Raising Children in a Jewish Environment: Demographics & Survival Response on Ask the Rabbi
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Raising Children in a Jewish Environment

My husband is a university professor. We live in a small city with a very small Jewish community. I see my friends and relatives who live in cities with a thriving Jewish life and for us everything seems like such a struggle. Most of all I worry about our children and how they will be able to forge a proud Jewish identity in such an environment. I don’t want to pressure my husband to leave the job he loves, but I am concerned.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

On Friday night, when we bless our sons, we say that they should be – not like the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – but rather “like Ephraim and Menashe.” Why were they chosen as the subjects of this important tradition?

A beautiful explanation is articulated by Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch (19th century Germany):

The first generations of Jews – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – raised their children primarily in the Land of Israel. The Holy Land is the most hospitable Jewish environment, where the Talmud reports that "even the air makes you wise." So in one sense, that was easy.

But with the famine, Jacob and his family all moved to Egypt. The next generation would grow up surrounded by paganism and immorality. The test was whether Judaism would survive amidst all the distractions and challenges of diaspora life.

It is not an easy task. But Ephraim and Menashe succeeded. And throughout the ages, Jewish parents have prayed that their children should be able to withstand the temptations of exile, and keep a strong, proud Jewish identity.

In one sense, your children have a great advantage. When someone grows up surrounded by other Jews, he has less opportunity to think about what Judaism means to him, simply because he is not confronted by others to do so. But your children – whether it’s wearing a kippah in public, or only eating kosher food – have the challenge of justifying and articulating their actions. This ultimately strengthens their commitment.

Of course, a small Jewish community has a downside as well – primarily the lack of educational opportunities. But for now, this should help you to focus on the positive.

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