Not long after we enrolled my son in Jewish Day school, he sat at the dinner table and asked “Is this food kosher?”
At the time, we were at the very start of our journey to a more observant lifestyle. We did not think we would end up part of mainstream orthodox. In fact, our decision to enroll him in a Jewish school was based more on his urging (“I want to go to a school where I can be Jewish all day”) than our own need for him to spend part of his day learning Hebrew and Halacha.
So my answer was honest, if a bit simplistic (he was only 8 at the time): “Well, buddy, the box that the food came in was kosher. But the pan I cooked it in was not.”
I thought that would do the trick. I was forgetting that with him, a simple answer NEVER did the trick.
“Well, ” he said, chewing thoughtfully as he spoke, “I get to eat kosher food all day at school. So when am I going to get to eat kosher food at home, too?”
I was out of bullets. Anything more was going to need to wait for my wife. When she got home, I brought her up to speed. What followed was a family discussion about what it would mean (to our family) to keep kosher. What kinds of food we would no longer eat, and in which combinations. My wife and I didn’t know everything (looking back, we knew just a fraction) but it was enough to convey a clear sense of things.
And the most surprising thing happened.
For some reason, as parents, we carry around a belief that if kids know how complicating or difficult something will be, they will automatically shy away from it. This belief causes us to minimize or simplify difficult things that we want our kids to do, and over-explain things which we don’t want them to do.
But the reality is that, if a difficult task is presented truthfully and in an age-appropriate way, kids will often choose something which is difficult for reasons that have nothing to do with how hard it is. Maybe they want the end result. Maybe it’s simply how they want to be seen. Maybe the difficult thing embodies an aspect of who they want to be.
Or maybe kids intuitively sense that the things which are challenging are also the most meaningful.
Whatever the reason, my wife and I discovered that “being kosher” was – despite it’s difficulty – on the menu in my home. The kids were up for the challenge, which means WE had to be up for the challenge.
That isn’t where all this started, but it was one of the major steps along the way