When kids ask about Judaism, just be Honest

Ever wondered how to discuss heavy topics like death and God without scaring your children?

“Honest Answers to Your Child’s Jewish Questions” has just the solution.

The advice book by Sharon G. Forman uses anecdotal explanations and talmudic references to answer children’s questions about Judaism.

Forman, a graduate of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, is a Reform rabbi from New York who wrote “Honest Answers” to explain Jewish identity, culture and religion to children.

The book, published by the Union for Reform Judaism, specifically teaches children about Reform Jewish culture.

“Honest Answers” is divided into seven short sections: Jewish Identity and Learning; God; The Jewish Life Cycle; The Bible; Israel; and Anti-Semitism. Of the seven, three could be controversial: God, Israel and Anti-Semitism. Fortunately, Forman does not allow that to happen.

She accomplishes this by telling parents to assess their own views before talking to their children, so they don’t indoctrinate the children, but rather bring external views into their explanations.

“Clarifying your own God concept is an important step in being able to answer your child’s questions,” Forman says.

In discussing Israel, the author addresses and debunks common stereotypes. She also uses an effective analogy to describe the situation:

“Imagine that your home was designed so that your bedroom was the most convenient passageway between the kitchen and the rest of your house,” she writes. “Everyone in your home would always be trying to go through your room in order to get a snack or to go to the front door. The people in your home would want to pass freely through your room. They might even want to take your room as their own to move around more easily whenever they felt like it without having to ask your permission.”

By equating Israel to a common room, Forman gives one way of helping kids understand the relevance of location to conflict.

In discussing anti-Semitism, she offers sound anecdotes and advice to children who encounter hate in schools, encouraging them to combat it without provoking others. She also encourages parents to expose their children to “disturbing information” to help them grow in an “emotionally and healthy manner.”

Unfortunately, other sections of “Honest Answers” lack these creative, insightful explanations and analogies. At times it seems that Forman is not only repeating her questions, she is repeating her answers.

Because her questions are so open-ended (for example, “Is there a Jewish way to behave?”), the answers often are not definitive and are too broad for the reader’s taste. Her answers would benefit from fewer sugar-coated explanations, and from incorporating modern issues such as intermarriage and religious tension within the Jewish community.

By and large, though, Forman’s age-appropriate responses can at least help establish a dialogue between children and parents about what it means to be Jewish today, and give children a reason to keep attending religious school.

“Honest Answers to your Child’s Jewish Questions” by Sharon G. Forman (125 pages, URJ Press, $16.95)