TODAY IS THE WORST DAY (or one of the worst days) in any given year: it’s the last day I’ll be teaching religious school, which means I won’t see “my kids” any more — and I’ll be slightly stupider without someone questioning my basic Jewish assumptions every couple of weeks.
I don’t know what motivated the people who taught me, but what motivates me is the conviction that, at 12 years old, the human being is halfway between the wonder of youth and the skepticism of age: old enough to begin thinking critically and asking interesting questions, and young enough to still enjoy curiosity. When I was that age, my teachers told me not to ask interesting questions (apparently not knowing that Judaism is all about interesting questions): thereby driving me on 23-year post-Bar Mitzvah quest for a spiritual path that did. Mind you, this world offers a variety of beautiful approaches to finding God Or A Reasonable Approximation, but I don’t want my kids to have to go to as much trouble as I did. (Of course, if they do, I expect to hear all about it — they’re all smart and love a good argument.)
And so, every year, I have taught them a bit of history, a little Torah, some customs; I especially tried to teach them that this rich heritage is theirs, and that it isn’t limited to a bunch of rules and some dusty bookshelves: that it’s alive, and growing, and that they’ll eventually pass it on to their own children. And that they’ll want to — not because someone said so, and not only because a moral compass (or good manners) and sense of relation are human universals (either to stand on or to kick off against).
But because we’re all here so briefly, we need all the help we can give each other. And because being a Jew, like being anybody, matters.