By Fiona Leckerman
Being Jewish is such an integral part of my make up that I may as well sweat schnitzel. I have never considered leaving my people for that of the Buddhist faith, or any others for that matter. And before my parents sit shiva for me, I’m almost certain I won’t denounce Judaism in the future.
But, in attempting to answer an intriguing question posed by my son on the way home from school one Friday afternoon, it forced me to evaluate my own beliefs. In between crunching his crisps, crumbs spilling down his sweater, he asked: “What happens if Hashem suddenly killed everyone all at the same time today?”
There was a dramatic pause. Besides wishing I had driven him in the morning when his questioning had taken on a more biological theme of the ‘where did I come from’ variety, suddenly all the answers that I had locked up, alphabetised and stored away in the filing cabinets of my mind, became exceptionally hard to access.
In that brief recess as I worked out how best to answer the question, I began to weigh up the magnitude of it and of its asking. Firstly my five-year-old son calls God ‘Hashem’. Of course he does. He attends a Jewish school.
Not only has he learned that Hashem is God’s name, but he is beginning to learn the concept of God, so much so that he now believes God has the power to kill everyone simultaneously. That’s some trio – God, death and murder all in the same sentence and all catapulted at me to somehow elucidate and make sense for him.
He is spot on to ask and he has been soliciting answers since he could speak – and will continue to do so. The next morning he mused whether the rain actually lived in the clouds. But it was the question of immediate Armageddon that puzzled me, not the answer, of course, but from where the concept derived. It emanates from what he is learning at school.
The Purim story sees the evil villain Haman planning to exterminate all the Jews, the Pesach story rivals the most gruesome of horror movies, with its 10 plagues and death of the first-born and then in the story of Noah, God sends a flood to wipe out civilisation. These are hefty themes for a five-year-old. And I’d thought that fairytales had a lot to answer for, what with poisoned apples and incarcerating a girl with long locks in a tall tower; Torah tales take no prisoners.
No wonder my son is capable of believing that Hashem could knock us all off in one foul swoop. Had I been bumbling along happily, buttoning his shirt and fastening his kippah and all the while not realising this is how he is being educated?
Like many other parents, maybe my relief that he had got into a nice Jewish school overshadowed the obvious; that if you send your offspring to a Jewish school they will be educated fully in all things religious. They will learn that if you are good, God will provide lovely things for you, but if you are bad, God will punish you, implanting within them a strong moral code that emphasises the consequences of good and bad behaviour.
However, this is not the only factor in picking a Jewish school for our children. We select the school for more than religious reasons. We want the school to embody a certain ethos. It has to be warm, nurturing and safe. We hedge our bets on Jewish schools to provide it all.
I absolutely want my children’s Jewish learning to be integrated with their regular education, so it becomes as intrinsic to them as maths and English. But, hearing my son speak so biblically about the power of God and feeling his complete acceptance of that has shaken me slightly – not only because it is the evidence of his Jewish learning, but also in attempting to answer his question, it forced me to examine my own relationship with God.
Did I believe that God could destroy us all? What I discovered was that sending him to a Jewish school is only one part of the mix. The other ingredients rest with us. It is our responsibility as his parents to continue to enrich the rest of his life in a Jewish way, even if it means answering apocalyptic-themed questions.
It can be less about whether you believe and adhere to all the rigours of religion and more about your belief in nurturing your own kind of Judaism.
As we arrived home that Friday afternoon, I finally confirmed whether God would be slaughtering the whole of mankind, reassuring him: “Of course not bubbela, Hashem doesn’t work on Shabbat.”