What is the norm?

Here at the House of Laurie Levine LCSW, (also known as The Nut House), I am having a conundrum that doesn’t seem to have an easy answer. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which is the holiest day of the year for Jewish people all over the world is this Wednesday.  This being followed by Rosh Hashanah, the  Jewish New Year, last Monday.  Where I grew up in Boston, there isn’t (and wasn’t)  school on the Jewish High Holidays  nor is there school in many areas of   New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

My kids have always taken the day off from school for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and worshipped and celebrated with the family.  Last week when one of my kids was in synagogue, he missed important things in school and fell a bit behind.   With his heavy academic load and increased extra-curriculae activities (read: sports) (also missed on the Jewish holidays) there is little time to lollygag and  spend time on extra homework due to missing school for religious reasons. Enter the conundrum: do I send this Jewish kid to school on Yom Kippur?

These thoughts bring to mind how all families struggle with merging their personal, cultural and familial beliefs with that of the “popular” outlook in our society.  How do we respect what is important to us as a family and try to instill it into our kids while also integrating them (and us) into the world in which we live?  This extends beyond culture and religion, many of us have personal morals and values that are different from those our neighbors.  Plenty of moms have had to put their Merrell wearing foot down  to high heels, hair dye and shorts riding up to the dark side when their child’s classmates are strutting it like Lady Gaga around the 5th grade halls. A player on my son’s soccer team doesn’t play on Sunday mornings so that their family can attend church.  I am sure that can’t be easy for him (especially because he is  goalie and they need him ), but I respect their desire to keep what is a priority for them sacred in spite of the soccer commissioner’s game scheduling duties.

I often think about the Muslim families in our community who work and play amongst us while keeping close to their traditions.   I have seen many young Muslim girls wearing a hijab  in our local high schools.  I have watched, with great respect,  these same girls playing sports in a hijab and altered uniforms to protect their modesty.  We have had two Muslim nannies for our children who have kindly made them  lunch and dinner during Ramadan while I was at work. (Yom Kippur is also a fasting day. We’ve got nothing to kvetch about when we think about our Muslim neighbors who fast daily for a month. I digress.)

I have worked with many families from other countries and helped them  try to integrate their cultural norms into those of our American society.  The hardest thing I have had to address was that of corporal punishment.  In many countries, spanking and beatings are the norm when disciplining children.  I have had to explain to angry parents where English is their second language that corporal punishment is not tolerated in our society;   Social Services can and will be called to their homes if their are bruises on their children.

I have also worked with families from other cultures that emphasize grades, particularly A‘s and only A‘s, so much so that their children have developed anxiety disorders.   Be it that these parents want better for their children than they had, or they come from a society where the A’s were beaten out of them also, it can cause great stress for their children.  I try to educate these parents about balance and joy; reminding them that their child’s health and well-being can be paramount to their success.  Having said that, I appreciate the disconnect.  These parents have been raised to believe that A’s (or corporal punishment) is the norm and the way to raise their children, who am I to alter that?

Back to my conundrum.  My matzah  balls for tonight’s meal are cooling on the stove.  We clearly are embracing our tradition and will be observing Yom Kippur tomorrow.  As for that one kid who may or may not go to school, I guess the  jury is still out.

For those of you that will be observing Yom Kippur, I wish you an easy fast and a Happy New Year.



4 Comments on “What is the norm?”

  1. ellen macdonald says:

    Laurie, thank you for your beautiful article! We share the same conundrum in our house. We have always observed both days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and the kids go to services, not school. I never thought I would even consider sending my kids to school on Yom Kippur, but after watching my newly minted middle-schooler spend almost EIGHT hours doing school work after services on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, I did think about it briefly. Like you, I grew up in an area where there was no school on Yom Kippur, but as a member of a minority faith I do not expect all school systems to accommodate us (it is nice when it happens, though!). We also place a high premium on education, hence the dilemma. But after I thought about it for a bit I realized that for us, there really is no dilemma. In the immortal words of Albus Dumbledore, “We must all face the choice between what is right, and what is easy.” (I’ll take wisdom wherever I find it!) For us, raising our children as Jews means the right thing is spending the day fasting and praying in the company of our fellow congregants. This is how we practice our faith. Practice is how we instill their jewish identities. Though I worry that having to make up so much school work may cause them to resent their faith, my hope that they are ultimately strengthened by recognizing that even when it is hard, they can still do what they must and stay true to who they are.

    And now I must go make my matah balls.

  2. Valerie says:

    Let’s toss a wrench into this topic by adding the Teen Struggle For Independence. Add some teen rebellion and skepticism over what they have been ‘forced’ to participate in unwillingly, and you get a debate over whether a teen that’s decided they don’t particularly share Dad’s beliefs anymore should HAVE to miss school (the teen that actually cares about his grades shrugs his shoulders because either he doesn’t disagree with Dad’s beliefs or he accepts the consequences of missed work as the price of family harmony, but draws the line at ditching his job for Kol Nidre services). At what point do you acquiesce to your young adult’s efforts to define themselves by having individual beliefs instead of family beliefs (especially with a resident parent who has long since given up attending services for appearance’s sake)?

    (Not to ignore the real topic of today’s blog, cultural differences — I am always astounded by the parents from other cultures that come in to the bookstore looking for workbooks for their first graders on Test Preparation, Critical Thinking Skills, or study guides for the CogAT. While I firmly believe TO EACH HIS OWN, I have a tough time with the folks who think their 7 year olds should be doing extra test preparation at home. Nonetheless, I internally grit my teeth and hand over the Test Prep workbooks with a smile.)

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