Passing on traditions to the next generation — am I doing a good enough job?

March 30, 2010

It’s Passover at my house, so on top of all the regular running around, I’ve spent the last day or so cooking. On this major Jewish holiday, we host family and friends for two big meals. I usually only have to cook for one, but the friend we always go to for the second one can’t do it this year, so I’m doing two big meals. Lots and lots of cooking.

My husband says it’s all on me to do it, because no one else really cares what we eat for dinner or whether I make the chicken soup with matzah balls from scratch, or if I serve my famous chocolate torte for dessert. He might be right, that I’m putting myself through all the holiday stress for my own reasons and not for my family or my guests. But I feel obliged to do it and do it right, because it’s tradition.

As a child, both sets of grandparents were around, and each hosted one Passover meal each year. We kids recited the four questions and my grandfather read from the Hagaddah, the book that tells the story of the Jews being freed from slavery. My grandmother always had matzah ball soup, gefilte fish, and all the trimmings. My mother did some of this cooking in later years as my grandmothers’ health failed, and by the time I was in my 20s, I was hosting my own holiday dinners, trying to carry on the tradition.

Of course, these aren’t just my traditions, they go back hundreds and hundreds of years. But they are also personal traditions that I want to pass on to my boys. My kids attend public school, and don’t get a lot of exposure to Judaism that doesn’t come from me. But soon they’ll have to start Hebrew school to prepare for their bar mitzvahs (Yes, I’m insisting on them.), and hopefully one day will carry on some of my traditions.

But it’s tough to get school-age kids, boys in particular, to pay attention to that kind of thing. And I worry they aren’t picking up on enough of my family’s traditions. The entire weight of that is on my shoulders, and my husband is right to say it’s me that’s pushing for all that. I think I’m pushing for all the right reasons though, but I’m concerned I’m not getting through.

Still, now that both boys can read, they did read parts of the Haggadah out loud themselves last night. I think that’s a good first step in passing on my traditions.