Will your children stay Jewish Panelists offer advice to parents

Parents, keep the faith.

You may have more influence than you realize in determining whether your children maintain their Jewish identity as adults.

Panelists at last month's "Will Our Children Remain Jewish?" offered a number of suggestions. About 20 adults attended the event at the Albert L. Schultz Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto.

The panelists outlined five factors for parents to consider: family concern, environment, family history, affiliation and observance, and shaping emotions.

"Parents must integrate Judaism into all facets of life in the home," panelist Karen Schilling-Gould said regarding the first factor, family concern. "In our homes, we should show a passion for our religion."

Filling a home with Jewish books and pictures is a start, said Schilling-Gould, a Palo Alto family counselor. She also stressed that "celebrating Shabbat, regardless of children's other activities, shows them how important it is to you."

Rabbi Janet Marder, a panelist and the spiritual leader at Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills, said parents "should look within their home and plan together goals for providing Judaism there. We must be personal and convey our message from the heart."

She urged parents to share what they love with their children and to hug and kiss their children after lighting Shabbat candles.

"This action is an indication of what we love and what is precious to us in living a Jewish life," Marder said.

Marder also discussed factor two, the environment.

While today's secular society may be stimulating, the rabbi said, "we must present an environment equally rich and fulfilling…Children need clear, consistent messages regarding Jewish ethics, including integrity, giving of tzedakah and helping in the community."

Schilling-Gould suggested cultivating Jewish friends and creating community by joining a chavurah, an informal group that celebrates Shabbat together.

Children should be reminded of their family history, panelists said. Their suggestions included arranging and displaying family photos, including lifecycle events such as bar and bat mitzvahs, or putting together a family history with pictures and stories of previous generations.

"Many of our children don't know about their grandparents and their accomplishments," Marder said.

As for affiliation and observance, the rabbi said, "It is hard to be observant by yourself. We need to be with others to be truly observant, including sharing food, literature and films."

That includes joining a synagogue.

Following or creating rituals is also vital, added Schilling-Gould.

"We need to understand ritual," she said. "I've found certain rituals that my husband and I did before our children were born seem to stick and have become part of our children's lives also."

Panelist Ron Schilling, an ALSJCC and Beth Am board member and the father of Schilling-Gould, called shaping children's feelings "a tough factor."

Marder suggested parents might get help from their elders.

"Grandparents' loving acceptance can be a big factor in shaping our feelings," she said. "Memories can be an important influence on children."