What do these men have in common?

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(Apart from their bewitchingly jaunty hairstyles, that is… :-) )

imageMarc Chagall and Felix Mendelssohn – ambivalent and/or hostile and/or self-hating and/or uncaring Jews who used Christian motifs to blend in with contemporary society and pave their way to popular recognition.

How do I teach my Jewish children about these men and their contribution to Western culture, while at the same time conveying the message that we can live the wonderful lives Hashem intends for us without compromising our spiritual values in the least?

With Mendelssohn, we have already begun.  The explanation Naomi Lewin gives in her Classics for Kids show about Mendelssohn (mp3 podcast here) is that his father converted the family to get ahead in business and get away from the prevailing antisemitic sentiment in Europe.  Fair enough.  She also mentions that his grandfather was the prominent Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, which is very helpful.

image I do think it’s important for the kids to know that it hasn’t always been as easy to be Jewish as it is today, and that we can’t necessarily condemn people of other generations for not being able to make the choices that we make for our own lives.  But I’d like to go further… just not sure how. 

Would it be easier if there were actual frum role models in the arts, sciences or music?  Actual, recognizable names of Jews who held fast to their convictions and contributed great things to society?  With all these Nobel winners, painters and composers, you’d think there’d be a few.

Any thoughts?


  1. I think you're doing a great job. It IS hard to be Jewish. It is hard to feel Jewish pride, and this has been harder or easier at different times and for different people. Do your kids know any assimilated Jews?

    When my son was about 4, he understood why our non-Jewish neighbors ate pork, but didn't understand why my brother did. Hard to explain. Easier in historical/artistic context than in the context of family though.

  2. In every religion there are the devout and the sideliners. It seems that the greatness of men's accomplishments doesn't always correlate directly to their level of religious commitment. All truth is from God, whether the vehicle is party to one's own religion or not.

    As you continue to seek Him, may God give you wisdom in how best to teach your children. :)

    amy in peru


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