Full Deck by Barbara Shulgasser-Parker

October 2, 2007


Filed under: we need solomon's wisdom here — bshulg @ 4:24 pm

On the advice of parents more experienced than myself, we had our son’s intelligence and personality tested so that when he enters kindergarten next August he will start school in the gifted kindgergarten class. I am told that if we were to let him start regular kindergarten and if the teacher were to observe that he seemed gifted, the school system would pay for the testing. However, if he were to be officially stamped gifted at that later time, he would not be admitted into the gifted program until first grade.  I was also assured by those same above mentioned men and women of experience that if he waited to begin the gifted program until first grade,  the opportunity for a happy and productive future for our son would already have passed. That window is evidently very small.

 So a few days before our appointment with the psychologist, I explained to our son that we were going to meet a nice woman who would talk to him about kindergarten. He told me unhesitatingly that he had no intention of going.  A man of his word, the morning of the test he restated his unflinching position. I managed to persuade him into the car for a grumpy ride. Fortunately, the lovely psychologist and her well-equipped toy room  helped alter his attitude  and he relaxed into a fun morning and good performance. 

 Now it is certified, and one of my worst nightmares has been realized: he is smarter than I am.

 But we already knew this. In fact, he told us so. The other day, my husband said something to him and he replied “I knew you were going to say that.” My husband asked how he knew and our son said,  pointing to his  noggin, “Super brain.”

We will only need to whip out the paperwork certifying his big brain if he attends public school. On the other hand, we also are facing another challenging issue. Both my husband and I grew up in  New York City and thus went to school with many fellow Jews. When the Christmas lights went up around town we knew enough other people just  like us to feel okay about being non-Christian.

Our son does not have another single Jewish child his age to play with on our block or anywhere in our neighborhood, as far as I can determine. He had been attending what we thought to be a fine pre-school until last December, when he came home one day and declared, “I want to be Christian.”

While all the neighborhood children were busy trimming their trees, he cried inconsolably at the news that tree-trimming would not be a featured entertainment at our house.

I immediately understood that it would be necessary to sell our son on Judiasm. So I began an arts-and-crafts project hitherto alien to me, the making and hanging of Chanukah decorations.

Based on personal experience, I can now report that if you want to start a religion,  all you need is colored paper, sparkles and glue. After several cut-out dreidls and Jewish stars, the boy was a convert.

By January he was a student at the local JCC preschool, also an excellent facility, but this one differing from the first school mostly in that its population is made up largely of Jewish children. Chanukah, Passover, Sukkot, Purim, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur quickly became  joyous focuses of his pride. My husband and I,  neither of whom have attended synagogue in many years,  sighed with relief.

Then our son went orthodox on us.

“We have to sleep in the sukkah,” my son informed me right before the start of Sukkot. Sukkot requires religious Jews to build huts in their backyards (or on their terraces?) commemorating the temporary dwellings that the fleeing Jews lived in during the forty post-Egypt years wandering the desert.

“Oh?” I said casually.

“Sleep and eat,” he informed me.

And thus phase two of Introductory Judaism has invaded our home.

When I grew up in New York I was surrounded by Jews. My parents had survived the Holocaust and most of their friends were Jewish. Many of our neighbors were Jewish, and many of the children at my school were Jewish. Every store in the area that displayed a Christmas tree also displayed a menorah. Some of them had only the menorah. There was no confusion, nor shame, about the fact that I was a Jew. We went to shul a few times a year. We had Rosh Hashanah dinners and Passover seders . But we were low-key Jews.  Cultural Jews. Jews who believed in the social and philosophical underpinnings of Judaism of the sort that led to Jewish leadership in the civil rights and feminism movements. We didn’t keep kosher, we drove the car and turned on the lights on the sabbath and holidays.  I never worshipped nor understood the need to worship god.  I felt he was as entitled to exist as I, but that he did not need to believe in me and that I did not need to believe in him.

So the question my husband and I now face is how to pass on this nonchalant variety of identified but not fanatical Judaism to our son.

Thus it was with alarm that we greeted news he recently had for us.

“Ha Shem made everything,” my son explained to me the other day, using the Hebrew word for god.

“Ha Shem?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. I was ready for a long discussion. I was prepared to debate the merits of his proclamation just as I’ve been prepared to explain how babies are born. But he always throws me off when it comes to the boiler plate  childhood  data base. He never asked how babies are born. He asked, “Was it hard to make me?”

When he put it that way, all the sage preparation flew out of my head. Which was better than the time he asked how babies get out of their mommies’ bellies. The question was easy but he asked it as we were about to board a flight for New York in a  crowded airport lounge within earshot of about forty adults, thirty-nine of whom I could hear snickering.

I hesitated, partly to consider the size of my audience and partly to be sure my reply would answer the exact question my son had posed and no other. While I was composing my reply, I heard a woman behind us say, “I can’t wait to hear this.”

I was as ready as one can be to  address the existence of god with my son.  But he was gone,  making engine noises and running out of the kitchen with several toy cars and trucks.  He had said all he wanted to about the almighty.

Nevertheless, I followed him, obsessed. “You know, not everyone agrees that there is such a thing as god,” I offered to a four-year-old. But he was on to the next matter, burying himself in pillows on the living room couch.

We thought a Jewish school might do what our shul-free, non-kosher home life could not – produce a small version of a proud, unashamed cultural Jew. That was the theory.  It seems that as a practical matter this may not be possible. It may be that he will either have to be Christian or a rabbi.



  1. No time to read it all, but such fun to connect with you and your writing and hear about Atticus in cyberspace.
    Fun ain’t it?
    Ben was 17 on September 8 and had a toga party.
    I’ll send a picture separately.
    sorry to hear about your mom. So many going through such struggles with aging parents. I’m going through it with my sister who no longer can even feed herself. Completely tragic. Really no quality of life.

    Come West to visit/to live!!!


    Comment by Barbara Katz — October 2, 2007 @ 7:35 pm

  2. My advice is to RUN! Run like crazy away from religious schools, religious nut-cases, religious anything. Bring him up only with a reverence for reason and evidence! Run while running is still possible, but RUN you must.

    Comment by Lynn — October 2, 2007 @ 11:41 pm

  3. I luv the way uze right. also da blog is good. But don’t listen to my mother (Lynn) she raised me with out religion and now I feel empty. My advice, Keep the boy imersed in jew studies. He’ll make great contacts.

    Comment by Brandon — October 7, 2007 @ 5:51 am

  4. Nothing in months. We miss you. More please.

    Comment by Alicia Ruvinsky — January 20, 2008 @ 10:49 pm

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