and especially of religion.
This is something I wonder about. We try to talk to our kids about (and show) the wonderful parts of Judaism, but it's not a pediatric religion, so I wonder how much of it sinks in. There's also this balance, of what Judaism requires of us and kids naturally not wanting to do things they "have" to do.
What I mean is, I make my kids brush their teeth, eat healthy food instead of junk, etc. I also make them say Modeh Ani in the morning and say brachos before they eat, etc. So it becomes for them a "have to," which they naturally resist. The ideas behind brachos and Modeh Ani of being grateful–those aren't natural for little kids. They don't appreciate what we do as parents, and they can see us doing those things. To then expect them to appreciate the abstraction of being grateful for each day of life, or for having food to eat, it's unrealistic. And yet, they need to learn to do these things and how to do them and have them become part of their daily life. So there's always that tension of wondering if the things you are doing to help you kids be knowledgeable, committed Jews are the same things that are going to push them away from Judaism.
Nor do I think this is an Orthodox issue. I've heard plenty of Jews raised in other streams saying Hebrew school (after-school) is what turned them off Judaism.
I guess I always hold in the back of my mind something a not observant Jewish friend of mine said to me, "Judaism is an old man saying no." How do we train our children to see the nos (no dressing like the other kids on the street, no eating treif food, no doing malacha on Shabbos) without them coming to resent it and push it away?
Kids don't permanently reject EVERYTHING their parents make them do. For instance, didn't your parents make you brush your teeth? Don't you now do it anyway?
Amy, I think that most children who grow up in a basically happy, loving home, where the parents are modeling Orthodox Judaism, and the kids are getting the same messages at school and at home, will continue on that path.
And, I wouldn't "make" my kids say modeh ani in the morning. I'd sooner "make" them brush their teeth. I'd encourage it gently, and I'd model it, but it's the forcing that invites the negativity.
re: Hebrew school. My thoughts, based on numerous conversations with fellow MOTs who actually attended (I didn't) are coming in a future post.
Ruchi, "make" isn't the right word. I say, "Did you say Modeh Ani?" And then they say it? Or I'll make a joke. If I see them eating and I didn't hear a bracha, I just say, "Hello? C'mon Jewish people, let's make a bracha!" And then they crack up and say the bracha.
But, there are things that they don't want to do. They do not like to bentch after meals. Or they want to just say one or two brachos after and stop. They want to go play or whatever. But the expectation at school is that they will bentch the whole Birkas haMazon, and they need the practice. So what do you do in that situation? They see us bentching, but left to their own devices, they will not bentch or only bentch a little bit. How would you handle that?