Thursday, 7 April 2011

Stop now?

“Eighth child?” You say to me. “Did I hear that right? You’re on to your eighth child. How do you manage? Are you absolutely mad?

Can you really share that amount of love? Don’t your children get neglected?”

These are the standard questions that people pose to me all the time.

It reminds me of the following story that happened after my seventh child was born; I met a Jewish lady outside my house, somebody I didn’t really know, not from my community.

“Mazal Tov” she said to me. “Nice to hear the good news, so, how many do you have presently?” I told her how many. “Are you going to stop now?” she asked. I quipped: “We’re not going to stop till we have a full size football team with substitutes.”

There is a legendary family in Gateshead who has eighteen children in the family. The story is told that their father once got on a bus with nine of them and they were making a bit of a noise. “Couldn’t you have left half of them at home?” Asked the bus driver.

“I already did!” he responded.

But seriously, what drives people like us to build big Jewish families?

A number of years back I visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Centre. If you haven’t been, you must go-it’s a place that you need to spend a long time in contemplation. The next time you visit Jerusalem, take a day out and absorb the exhibits, the photos, and the memorials.

Whilst there in 1991, I went to see the children’s memorial dedicated to the children who died in the Holocaust. I better warn you-it is extremely powerful. One and a half million children perished in the Holocaust. That is a mind boggling number. We can’t even think that amount of people. You enter a cave and there is a single candle reflected by mirrors giving the appearance of hundreds of candles. A voice plays over giving the names of children. The voice is never ending, it keeps on going, and you appreciate the magnitude of the loss.

On that particular visit there was a special photo exhibition about the Warsaw Ghetto. This was a harrowing exhibition; it portrayed graphic images of life in Warsaw, before, during and after the liquidation of the ghetto. You see in vivid detail people lying dead on the streets as others walk past carrying on their business as if nothing had happened. A lady next to me breaks down in tears. She said to me: “My best antidote to Hitler is that I have ten children!”

To a certain degree I agree with her. On the one hand Hitler is dead, but the Jewish people live on. In our long history we have experienced numerous societies who-in the words of the Haggadah “stood up against us to destroy us.” But hey, we are here; Am Yisrael Chai- The people of Israel live on. The antidote to a Hitler is to ensure our survival and continuity.

On the other hand, should my identity as a Jew be affirmed by the negative impact of the holocaust? If I say that we have to be Jews and assert that because of Hitler, what am I teaching my children? That through living the life of the Jew you look forward to death and persecution? Is that what being a Jew means? Is that what this lady meant in her tearful assertion?

I don’t think she meant that at all. Simply put, we need to replace the Neshamot (souls) of those people who perished. Jewish people are a vanishing entity. The average Jewish family is not replacing itself. We are minus minus the average birth rate. It makes sense therefore that Jewish people have children. We need not have to apologise for that.

As to the question as to whether one can give love to many children. Let my children be the judge of that. Ask them.

Am Yisrael Chai!!

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