Raising the Children of Jewish Believers with a Jewish Identity
We attend a great church; our pastor cares about Jewish people and genuinely appreciates our desire to live as Jews. My two children are involved in the church’s youth ministry and both have accepted the Lord. The problem is, there aren’t many Jewish believers in our community and I am really worried that the children are growing up without enough of a Jewish identity.
My son is about to turn 13 and I don’t know what to do about having a Bar-Mitzvah. I thought of sending the kids to the local Jewish community center, but my husband and pastor seem to have reservations. I don’t know what else to do. Can you help?
Have you ever thought about moving? That might sound extreme and it is! But your family might be at a point where providing opportunities for your children around other Jewish believers is an extreme priority. There is nothing more powerful than a committed community of witness forged by like-minded Jewish believers in Jesus who are willing to speak for the Lord!
If the Lord gives you the liberty to pursue a move, write and we can let you know of cities where there are Messianic fellowships that need your involvement and can be of help to your family.
If you cannot consider a move at this time, there are still other options to help your children grow as believers and as Jews.
- Try attending a retreat for Jewish believers in Jesus. There are at least a half-dozen conferences that you can attend to meet with other Jews who believe in Yeshua. Most groups who sponsor these gatherings are working hard on their children’s programs. Your kids will meet other Jewish believers their age, and you will meet parents with whom you can brainstorm about Messianic child-rearing. For the event closest to you, check our Bulletin Board as well as the insert in this issue of the Mishpochah Message.
- Consider enrolling your children in a summer camp sponsored by one of the Jewish missions or federations of Messianic congregations. [Since this article was written in 1989, Jews for Jesus has developed our well-received Camp Gilgal program.] A growing number of Messianic congregations are now offering one-week vacation Bible schools. Even if you do not think you live close to a city with a congregation, check with us. New groups are constantly emerging and there might be one within shouting distance. If not, you might consider taking your vacation near a vacation Bible school. You and your spouse will have some rare time together during the day and there’ll still be plenty of time to spend with the kids in the evening.
- Order standard Jewish materials and children’s lessons through the mail. Some of the teaching materials and audio-visuals available today are superb and it doesn’t necessarily take a Messianic Jew to teach your child Jewish history! We can tell you where to write for catalogs. Also, a number of Messianic groups are developing curriculum for children that you will want to use. We have compiled a list of what is available and can send that to you upon request.
- Think about starting a regional Messianic fellowship meeting that gathers either every quarter or every other month. In communities where there aren’t many Jewish believers, it can be discouraging to hold a meeting for just a handful of people. If you hold the meetings as not-too-frequent special events and invite folks from farther distances, you can probably maintain a fairly good-sized group. Most Jewish believers are eager to spend time with one another and many will not mind driving a few hours every two or three months. If arrangements can be made for the children to have their own program…so much the better.
As for sending your child to a standard Jewish community center or synagogue program, that issue is about as sticky as halvah! It might be best if you did not send your child to the regular Jewish schools in your community. Doing so has worked well for a few but there are risks involved.
I am certain your children receive good instruction in your home and church, so there should not be undue alarm about their faith being harmed. The real problem is rejection. Your children might be ostracized for having a different belief than the others. It has happened. Recently a child was voted out of a Jewish school by the board of directors. This hurt the child more than the parents. You should understand the risks involved before you make your decision.
Now, about a Bar-Mitzvah: you might want to involve your pastor and home church. Do not be surprised if your pastor is enthusiastic about the idea. He might even be able to refer you to someone at a nearby Christian college to tutor your child in Hebrew, if neither you nor he can do it. Your pastor can be a terrific resource! As a matter of fact, he might be willing to have other Messianic services during the year which would not only encourage you, but enrich the church. Usually a pastor’s enthusiasm will be commensurate with your level of commitment to the regular programs of your local congregation. The way to get your church interested in Jewish culture is for you to show an interest in the church.
If you can go to an area where there is a Messianic congregation or mission, you might see if they would be willing to train your son and perform the Bar-Mitzvah. We once had a Bar-Mitzvah at one of our Ingatherings, and we even have a Messianic Bar-Mitzvah service that you can use!
I realize that you will not be able to use all of the suggestions, but I do hope one or more of the above will be helpful.
Note: Since this article was written in 1989, Jews for Jesus has developed a variety of children’s ministries including our well-received Camp Gilgal program. For further information, write to the Youth Ministries Coordinator, at email@example.com.