One of the most important Jewish things parents can do for their kids is to foster a feeling of connection to the Jewish People. By helping our kids identify with other Jews early on in their lives, parents radically increase the chances that their kids will want to remain part of the Jewish People when they mature. The importance of this feeling of connection hit me about fifteen years ago.

I was in the middle of a six-month-long road trip around North America. I had just graduated college, was unsure what the next step was, and decided to spend some time traveling and reflecting. All along the way I visited friends and family, stopped in on the tourist spots and enjoyed the national parks. I was hiking in New Mexico and it was two days before Passover. Friends were expecting me in L.A. for the holiday.

I was hiking in New Mexico and it was two days before PassoverI could make the drive easily, but I realized that that would mean skipping so many things I wanted to see: the National Parks of southern Utah and Arizona, and of course, Las Vegas! I decided to take a chance and change plans. I would get a good night’s sleep, and drive into the closest town and see what happens.

Who do you call when you need Jewish connections? Chabad, of course!

It was one of the nicest Passovers I’ve ever had. Not only because of the stories, discussion, stories, singing and great food. Even more impressive to me was a realization of my connection to these people. My entire life I had heard about the fact that Jews cared about each other and took care of each other, etc.

The truth of this idea hit home at a whole new level. We’d never met, but I was Jewish and I was welcome in their home. And I knew that this was the case in whichever city I might find myself, anywhere around the world.

Diaspora Jews care deeply about what happens in Israel. American Jews pressed hard to get Russian Jews permission to leave Communist Russia. Israel sent commandos to rescue hostages in Entebbe, and when a few elderly Jews were discovered living in dire conditions in postwar Iraq, Israel brought them home. This is what I call the horizontal unity of the Jewish people—we are connected to every Jewish person alive today, no matter where they live or what language they speak. We are one. And there’s more.

Vertical Unity

Some time later I was working as a tour guide in Israel. We were spending the morning in the Diaspora Museum of Tel Aviv University in Israel. Near the entrance of the museum there is a little white plaster model. See if you can guess what it represents:

The scene is of a dining room table, the family is in medieval garb, and the seats have extra pillows on them. With the parents and older children watching and listening, the smallest child is standing on a little stool speaking. There are glasses of wine on the table, and a round plate in the center. Have you guessed it yet?

We’d never met, but I was Jewish and I was welcome in their homeThe scene is of the Four Questions from the Seder night. I’ve described this scene to many thousands of people, and most people identify the scene rather quickly. It is incredible when you think about it: the scene is from medieval Spain. It is a country most of us have never been to. The people in the scene lived almost a thousand years ago, and spoke a language few of us understand. There was no running water, no electricity and no telephones. The Americas hadn’t been discovered. And, yet, we recognize the scene. We identify with the scene. Why? Because we keep Passover as well: with only a few superficial changes, the people in the scene could have been us.

When you think about it, what really connects us to our ancestors, anyway? Blood? Bloodlines do exist, but the further you go back, the less blood connection we have to any particular relative. A quick example: I’m comprised of 50% of my father’s genes, 25% of my grandfather’s, 12.5% of his father’s, 6.25% of his father’s, 3.125% of his . . . is that really all our connection is? Furthermore, many of us have converts in our families. There has to be more of a connection than blood.

In truth, our real connections are Jewish ones. We are all part of the same chain, the same story, the same tradition. If our ancestors were to hop in a time machine and visit, there would be many things in our world that would seem very strange to them. (There are many things around today that seem very strange to me!) But think of what would make them feel comfortable in our homes: the mezuzahs on the doorposts, the Hebrew books, the Shabbat candlesticks, and more. What I called the horizontal unity of the Jewish people is our connection to all Jews alive today. With the little model from the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv, we have come to what I call the vertical unity of the Jewish people—we are in fact closely connected to all generations of Jews, past and future.

Fostering the Feeling

Kids like knowing where they come from. Stories from the past give context to who they areThe good news is that fostering this feeling is not hard to do. When you travel this summer, travel Jewishly. Buy a book, go online, or both, to research the Jewish connections of the part of the world you will be visiting. Visit Jewish tourist sites (you’d be surprised at how many there are). Frequent the local kosher restaurants and Jewish communities wherever you go. The unstated but powerful message is that we are connected to Jews everywhere. These are our fellow Jews and we want to stay connected to them. Similarly, in order to foster this connection, parents should prioritize sending the kids to Jewish camps, trips and Israel.

Also, let them know who they are. Kids like knowing where they come from. Stories from the past give context to who they are. Consider making a summer project of making a family tree. Let them know that they are part of something bigger. That they belong. That they are the heirs and transmitters of something special.

When children grow up feeling connected to other Jews around the world, past, present and future, they are going to feel a sense of belonging to the Jewish People. In the long term, the more they feel part of the Jewish People, the more they’ll want their spouse and kids to feel part of it too.