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