Learning Through the Generations
Editor's Notebook

Learning Through the Generations

Rosh Hashanah was a reminder that you never stop learning from your parents.

Michael Jacobs

Atlanta Jewish Times Editor Michael Jacobs is on his second stint leading the AJT's editorial operations. He previously served as managing editor from 2005 to 2008.

Rosh Hashanah is a time for celebrating, for spending time with family, for eating fantastic meals, for praying and for reflecting. It’s also the best opportunity our rabbis have for teaching us. The crowds are just about as large as they will be for Yom Kippur, and, without the distractions of hunger and the imminent closure of the ledger on who will and won’t die in the coming year, those audiences are even more attentive.

Given that each of us can be in only one shul at a time, one reason for the community messages in our Rosh Hashanah issue is to provide a sampling of the wisdom available across Jewish Atlanta. Sometimes particularly strong High Holiday sermons emerge, and we might be able to bring you examples in the coming weeks. For example, I’ve heard praise for what Rabbi David Spinrad said about Israel at The Temple and how Rabbi Ari Kaiman at Congregation Shearith Israel addressed the unsettling feeling for a community when someone, such as 25-year-old Jenna Van Gelderen, is missing.

At my home synagogue, Temple Kol Emeth, Rabbi Steven Lebow offered a perennial topic on Day 1: the need for Jewish parents to show their children that Judaism is important. He started with the example of Esau, who was willing to sell his birthright to Jacob for a meal because his parents, Isaac and Rebecca, failed to instill in him the importance of the still-new faith of Abraham.

Contemporary failures included a mother who let a daughter skip religious school to participate in competitive cheering, then told Rabbi Lebow that the resulting challenge in preparing her daughter to become a bat mitzvah was his problem, and a father who sent a son to a Jewish summer camp for the first, time then got upset when his son was so inspired by the experience that he wanted to go to Shabbat services every Friday night.

The bottom line: Parents can’t expect Judaism to matter to their children if it doesn’t matter to them.

Rabbi Lebow said it felt good to do a bit of chiding of his congregation after 31 years.

Luckily, my parents didn’t need any chastising, although they were there to hear the message. They showed the importance of Judaism to me and their grandsons by making the trip down from Virginia for the holiday.

Their visit, however, provided a reminder that you never stop learning from your parents.

Mom and I went down the street to Congregation Etz Chaim for Shabbat Shuvah and had a warm welcome from Rabbi Daniel Dorsch. During the Kiddush luncheon, Mom somehow shared a new piece of family history.

I knew that her parents, the children of early 20th century immigrants from the Kiev area, met at a meeting of young Communists in Brooklyn. I don’t know what motivated my grandfather to attend; he went on to found and run an industrial business in North Carolina. My grandmother made no secret of her interest: Such meetings were where you found cute Jewish boys.

What I didn’t know is that my bubbe’s mother didn’t believe that my grandfather was Jewish. He looked Italian, and his fluent Yiddish didn’t prove anything at a time when Italian and Jewish immigrants lived in mixed neighborhoods.

So Ida Milgram, who spoke no English, made her way via public transit across the river to New Jersey to call on the parents of her daughter’s suitor, only to find not only that they were Jewish, but also that they came from the same area of the Russian Empire. The two families almost had a marriage a couple of generations earlier.

Fortunately for me, the Old Country match didn’t happen, but the New World one did. And following Mom’s Shabbat example helped fill an unknown gap in my family story.

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