Decision-making is constantly a part of my life, whether picking out an outfit to wear one morning or standing on the lunch line at school. It is often hard to decide between the piece of pizza or the vegetable soup, the cranberry sweater or the olive green zip-up.
Recently, I have met a 10-year-old girl who faces a much larger decision than any I must make in my near future. Her name is Ceri Goldberg. Her father is Jewish and her mother is Christian. When she is 18 years old her parents will allow her to make her decision: Judaism or Christianity.
Honestly, I would think she would be daunted by this task, but it does not appear to scare her at all. “It is not such a major decision,” she said. “One little decision. Because when it comes time to decide, I’ll probably already know.” She seems to view this as a casual matter, yet she does seem to understand its scope.
She said she will base her decision on which religion she believes in more. “I know a lot about each of them,” she explained. “It depends on which one I have my full heart in.” Her bravery scares me. The courage needed to make such a life changing decision is beyond my capability.
Ceri is my “little sister” at JYEP, a Hebrew school in my area. I teach her Hebrew every Sunday morning and we also discuss Jewish-themed topics. Fortunately, over the past year we have also had the opportunity to get to know each other. I also teach GED (or now: TASC) subject matter to students who had a hard time in high school and dropped out.
When I started tutoring at JYEP I thought it would be easy and straightforward. All that was required was getting up on Sunday morning and teaching cute, little girls some words, stories and prayers. Well, my assumptions were wrong in two respects. Getting up at some ungodly hour on Sunday morning is definitely not something easy.
The beeping of my alarm clock is usually unsuccessful at fully waking me until I’ve hit the snooze button. More importantly, acting as a Jewish role model for a young Jewish girl brings with it a certain amount of pressure and responsibility that was unknown to me before I took upon myself this difficult, but rewarding, challenge.
One Sunday Ceri and I were about to begin our weekly prayer review when she looked up at me with a pensive face. “How was G-d created?” she asked, “and if He was created, then how was the person who created Him created? Also, what happens if you go to Heaven? Do you stay there forever?”
I paused, dumbfounded at the sophistication and depth of these questions. I did not know how to phrase my words to respond with an appropriate answer for a 10 year old. Even more so, I knew I had to answer her well. I could see how passionate she was about really understanding this matter.
After consulting several knowledgeable individuals on how to handle this topic, I was prepared to answer Ceri in a way that I hoped would give her an enhanced understanding. I gave her the facts, explaining to her the vast extent of God’s power and nature.
I also encouraged her to continue asking questions of this sort for they are vital to her religious growth and study. I emphasized that questions like these are as important to be asked by 10-year-old girls learning the basics of religion as 90-year-old religious scholars.
As a result of this incident I felt somewhat satisfied because I was able to assuage her concerns. On the other hand, I also came away with an uneasy feeling about my own religious questioning, or lack thereof. I have in a sense already chosen Judaism by virtue of being born into an Orthodox home and growing up as an observer of the religion.
Her future religiosity is based on how she decides to pursue her beliefs. For me, it is a straightforward process of standing firm with the Orthodox beliefs that are already a part of me. For her, it is a fervent passion to question religion, a passion that will help her choose how she wishes to continue with her life.
For me, it is necessary to set goals for myself in order to achieve a level of passion equal to Ceri’s. When faced with Ceri, I am given the opportunity to reevaluate my feelings on the same topics she is questioning. She has opened up my eyes to a whole new perspective.
For the time being, Ceri enjoys celebrating both religions. “It’s really fun because I get to have extra holidays,” she said. “The more celebrations, the merrier — more presents, more fun.” Although this childlike attitude is comprehensible, I cannot help but feel the significance of her Hebrew school experience in the decision of her ultimate faith.
What she learns and feels during her youth will mold the way she feels about Judaism. As her private tutor for 50 minutes per week, I believe that I have a large responsibility in instilling in her a love for Judaism.
However, Ceri does not view this decision as a pressing concern that needs to be immediately addressed. Therefore, I will follow her lead. I will not preach to her in an effort to infuse in her what I think is right. I will help her enjoy good times during which she can also experience Judaism.
She has a lot of fun at the Shabbatonim and other Jewish events and, at the same time, she has the opportunity to take a part in things that are not usually available to her. I hope that throughout the year, as Ceri and I explore different aspects of Judaism together, she is able to come away with a positive spiritual feeling. Maybe it will even lay the foundation for her future religious life.
Wherever her path may lead her, I am honored to be a part of it. n