Letters to the Next Generation by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

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In his newly-released Ebook “Letters to the Next Generation: Reflections for Yom Kippur” England’s Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks presents 10 letters from a father to his grown children on the meaning of life and the role of a Jew in the world. I pray that this amazing Ebook will provide a beacon of clarity and holiness for a profoundly messed up and confused world.

I loved, loved, loved all of the letters in this Ebook, but this was my favorite. Guess what the topic is, Jewish moms? Enjoy and Gemar Chatima Tova!

[Dear] SARA, [dear] DAVID, I want to talk about children. God has blessed you both with children. They are the joy of our
life, as of yours. Enjoy them. Spend time with them. Play,
learn, sing, davven and do mitzvot with them. On nothing else
will your time be better spent. The love you give them when
they are young will stay with them throughout their lives.
Like sunshine it will make them flower and grow.

Having children is more than a gift. It’s a responsibility.
For us as Jews it’s the most sacred responsibility there is. On
it depends the future of the Jewish people. For four thousand
years our people survived because in every generation, Jews
made it their highest priority to hand their faith on to their
children. They sanctified marriage. They consecrated the
Jewish home. They built schools and houses of study. They
saw education as the conversation between the generations:
“You shall teach these things repeatedly to your children,
speaking of them when you sit at home or travel on the way,
when you lie down and when you rise up”.

They saw Judaism the way an English aristocrat sees a
stately home. You live in it but you don’t really own it. It’s
handed on to you by your ancestors and it’s your task to hand
it on to future generations, intact, preserved, if possible beautified and enhanced, and you do so willingly because you
know that this is your legacy. It’s what makes your family
different, special. To lose it, sell it or let it fall into ruins,
would be a kind of betrayal.

And that is the point. Today, on average throughout the
Diaspora, one young Jew in two is deciding not to marry
another Jew, build a Jewish home, have Jewish children and
continue the Jewish story. That is tragic.

Your mother and I didn’t spend too much time talking to
you about our own family histories. But the truth is that
virtually every Jew alive today has a history more remarkable
than the greatest novel or family saga. It tells of how they
were expelled from one country after another, how they lost
everything and had to begin again. They were offered every
blandishment to convert, but they said ‘No’. They sacrificed
everything to have Jewish grandchildren. And today when
being a Jew demands almost no sacrifice, when we are freer
to practise our faith than ever before, Jews are forgetting
what it takes to have Jewish grandchildren.

So how do you hand your values on? By showing your
children what you love. Rabbi Moshe Alshich, the sixteenth
century rabbi, asked in his commentary to the Shema, “How
do we ‘teach these things’ to our children? How can we be
sure that they will learn?” His reply? “The answer lies in the
verse two lines earlier: “You shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart, all your soul and all your might”. What
we love, they will love.

There are many reasons for the high rates of assimilation
in Jewish life, but one is fundamental. We are heirs to several
generations of Jews who were ambivalent about being Jewish.
I don’t pass judgment on them, neither should you. Between
the 1880s and the 1930s they lived through an age of
antisemitism. Then came the Holocaust. Who would blame
anyone in those days for saying, as did Heinrich Heine,
“Judaism isn’t a religion, it’s a misfortune”.

But we are long past those days. One of the greatest gifts
you can give your children is to let them see you carry your
identity with pride. Your mother and I tried to show you as
best we could that for us Judaism is our legacy, our stately
home, our gift from those who came before us; the greatest
attempt in all of history to create a life of justice, compassion
and love as a way of bringing the Divine presence down from
heaven to earth so that it etches our lives with the soft
radiance of eternity.

We can’t live our children’s lives for them. They are free.
They will make their own choices. But we can show them
what we love. If you want Jewish grandchildren, love Judaism
and live in it with a sense of privilege and joy.

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Read the rest of Letters to the Next Generation: Reflections on Yom Kippur

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