Undoubtedly the two most vexing theological questions are the issues of bad things happening to good people and free will versus destiny.
While most of us are all too aware of the randomness and injustice in the world, we nonetheless are quick to credit ourselves for our good fortune and blame ourselves (and others) for bad fortune.
Fundamentalists are especially good at this little exercise. 9/11? God’s punishment for permissiveness and homosexuality. The Holocaust? A punishment for assimilation and Reform Judaism. Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War? Divine intervention.
On a much less dramatic scale, but among those who are generally a bit more rational than the typical religious extremist, is the whole blame-the-parent game in which we all love to partake.
While I don’t think intermarriage is necessarily a bad or blame-worthy thing, among many Jewish parents their children’s marriage choices are frequently viewed almost as a test of whether the parent was a good-enough Jew.
Karen Kasdin’s very entertaining recent column in Faster Times explores some of these issues:
When your faith and heritage are important to you, and your child chooses to marry someone outside of the religion and culture you have known all your life, you wrack your brain for any clue you can hold onto as an explanation …
We sent our son, Dan, to Jewish day school through the fourth grade. After that he attended Hebrew school three days a week. After that he had a Bar Mitzvah. After that we went to great expense to take our family to Israel to visit the land of our ancestors, and after that he fell in love with a blond, green-eyed beauty named Kristen.
I recently spoke to a mom who lamented how she thought she’d done everything “right” — observing all the holidays, sending her kids to Jewish schools and camps, encouraging them to participate in Jewish youth groups and so forth — and now that her children have intermarried she’s wracking her brain and second-guessing herself to figure out what mistake she made.
Meanwhile, a fellow congregant in this woman’s Conservative shul seemed eager to take credit for his daughters’ decisions to marry Jews. “I told them marrying out was simply unacceptable,” he told me, knowing full well that I am intermarried.
“When they started dating gentiles, he bought them one-way tickets to Israel and that that straightened them out,” his elderly mother proudly chimed in. “Now all three are Orthodox and live in Israel.”
OK, so his hard line (which could easily have backfired) paid off with his desired results, although I imagine many, if not most, liberal American Jewish parents would prefer their child intermarry, stay close to home and not become Orthodox, at least not ultra-Orthodox. But in any event, was this man’s “success” the result of effective policy — or just plain luck?
I’m not going to argue that nothing makes a difference, that parents and Jewish upbringing have absolutely no influence on the way their children turn out. After all I’d love to take credit for my 6-year-old daughter’s kindness, good manners and compassion as well as her general enthusiasm about all things Jewish.
But I’ve encountered too many nice kids raised by horrible people and horrible people raised by nice parents — not to mention the myriad directions that kids with rigorous Jewish educations (and nonexistent Jewish educations) take, to see parents and "doing everything right" as more than one of many factors in a person’s development.
As my favorite Yiddish proverb goes, “Man makes plans and God laughs.”
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