.חֲנֹ֣ךְ לַ֖נַּעַר עַל־פִּ֣י דַרְכּ֑וֹ גַּ֥ם כִּֽי־יַ֜זְקִ֗ין לֹֽא־יָס֥וּר מִמֶּֽנָּה”
Train a child according to his way; even when he grows old, he will not turn away from it.”
As a mom of three (perfect) children, this wisdom from Proverbs has always rattled around in my brain and in my heart – though I only recently really feel like I grasped its real meaning. And I have begun to see how this wisdom can (and should) be applied to our Jewish communal institutions in addition to our children.
As anyone who is a parent knows, no two children are alike – even identical twins and other multiples have their own personalities, attributes, and preferences. That feels a bit like stating the obvious. And yet, in practice, as a parent who had two daughters 26 months apart (and then a son another 38 months later), I can tell you that sometimes the tendencies as a parent are to set the same expectations for each child – even without intending to do so. For example, when my second child started to stand, I fully expected her to start walking within a few weeks because, a) that’s the natural developmental progression and average timeline and b) that’s what her big sister did. I was not actually comparing the two of them; I was simply working from muscle memory. My second daughter did start walking eventually but, of course, did so on her own timeline and in her own way.
And while my eldest daughter is following closely behind in my own footsteps of having little to zero interest in cooking, my middle one started to show an interest in preparing food from the time I can remember. I think it started because the kid has always had a huge appetite and she wanted to have control over what she was eating, when, and how much. She didn’t have the patience to wait for us to feed her. She also loves to work with her hands so measuring, mixing, kneading, chopping – those are all in her wheelhouse. And her cooking skills seem to go much farther than that; she can tell when you need to add a little garlic to something or what spice or seasoning would make the dish *just right* by tasting it. As someone who can follow a recipe – but for whom you better give extremely.explicit.instructions. – I am both bewildered and in awe of her seemingly innate talent.
She has confidently prepared several dishes in our home over the past few years, starting with the time when I came downstairs one morning to find her, at the age of maybe 7, frying a few eggs. We had a discussion then about stove safety. The recent experience to which I alluded was her, completely of her own volition, making dinner on the stove from start to finish. The best part of the whole experience – besides not having to cook dinner for the family – was witnessing the pride with which she burst when we all exclaimed to her how delicious her culinary feat tasted. She, like her dad, gets real joy not just from using her hands and other senses to prepare the food, but from witnessing each of us enjoying the fruits of her labors. My husband and I made a commitment that very night to nurturing this passion of hers and we are encouraging it at every opportunity.
And it occurred to me that our Jewish community locally could benefit from this same wisdom. What if we stood back and took a hard look at which agencies, institutions, initiatives, and individuals are doing the best work in their particular area of expertise and then just nurtured that? Rather than each one competing for limited resources, what if we simply distributed the resources in a more efficient way, in a way that supports each of our respective missions, passions, and added value? What could our community look like if, rather than look to the past to make funding and communal prioritization decisions about the future, we looked only to the current state of the community coupled with a vision of what we want it to look like in 1, 3, 5, 10, and 25 and 50 years from now and then put meaningful resources behind the things that are operating according to their way so that they grow and mature well into the future? If we do that, perhaps even when they grow old, they will not turn away from it.