This is going to be a very difficult book to review. I'd rather just quote the entire thing to you--it is simply THAT good. Ostensibly a book on child-rearing, Ms. Jungreis-Wolff uses the occasion to teach all of us some solid Torah wisdom that we would be wise to incorporate into our own lives. Let's start somewhere:
from Raising a Child with Soul
[Speaking to parents who are concerned about taking their daughters to the funeral of their grandfather]
"I appreciate your concerns," I told them, "but life is not Disneyland. Besides the proper honor that is required to be given to their grandfather, your girls must experience life. We cannot protect our children forever. This is a perfect time to teach your children about the body and soul. Spend time putting together a beautiful memory journal about Grandpa. Permit your daughters to observe that sometimes parents cry and experience sadness for those we love. It's okay. Reassure them that we also find comfort with time and don't cry forever. We feel happy again. Memories remain in a special place, deep within our hearts, forever."
A simple enough beginning--although this isn't anywhere near the beginning of the book, but it is followed close on by this passage:
A disciple approached his rabbi, the renowned Baal Shem Tov. "Each time I feel that I am approaching G-d, I find myself farther away than ever."
The Baal Shem Tov replied, "When a father wishes to teach his infant how to walk, he waits until his child is able to stand on two feet and then places himself nearby. He stretches out his arms within a few inches. Even though the child is afraid, his father's presence encourages his child to take a step. After the first unsteady footstep, the father retreats a bit, his arms still beckoning his child. Seeing his father still within his grasp the child moves one foot forward. With each retreat comes one more step.
"'What's happening?" the child wonders. "Every time I try to reach my father he retreats. I move closer but he is farther away.'
"Your situation is quite similar," concluded the Baal Shem Tov. "G-d wants you to travel a distance and grow as you seek Him. Learn how to search for G-d and you fill find that G-d is there, right in front of you."
Ms. Jungreis-Wolff then continues to teach us what this has to say about child rearing, but we would do well to pause and internalize this lesson for ourselves before we try to apply it to our children. And that is the small miracle of Ms. Jungreis-Wolff's book. She teaches us that we must first live what we want our children to learn, and then, learn it they will--by example rather than by words that are often contradictory.
Let me share another moment, earlier in the book:
[referring to getting calls from parents trying to help their children deal with the fallout of 9/11]
I introduced the parents to a most poignant prayer, one that is also part of the bedtime Shema. It is the prayer of the angels. We tell our children that we call upon G-d and his ministering angels to protect them during the darkness of night.
"Beshem hashem . . . . in the name of G-d, may the angel Michael be on my right, may the angel Gabriel be on my left, may the angel Uriel be before me, and may the angel Rafael be behind me and above me is the presence of G-d." These words convey to our children that the angels above along with G-d love them as much as their parents and protect them at all times. Our children never feel alone.
And what better lesson can be found to teach a child.
While Slovie Jungreis-Wolff provides us with sound advice about how to raise our children, she also feeds our souls and encourages us to become better people ourselves--in that way our children receive the maximum benefit.
The book is filled with fascinating insights into Judaism and has a tremendous amount to say to those of us who have also inherited the great traditions of the Jews. That is not to say that we are one in the same, but that we have much to learn from the wisdom and insight that great Jewish thinkers, scholars, teachers, and simple people have preserved from the treasury G-d has given them.
Ms. Jungreis-Wolff is an Orthodox Jew and as such they hold the name of Our Father and Heaven as Holy and not something to commit to a medium as transitory as paper or pixels on a screen. Because I hope that she will be encouraged to do more books like this when she sees this review, I choose within it to honor and respect her great tradition.
I can only hope that G-d continues to raise up such great, wise, gentle, and caring teachers. I can only hope that G-d cultivates the garden of our barren hearts to receive the seed of wisdom and allow it to grow. Only in this way can we preserve a good life for our children--a life that will be a joy despite the hardships and difficulties a life in which we remember always:
Honor and respect are the basic foundations of our homes. Our sages give us guidelines as to what constitutes honor and respect. As parents, we are responsible for setting certain standards of behavior in our homes. Some behaviors are acceptable, and some are never up for discussion.
In Judaism, we call this derech eretz, literally, "the way of the land." It means that there is a spiritual standard of living. It is the proper way to act in life. We establish a fundamental quality of life by which we exist. This spiritual standard of living guides us in our day-to-day relationships in life.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if more people would observe a derech eretz both within their homes and outside of them? Wouldn't we be approaching that kingdom of G-d we claim to want in the world? Wouldn't it be great if our actions in addition to our words inspired our children with love of family, love of neighbor, and love of G-d?
Ms. Jungreis-Wolff does not need me to tell her this, but you do: this book is a great mitzvah a blessing-act for everyone who encounters it. Just in reading it, our hearts are raised to love Our Father G-d. In living it, our lives are made a mitzvah for our children and for countless others we encounter every day.
You must have this book--you really must. You must read it and allow its deep and compassionate wisdom to transform your life. In living these truths, we become not only better people, but better Christians--we reconnect to the roots that give life to the whole tree. G-d grants His wisdom where He may, and we are free to receive from the many fountains He raises. Do not pass this one by--it is too wonderful for a review to make clear. It has the power and potential of a great devotional--a wellspring of love for G-d shared with the whole world, starting with our own families.
Ms. Jungreis-Wolff, if you should happen to read this, thank you, thank you, thank you. What a blessing this book is to all of us. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and your compassionate heart with all of us.
This book is due out 6 January 2009, ordering information follows:
St. Martin's Press
Trade Paper $14.95
Raising a Child with Soul
If you are raising children yourself, know someone who is raising children, or need to raise your own spiritual child, you cannot afford to be without this book.