As all good ideas go, it starts with a problem searching for a solution.
Problem: Jamie hates religion. He hates the idea of it, he hates the rules of it, and he hates the phoniness of religious leaders he knows. He hates the money in it. He hates the theology of it. He hates the showiness of a religious service.
And, Jamie doesn’t believe in God.
Even when he was a kid and his Mom would ask him in times of trial, “Jamie, do you want to pray about it?” He would look at her like she was loony tunes and say, “For what?” And then the two of them would talk through the situation, Jamie asking his mom for advice, weighing his options, and making decisions how to move forward.
He was a child who never quite got a theoretical concept. At school his teachers knew, he needed hands on learning. At home his parents knew, “show” was better than “tell” and “let him fail” was a much more effective way for him to learn.
Jamie has a wild streak. He’s impulsive, he is fearless. He gets excited to take on a challenge that most people would never dream of accepting. Sometimes it works to his advantage, other times he finds himself on the short end of the stick. He was twelve when he had his first encounter with the law. He and a buddy discovered how easy it was to shoplift fancy fountain pens from the stationary store on the corner and resell them at school. When he got caught his Mom was shocked and disappointed. “How could you?!!” She said to her son. Where is his moral compass? She thought to herself.
Jamie is a Jewish boy. The Larkins’ celebrate every Jewish holiday and Candy Larkin, (Jamie’s mom) is a deeply spiritual person. But the family didn’t have any formal religious affiliation, they didn’t belong to a synagogue, there was no spiritual community to turn to. Candy decided “Now is the time!”
So, she marched Jamie over to the local synagogue to enroll him in after school religious studies. It’s called Hebrew School. The general focus of Hebrew School, then and now, is to teach Jewish kids about Jewish holidays, to prepare them for their Bar or Bat Mitzvah and to teach them Jewish values.
Candy wanted in for Jamie around the Jewish values part. There was an immediate need. But it was a package deal and Jamie was late to the party. Most kids start a religious education at age eight and here comes a twelve year old just one year away from becoming a Bar Mitzvah. Jamie was given a teacher and thus began his unfortunate religious experience that he will tell you; “scarred him for life”.
On the other hand, Candy hit it off with the Rabbi who suggested she check out the Saturday morning worship services. And she will tell you it was life-changing for her in the best way possible. God acts in funny ways like that.
Fast forward and Jamie is now a young adult. His trouble with the law escalates and he finds himself in a boot camp for first time offenders of white collar crime. The upside to this is Jamie learns his lesson. He stops taking illegal shortcuts for profit and realizes the priceless value of freedom. As a side note, while doing his time, he finds himself incarcerated with a Rabbi who got himself in trouble acting on a stock tip with insider trading. The Rabbi is thrilled to find a Jewish soul to save and a friendship develops, but no religious breakthrough occurs. God knows, the Rabbi tried.
Years later Jamie discovers his spiritual side. His soul is ignited by a deep thinking comedian and popular podcaster; Joe Rogan.
Joe has all sorts of guests on his show who talk about God, religion, and the meaning of life. Jamie soaks it up like a sponge and comes to form his own theology that works for him. He’ll tell you he’s Jewish without all the crap that comes with it.
Jamie’s kids come of age and it’s time to make some decisions about a religious education. Jamie is a firm “No!” His wife has other ideas. She has positive feelings about the synagogue she attended as a girl and fond memories of her own Bat Mitzvah. She’s insistent that the kids become Bar and Bat Mitzvah, but willing to consider options about their formal religious education.
It’s a new era. The parents of school age children are not all buying into their parent’s churches and synagogues. These parents get creative about how to keep the old traditions in a new way.
A trend develops in Jewish communities. Hire a private tutor to prepare the children for their Mitzvah. Jamie concedes…with the condition that he picks the tutor and he wants the tutor to be his mom.
She first offers to pay the synagogue dues for his family to join the congregation she now belongs to. “Take the traditional route” she suggests, “it’s changed since the time I forced you to go.” Jamie looks into it with an open mind and says “No.” He wants his mom to teach the children.
How would she do it? Historically, the ritual associated with the Bar or Bat Mitzvah is to be “called up” to the Torah to witness or recite the reading of God’s Word from a Torah scroll. Simple enough. But what could she teach the children that would be meaningful to them? “Teach the children.” A light bulb went off. Deuteronomy 6:4-9
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Teach them to your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
She would teach them to wholeheartedly love God. And so, Candy wrote a lesson plan that centered around love and God. The classroom was a nursing home where they volunteered, it was a Jewish bookstore where they explored sacred text and ritual objects, it was the Holocaust museum. They watched movies about Israel and Jewish history, they visited a historic synagogue. They found places and moments to love God. Candy taught her grandchildren how to lead the prayer service. They studied their Torah portion and each selected a piece to recite that was meaningful to them. They were prepared to embrace their spiritual maturity and ready to become Bar and Bat Mitzvah.
The special day arrives. Family gathers in the chapel of Bubbe’s synagogue. Jamie’s son Andrew chants the opening prayer. Daughter Tess calls the page and the chapel fills with voices accompanying her as she sings the prayer that follows. The Torah service begins with four generations of Larkins standing in front of the ark passing the sacred scroll one to another. Andrew and Tess read Torah flawlessly first in Hebrew and then in English. There stands two newly inducted members of the covenant. Still kids, yet ones with a new spiritual perspective.
Soon after the big event the family moves to a new house. Andrew calls his Bubbe to take him to the Jewish bookstore. They need mezuzah for the doorposts of the new house. He knows what is inside of a mezuzah. He understands the symbolism of the tiny scroll containing the words of Deuteronomy 6:4-9 scroll. Tess enters high school and enrolls in a hebrew class. They talk about wanting to go to Israel. They are happily living Jewishly.
In the Larkin family the tradition continues: L’dor V’dor from generation to generation. Teach your children…commanded by God…to love God…mightily…with a whole heart.