Q: My daughter just came home from her first year of college and things really are different. I always expected things to just return to how they were before she left — it’s only been a year but her attitudes have changed. She is constantly lecturing me on the evils of Israel. She acts like she’s doing me a big favor by just showing up for Shabbat dinner. Should I say something? I know she is entitled to her own opinion, but she knows I am active in Hadassah and she views me as someone who is aiding and abetting the enemy.
A: In a society that values individualism, the college years are, perhaps, the most encouraging of individual choices at any time in our lives. A student’s choice is valorized, be it what courses they want to take or what extracurriculars they want to take part in. When they come home, what was once a family ordained weekly activity now feels like a straitjacket. After having lived a year on their own, the weight of any expectation by family members often feels very heavy. The person who left is not the person who has come home — or rather, the person you cling to, is not the person they are now.
You too have changed. You may have filled your life with new activities or you may be longing for the enrichment that having your daughter in your home provided. The fantasy that your daughter, like a puzzle piece, will fit perfectly where she once was is preventing you from realizing that your daughter is at least respecting your tradition.
She’s no longer a child, and you can’t force her to come to Shabbat dinners. She may not be coming with enthusiasm, but she’s making a conscious decision to show up. Expectations are disappointments preventing us from being grateful for what we have. Family is where we learn to be kind, respectful, and grateful, and it is where we often are our least kind, respectful, and grateful selves.
It might be helpful for you to look back at your own Jewish journey. Some of us may have celebrated Shabbat from birth, but, for most Jews in America, our practice has waxed and waned. How did you come to value shabbat dinners? Did you always? Was it something you came to value after you had kids? Were you always as engaged with Judaism?
Use this as a chance to open a dialogue with your daughter. It might work, or it might lay the foundation for a later conversation. Parenting is an art not a science as is building relationships, and you are building a new relationship with your child as she emerges into adulthood.
As for the topic of Israel, I can add nothing to the hundreds of opinions on every Jewish website, secular and non-secular. You might want to read several of them and talk about the variety of opinions. Google away and read, think and discuss and repeat. Your daughter’s passion on this issue likely comes from the values of Tikun Olam that you instilled in her. You should be proud of that. Perhaps she is also experiencing disappointment that the way she thought things were are more complicated than she expected. You could expose her to the realities of the activists trying to make a change. It is easy to criticize but much harder to work toward peace.
It is unlikely that trying to convince her of your point of view is going to change her mind. You might instead want to focus on exploring the multitude of projects, both in Israel and the diaspora, that are working to create a climate where peace might eventually thrive. We know that many Israelis are also very unhappy with what is going on. The protests in Israel speak quite clearly to widespread discontent. Individuals and organizations continue to do work or to create a climate that would be open to peace. Musicians, artists and physicians for example, try to work across political barriers to create an environment that might eventually lead to a solution. Perhaps some research into their activities might yield good ideas for activism.
Certainly Hadassah, in which you have been so active, has been steadfast in its commitment to working with people of all backgrounds, even in the most hostile times.
This is also a great moment for understanding how history shapes perspective. Sharing your own thoughts on events you remember, like the Yom Kippur War or the Intifada, might help her understand what has shaped your beliefs. Her experience is far different from yours. Find out why she thinks that she thinks. Modeling tolerance and receptiveness to new information might also show her how she can express herself but also be open to listening. The conflict in the Middle East is too nuanced to be approached with black-and-white thinking and deserves to be discussed with an open mind toward new perspectives. You must model this open attitude to her ideas and feelings. Make sure that each of you allows the other person time to speak freely before responding and do not jump in until the other finishes what they have to say. Ask that you both practice humility by understanding that you only know what you know and that no one idea is the complete right idea. The aim is to help both of you grow in understanding and interpreting the situation. Jews have been holding many contrary views for centuries; our Talmud has conflicting interpretations on every page.
As you are seeing, this is just one way that your daughter is beginning to individuate and grow into her role as a young adult. There will likely be many more differences in opinion and conflicts to come. If you can view this as very good practice for communication skills, it will seem less fraught now. Equally important is what you will learn from the younger generation. They are entering a world different from the one you entered as you emerged into adulthood. Hopefully you can learn from her dreams and idealism and she can learn from your experience. We all need both to improve.