Meredith Jacobs: Lacrosse or Hebrew School?
I think I get it now.
I was the one who always rolled my eyes judgmentally as other parents allowed their children to go to soccer practice rather than Hebrew school. I was the one who railed against the reversal in priorities, after all, “They’re not going to become professional soccer players, but they’ll always be Jews.”
Our parents did things differently. We went to Hebrew school two nights a week, plus Sunday mornings, plus services on Saturday and we didn’t complain (we weren’t allowed to complain). What are we teaching our children when we place sports over religious study?
But here’s the thing ... neither of my children played sports. This was not a conflict I ever faced firsthand. It was easy for me to sit on high and judge others. No longer.
This year my seventh-grade son made travel lacrosse. It’s a big deal. It’s an even bigger deal considering the fact that he was the little boy in the preschool baseball team who used to spend his time in the outfield examining caterpillars. He traded Pokemon and Yug-i-oh cards. I had to beg him to go outside. I never would have guessed he would ever play a sport let alone play at a competitive level.
But here he is. And guess what? This past year, winter training was Wednesday from 7 to 8:30 p.m., the same time as Hebrew school.
In January, he became a bar mitzvah, the age when many of his peers stop their formal education. This year, at my synagogue, Hebrew school is “upper school” and classes are all about “sex, drugs and rock n’ roll.” Not exactly, but the kids sit on the floor with lit candles and talk about life issues and how they relate to Judaism — what does Judaism teach about bullying?
So, he’s learned the basics of Hebrew, Torah and holidays. This year begins the b’nai mitzvah-palooza, two full years of attending Saturday morning services to watch his friends become bar and bat mitzvah. So what was the harm in letting him miss occasionally?
Sports keep him active and healthy. I don’t think he’ll become a professional lacrosse player (I can’t even make the joke that he’ll become a team owner. I know there’s a professional lacrosse team, but from what I understand, with the exception of Paul Rabil, the one superstar who has endorsements, everyone keeps their day jobs.)
However, he would like to play high school varsity lacrosse and our school’s team is competitive. He may not go pro, but high school sports will help him get into college.
Being part of a team builds character and leadership. Juggling training and practice and games with academics proves discipline. I’ve yet to hear a college admissions officer say the same about religious school. He’s committed to the team, we signed an agreement when he was offered a position.
But it’s seventh grade. I mean really, if he misses a practice or two, what’s going to happen? The team’s not going to lose every game because my son went to Hebrew school.
Plus, we do a lot at home — he knows he’s Jewish.
He goes to a Jewish overnight camp in the summer and will join BBYO [B’nai B’rith Youth Organization] in eighth grade. His identity is secure.
But, here’s the thing, he loves his upper school class. He didn’t like Sunday school, he complained every week about being bored. But he’s not bored this year. This year, the drive home is a spillover from the class conversations as thoughts and ideas continue to spill out and he excitedly shares all the new connections and information.
Something about it works. I think it’s because it’s the first year that the students are spoken to like adults.
They’re given serious topics to approach maturely. Homosexuality, drug abuse, genocide are grappled with and viewed through a Jewish lens.
I believe the more we link Jewish teachings and values with what we find most important in our secular lives, the more we make Judaism relevant. The more we understand that we can approach today’s issues with reasonings found in the Torah and Talmud, the more we teach our children that living Jewishly is more than just lighting candles on Friday night or fasting on Yom Kippur.
Which means Jewish learning doesn’t stop at bar mitzvah. In fact, one could say that’s when it starts. Just like one needs to reach a certain age to have the maturity and life experience to study Kabbalah, one needs to have the basics (boring as they may be) that come with the early days of Hebrew school to be prepared for the juicy stuff of upper school. But we need to let them experience those classes.
Just as we model being active, healthy adults, we need to model continuing Jewish learning for our children. That means showing our children that Jewish education is just as important as all of the other things on their schedule.
So here’s what I’ll do. I’ll juggle just like I do everything else. He’ll miss some practice and he’ll miss some upper school. We’ll take it week-by-week, but the commitment is not only to his team, but to his people.
I’ll let you know how it goes.