By Gail Pozner
My family and I recently arrived back from a family “simcha” – the bas mitzvah in a reform temple of our niece. Being frum for 20 years and having made no dent at all in the religious interest of our respective families, I have come to the realization that the most my husband and I can hope for in terms of impacting them is making a Kiddush Hashem; and that is no little thing. It is one of the reasons why we were created. So for those out there who share the inability to be mekarev our families: how to create a Kiddush Hashem in the midst of non-religious family and old friends? I’ll share a few experiences we’ve had over the years.
First, if you are fortunate to have children, your kids will naturally display certain types of self-discipline that we take for granted but which are noticed by others, no matter if the children are 4 or 14 years old. At one family gathering, my then-4 year old daughter’s jaw dropped when she spied the birthday cake: a giant castle, dripping with candies, even dolls. When I told her it wasn’t kosher, however, she accepted this fact with equanimity and never again asked if she could partake. Which grandparent wouldn’t notice and admire this self-restraint from such a young child? This is a Kiddush Hashem.
Last week at the post-service Kiddush on Shabbos in the reform synagogue my 16 year old son asked me if he could eat something served. A lovely non-religious woman I was chatting with was absolutely non-plussed. I couldn’t understand why! She said, “Your son is 16 and he is asking your PERMISSION before he eats something? What ever did you do to raise such a mentch?!” I explained that there were kashrus issues, but she still insisted that most teenagers would never think to ask a parent such permission, never mind agree to! Kiddush Hashem.
Second, the fact that we have a commandment to respect our parents goes a LONG way in FORCING us to be a Kiddush Hashem! How many times have I wanted to scream back at my father when he started lecturing me on the folly of my (religious) ways! However, my husband repeatedly told me in no uncertain terms that it was forbidden for me to scream at or contradict him, so I stiffened myself and continued to reply with respectful questions and statements in response to his many lectures. Without the commandment, the relationship would have been diminished repeatedly; my self-control (really, my husband’s!) over time however has built up the relationship instead of destroyed it. This is recognizable by my father, hence it is a Kiddush Hashem even though he has not ostensibly changed his opinion about Judaism one iota.
This may be the most effective approach to relating to our families. Notwithstanding that most new BTs, enthused with their new-found treasure, prefer the “Ayatollah Khomeini” approach: blow-torching mom’s kitchen and loudly insulting her TV programs, perhaps we should focus on the many subtle ways we can become a Kiddush Hashem in our family’s eyes, and hopefully, they will start returning the favor by mirroring our respectful ways.