Q. Does being Jewish mean I'm different from my friends? .

A. Here's a good opportunity to begin to talk with your child about differences and similarities in people.

First the similarities: All human beings are children of God, all have a soul which is a piece of God that He shares with us, all are deserving of respect and dignity. And human beings have feelings, can cause hurt, and be hurt by others.

When you get to the differences, it's important to ask your son or daughter about their feelings of being different. What does it feel like to them?

Developmentally, the pre-teen and teen years are especially difficult times. They are fraught with emotional pain, filled with self-doubt, anxiety and the powerful desire for peer approval. It's as if nothing else matters.

You must respect the potential agony of this period in their lives.

You must respect the potential agony of this period in their lives. Try to think back to your own adolescent and pre-adolescent years and honor your child.

It is vital that you don't make light of this very real concern of your child, the fear that he/she won't measure up, won't be cool, won't be accepted. It is natural then, that the question of being different -- in respect to one's Jewishness -- is serious and sensitive business.

A discussion with your son or daughter should include the following points:

  • A sincere statement acknowledging the legitimacy of his/her concern.

  • Some personal comments about your own feelings regarding this issue.

    For this, you need lots of self-reflection. You need to ask yourself how you feel now about your Jewishness? Is this feeling the same as or different than you felt as an adolescent? Do you feel that it's worth it? Are you proud? Is it okay for you to be in the minority, to be the only ones around without Christmas decorations, or perhaps the only ones around with a menorah in your window? Sharing your enthusiasm and pride in being a Jew, in Jewish accomplishments, in Jewish values, is infectious and will go a long way in helping your child incorporate these feelings.

  • The idea that every human being has his/her own mission, responsibility to society and to God.

The differences in this world are analogous to the different instruments in an orchestra. Each instrument has a different role, but all necessary to the beauty of the symphony. We Jews can be incredibly proud of our mission. Our mission has included the gift of monotheism, the gift of the values that Western civilization treasures, the gift of the sanctity of life, the gift of Torah and Revelation, and the gift of a personal, loving, intimate relationship with God. Our mission continues -- it is the mission to be a "light unto the nations."

The theme of your talk then, might best be described as an approach, an attitude of acknowledging that it is difficult to be different. But also acknowledging that differences in society enhance the beauty of the music, and our song, the song of the Jews and the song of Torah has been sung for three thousand years, and its notes are still vibrant, full of hope, holiness, joy, and love.