Q. My daughter, 10, goes to a Jewish day school, but her best friend is a non-Jewish neighbor. Should I be concerned? What should I tell her?
A. There might be underlying reason for concern, though not specifically because her BFF isn’t an MOT (Member of the Tribe).
Jewish law is ambivalent about the subject of non-Jewish friends. The early rabbis blasted their Roman neighbors, but then frequently socialized with them in bathhouses. While many of our rituals, like Kashrut, lend toward an atmosphere of social segregation, such concepts as the “Shabbos Goy” and sale of Hametz, prove that we can’t live without ‘em.
Remember how offensive it was for Jews to hear the expression, “Some of my best friends are Jewish,” uttered by an anti-Semite, who would then go on to say something outrageous? In the case of your daughter, whose entire daily routine revolves around Jews, it is hardly outrageous to be palling around with a non Jewish neighbor. It might actually be refreshing for her to encounter a little diversity once in a while.
As a parent who has made good use of both day schools and public schools, I see the advantages of both. The former enables kids to grow in an organic Jewish atmosphere that nurtures a sense of common values and peoplehood. The latter promotes understanding of those who are different, so vital in an ever-shrinking world.
That said, if she absolutely refuses to socialize with her classmates, there might be some deeper issues at play here.
Some day school experiences can be so suffocating that kids begin to think negatively about both Jews and Judaism, especially in schools that heap accolades only on the elite students, where an Ivy-or-bust atmosphere becomes unbearably competitive. If you are finding that your child is already becoming increasingly disparaging of her Jewish identity at the age of ten, I’d look into other school options. For an older teen, a little cynicism is expected, but not for a ten year old. At that age, Jewish life should be a year-long carnival ride, a joy-filled leap from holiday to holiday, from Shabbat to Shabbat.
If a repressive environment exists, you might find that your child is learning to love her neighbor but to hate herself. Fortunately, we seem to have gotten over many of the “J.A.P” stereotypes that alienated Jewish youths from one another in the past. But even at ten, it’s not too early to ascertain the toxicity level of the Jewish relationships in your daughter’s school.
The issue, then, is not about “Jewish and Goyish,” but rather whether her school is “Jewish and Joyous.”
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