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Government Makes Amendments; God Makes Commandments

Finally, the cutthroat, mid-term election is over, and us voters are as much survivors as the politicians themselves. In record numbers, we not only survived the glitches of the new, high-tech electronic voting machines, but we sustained all the hateful television commercials, political propaganda junk mail, and annoying phone messages that raided our homes like a war zone. Now I have to assess the collateral damage, which is my children’s shattered illusion that the American government actually looks out for us.

This particularly competitive campaign seemed to separate the community as much as the championship World Series united us. The playing fields are different, but both events are games that go down in history. In fact, I think Election Day should be declared a national holiday that warrants Hallmark cards and school and office closings because our constitutional right has become obnoxiously commercialized.

As a parent, I often was embarrassed at the relentless, in-your-face rhetoric that I had to somehow explain and even justify to my two impressionable children during the last few weeks. And Sari especially paid attention to everything. She counted all the “Yes” and “No” yard signs planted in nearby yards that were scattered with shriveled-up carved pumpkins. Whenever the phone rang at home, she assumed it was Claire McCaskall’s mother calling again to leave another message on our answering machine. The very first time she first heard about how stem cell research could cure diseases, she asked me if her daddy would be cloned. I told her, “God forbid!” She learned the amendments by name and continues to have strong convictions about the tobacco tax and other current events, such as the death-by-hanging sentence of Suddam Hussein. Don’t ask me how or why, at seven years old, Sari even cares so much about these issues. I just know that I use these complex and controversial times to teach Sari and her older brother Jack about Jewish values.

Oy, do I have my work cut out for me when my kids overhear family discussions about how the candidates are crooks and government is corrupt. I try to balance the dialogue when I remind Jack and Sari that the absolute worst crime of all is to not vote.

The Talmud tells us that “silence means consent.” That’s why Jews, of all people, are obligated to educate ourselves, voice our opinion, and to follow the notion of tikkun olam, which includes to heal the world through civic responsibility. Moreover, Jews are a tiny minority in the world, so we must be heard.

As parents, our job is to teach our children that their voice counts. If we give them an opportunity to better the world around them, our kids don’t have to wait until they are old enough to officially cast their ballot on a Tuesday in November. Children can’t stop a war, but they can help make peace one step at a time. Young people make a difference everyday when they improve things in their home, school, neighborhood, community, temple and beyond. At home, a child can set the kitchen table and rake leaves. In school, a student can vote for their favorite candidate in a mock election or participate in a reading program that helps the classroom earn a pizza party. In the neighborhood, a youngster can distribute flyers for the block party and throw away litter along the way. In the community, a scout can collect canned goods for a local food pantry and make holiday cookies for area firefighters. In temple, a youth group member can plant trees in the St. Louis region and deliver winter coats to a homeless shelter.

The government serves a purpose, and so does religion. In the words of German-Jewish philosopher Moshe Mendelssohn: “The state binds and compels, religion teaches and persuades; the State gives laws, religion gives commandments.”

“Mishegas of Motherhood” is the creation of Ellie S. Grossman, a St. Louis freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom who never stays home. Her stories are inspired by the real life of her family, including her two children, toy poodle named Luci, and her husband, but not necessarily in that order. Feel free to send any comments, prayers or recipes to ellie@mishegasofmotherhood.com.