Someone has to know the answer to this question: What's the secret to raising children that will stick to Jewish observance? Why is it that young men go through the whole system of yeshivas and then decide that they don't want to become rabbis but would rather go to university? I didn't grow up this way—what do I do to ensure that my children don't rebel against my life style as I rebelled against my own parents?


Dear S_____,

I appreciate your concern, and your desire to make sure that your children will follow a life dedicated to Torah. I want to point out to you, however, that wanting to go to university so you can make a decent living does not necessarily mean leaving Judaism. There are many very wonderful, highly committed Jews who are not rabbis or teachers, who learn daily, give charity, open their homes to travelers, and have warm, Jewish homes of which G‑d and the Jewish People can be proud.

That said, there are children from religious homes who leave Judaism behind. But the question is really upside-down: How is it that so many kids stay observant, despite the temptations of an entire world!?

So we need to bring up kids with a strong foundation, strong enough to resist an entire world. That's not easy, it's a very complicated issue; every situation is different, and every case needs to be dealt with individually. But in terms of general guidelines, here are some pointers:

1. Never, ever, tell a child to do something that you are not doing – i.e., insisting that they say their prayers every day when you don't, forbidding them to watch television while you go out to catch a movie; maintaining that they never speak poorly of their friends while they hear you gossip… "Do as I say, not as I do" has turned off many children…

2. Judaism is wonderful, beautiful, uplifting, the most wonderful product on the market. It's great to be a practicing, religious Jew. Shabbat is beautiful, Torah revives the soul, mitzvahs are liberating, the wisdom of the sages, especially the Chassidic masters can pick you up and carry you through life. A Jew belongs to an eternal people with an eternal bond with the Maker of the Universe. Children should be exposed to positive statements and feelings about their Jewishness. How many times do people say, "It's tough being a Jew"? Children hear when you complain, when you make negative remarks. If a child is constantly hearing about the difficulties and hardships that his parents face in their struggle with religious practice, is it any wonder that he decides he would rather find an easier way of life?

3. A child certainly needs to be restricted from the garbage that's out there in the world; on the other hand, if a child is too restricted this can lead to rebellion. So how do you walk this fine line? This is why every individual should have a mentor, someone to turn to for religious guidance. A mentor is especially helpful when it comes to establishing guidelines of acceptable behavior (for parents as well as for children…).

4. Know your child. A musically inclined child should be encouraged to pursue this interest, the writer should write; the very active child needs to be given a physical outlet for his energy. The yeshiva that will be perfect for the outgoing, strongly motivated child might be disastrous for the sensitive, shy child, and the rebellious child may very well need a different yeshiva than the other two. Just as all children are different, their emotional and educational needs are different as well.

5. Pray. A lot. When all is said and done, you just need G‑d's blessings. And sometimes, all a person's efforts and devotion don't seem to bear fruit. Abraham had a Ishmael and Isaac had an Esau… Nevertheless, Ishmael eventually came around. And while Esau did not return during his lifetime, eventually, after many year, there came from Esau converts who were among our greatest Rabbis and leaders. Our rabbis teach that these converts were the result of all the efforts that Isaac put into his son. So…

6. Never give up. Rabbi Sholom Dov Ber, the fifth rebbe of Chabad, stated that G‑d made a promise: No effort goes unrewarded. With G‑d's help, you will raise wonderful, committed, chassidishe children.