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More, Less, Different, Better? Balancing Judaism for kids

How do you balance your Judaism?  Not just for yourself, but for your kids?

How do you justify for your kids what you do, and what you don’t do, without making everyone else look like fools, maniacs or fanatics, and without making yourself look either perfect or lazy?

Amy over at Homeshuling (great blog!) posted her thoughts today on going to visit Orthodox friends (her word, not mine – I never call anyone, least of all myself, Orthodox).  Thought-provoking indeed.  Here’s my response, which is a little long, but hey, it’s not my fault I’m a fast typist.

My experience as a baalas teshuvah is that you NEVER get to the point where you are doing everything.  It's an illusion:  even if you're "completely" frum, there are always people with more chumras (stringencies) and minhagim (customs) and before you know it, you're picking and choosing all over again, because you CAN'T do it all.

We keep Shabbos, but use part of that time read novels and play cards.  My son spent Shabbos last week in the home of a friend who doesn't do those things - they spent a lot of time eating, learning Talmud, singing. 

We keep kosher, but when he goes to school, he has to bring cholov Yisrael dairy products with him because ours aren't kosher "enough."  (it was when he tried to call them "trayfe" that I got mad... not mad enough to slap him, but almost)

So how do I explain to my kids that we don't do as much as some people within this community?  That they're not holier than us, and that, in turn, we're no holier than the people who go to the three or four Reform and Conservative shuls near our home.

It's tough, that balance:  teaching respect for other Jews who even in my opinion don't always deserve it for their actions. 

On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, when they drive up and park in front of our house and open the door and you can hear the stereo, and see them on their cellphones, and watch them wibbling their Blackberries as they teeter off to shul on their high heels in miniskirts... well, it's hard to tell the kids not to make fun of them.  Not to use quote-fingers when talking about their "shul."  Because they're kind of a parody of themselves.

Ditto when my son's Rosh Yeshiva suggests that he should minimize the time he spends with non-Jews - knowing that 95% of his family, including on the "Jewish" side (my side), including six out of eight of his grandparents, are not Jewish.  These people love him, they are his identity... that, too, in my opinion, is a parody of Orthodox Judaism and it's hard to respect someone who would tell a kid, in essence, to hate himself or distance himself from his own identity.

This rant probably belongs on my own blog, and I may crosspost it there.  Just so you know - this is a tightrope I suspect most of us spend a LOT of time on, not just while raising our kids.  Thanks for sharing part of the wisdom you use with your kids in this situation.

How do you explain to your kids (or, if you don’t have kids, how do you explain to yourself, or how would you explain to others) what other people do Jewishly – without making the “other” seem utterly dumb or just plain wrong?

Postscript:  And, perhaps to address more closely Amy’s question (see comments), how do you explain why you “pick” certain halachos (or minhagim, or chumros) over others?  (Or why they picked you?)