Embracing – and being embraced by – community
A family’s commitment to Jewish values
By Jordana Jaffee
Reprinted from the 12/26/08 issue of The Jewish Voice & Herald
ABOUT A YEAR ago, I heard my two-year-old daughter spontaneously recite the blessing over the Shabbat candles in Hebrew. More impressive was that she did it, as if on cue, in front of her Saba, who was visiting from New York.
Upon witnessing the passing of this sacred tradition to his youngest grandchild, my father threw me a contented glance. It was the satisfied look of someone who was watching the flowers bloom, from a seed he planted years ago.
I would like to have been able to take credit for this beautiful moment. The truth is, she learned it from listening to a video that I often put on to distract her when I needed a quiet moment.
My father’s family fled Germany shortly before the war. He grew up in Israel. He fought in the War of Independence. He did not need to cultivate a sense of connection to his Jewish identity or be taught to value it – he lived it.
I grew up in New York City, a Jewish wonderland, where it was easy to take certain things for granted. There were plenty of communities to choose from, holiday activities, charities and philanthropies. It was easy to be a little complacent. After all, there were so many others to pick up my slack.
About five years ago, my husband, Dan, and I moved to Providence, on the brink of starting our family. At that time, I had some idea of what I wanted in a community, though I had not fully considered the role I might play in shaping it. There is certain clarity in coming to a new place with the intent to plant roots. This is the sowing time for us, that one day we may enjoy the same satisfying glance at our own grandchild.
A Jewish education does not happen in any one place. It is acquired at school, at home, in the playground, at synagogue, and elsewhere. It is experienced with friends, family, and sometimes, strangers.
I want my daughters to understand that being Jewish is not just about reciting a blessing on the holidays. It is about striving to live righteously. It is about accepting our responsibility for the world around us, starting in our own community. It is about caring for those in need. And, it is about proudly rejoicing in the heritage of our ancestry.
This past year, Dan and I took on the role of co-chairs of the Network, the young leadership division of the Jewish Federation of Rhode Island (JFRI). Young families are essential to bringing fresh energy and breathing life into the soul of the community. The Network strives to create programming for young families, nurture leadership, and encourage the next generation of philanthropists. The Network is our way of sharing our enthusiasm for this community and for the work done by JFRI.
When we moved here five years ago, we did not know many people. The Providence community embraced us with warmth and welcome. I answer now, a few years later, with a resounding “Hineni.”
Jordana Jaffee is the co-chair of the Young Leadership Network of the Jewish Federation of Rhode Island (The Network).