L ast week, Yisroel Besser wrote about Mishpacha’s annual meetings in Yerushalayim, and about one particular session in which, instead of yet another discussion, there was a game that challenged each person to create an original slogan for the magazine. In his great modesty, Besser declined to share an offering of mine addressing today’s competitive frum media marketplace: “Mishpacha: Besser than the Rest, Week After Week.”
Biased though I may be, I can’t hold back mention of my preferred suggestion, “Mishpacha: From Rebbes to Recipes, It’s All Here.” Oops, there goes that million-dollar multimedia ad campaign.
Yisroel writes about this meeting that “things got serious after a while, and the true implications of the exercise became clear: If you want to be a good worker, you need to feel what it is you’re doing.” He went on to quote Rav Yosef Elefant about the analogous importance of parents giving their homes a pronounced identity, a central theme relating to some aspect of Yiddishkeit, whether Torah, tefillah, chesed, emunah or something else.
Rav Elefant encouraged his listeners to “raise [kids] in a way that allows them to say, ‘My parents? They never turn away a meshulach.’ Or, ‘Nothing is more important to them than my learning.’ ” Reading those words, it seemed clear that Rav Elefant chose them precisely, to convey that the idea isn’t to tout your family as exemplary in such-and-such. The point is to simply go about creating, without fanfare, a home in which your kids, if asked what makes it so special, will naturally identify some special ruchniyus character it possesses.
I would just add that the basic concept of parents imprinting their home with a recognizable character can be extended in other ways, too. One of those is for parents to create (upon consultation with their moreh derech) unique family minhagim of various sorts, little embellishments of things that are done in every religious Jewish home, but in this home are done with just a bit of unique flavor or ruach. Nusach Bernstein, if you will (but only if your family name is Bernstein).
It might be the adoption of some hanhagah tovah or hiddur mitzvah that already appears in seforim in general or in the sifrei minhagim of your specific ancestral persuasion of Yiddishkeit, or something you alone create to bring a mitzvah alive — a song, a dance, a sign, a distribution of treats. The possibilities, once you put your innovative mind to it, are many.
The subtle effect — elevating your kin from a collection of frum individuals into a family unit of ovdei Hashem — can be long-lasting, and priceless.
DON’T WRITE IT DOWN The other day, I came across an interview once given by the late, great E. B. White, author of such children’s classics as Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web, as well as The Elements of Style — a guide to good writing that another legendary writing maestro, William Zinsser, counseled every writer to read once a year — and the following caught my eye:
Some writers for children deliberately avoid using words they think a child doesn’t know. This emasculates the prose and, I suspect, bores the reader. Children are game for anything. I throw them hard words, and they backhand them over the net. They love words that give them a hard time, provided they are in a context that absorbs their attention.
Some time ago, I quoted book editor Steve Wasserman, who classifies readers into two groups. There are the readers who, “when encountering an unfamiliar word, instead of reaching for a dictionary, choose to regard it as a sign of the author’s contempt or pretension, a deliberate refusal to speak in a language ordinary people can understand.” And then there are those who, “encountering the same word, happily seize on it as a chance to learn something new, to broaden their horizons.”
Children, I think, are in a third category. It’s not that they’re so eager to expand their vocabularies; they don’t necessarily have the maturity to see the wisdom in that. But they take what comes their way, neither fretting over an unfamiliar word nor regarding it as some great learning opportunity. They simply try to make sense of it from the context, ask the nearest adult its meaning or, at worst, soldier on to the next sentence.
White himself seems to make that point when he tells the interviewer that
anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time…. They are the most attentive, curious, eager, observant, sensitive, quick, and generally congenial readers on earth. They accept, almost without question, anything you present them with, as long as it is presented honestly, fearlessly, and clearly. I handed them, against the advice of experts, a mouse-boy, and they accepted it without a quiver. In Charlotte’s Web, I gave them a literate spider, and they took that.
Now, that sounds like a writer’s dream readership. I wonder if Mishpacha Jr.’s got any staff openings.