Jewish Family: Identity and Self-Formation at Home

Jewish Family: Identity and Self-Formation at Home

Jewish Family: Identity and Self-Formation at Home

Jewish Family: Identity and Self-Formation at Home


In Jewish Family: Identity and Self-Formation at Home Alex Pomson and Randal F. Schnoor advance a new appreciation for the deep significance of Jewish family in developing Jewish identity. This book is the result of ten years of research focused on a small sample of diverse families. Through their work, the authors paint an intricate picture of the ecosystem that the family unit provides for identity formation over the life course. They draw upon theories of family development as well as sociological theories of the transmission of social and cultural capital in their analysis of the research. They find that family networks, which are often intergenerational, are just as significant as cultural capital, such as knowledge and competence in Judaism, to the formation of Jewish identity. Pomson and Schnoor provide readers with a unique view into the complexity of being Jewish in North America today.​


In the fall of 2003, Sandy Kleinman and Carla Lowe started Jewish day school for the first time: Sandy in kindergarten and Carla in first grade. the school they joined, the Paul Penna Downtown Jewish Day School (DJDS), had been founded five years earlier with just ten students and a staff of three. When the girls started school, there were seventy children in five grades.

The girls’ parents had spent some of their own school years in Jewish day schools, but they were deeply ambivalent about the choice they had made for their children. That wasn’t because of the quality of the education provided; both couples had visited a number of other schools before opting for djds and were pleasantly surprised by the school’s progressive approach to education, its warmth, and the inclusive Jewish environment. the parents were ambivalent because they had never thought of themselves as Jewish day school parents. Carla’s mother, Karen Lowe, had wanted to stay clear of what she called the “ghetto.” As she elaborated, “I didn’t want Carla’s world to be too narrow. I didn’t want her only to be friends with Jewish kids.” the ambivalence of Sandy’s father derived from a different source. Joe Kleinman feared that in choosing a Jewish day school he was selling out on his commitment to public education. “For me, I think the ideological and political aspects of the decision to send a child to private school weigh down on me more…. We really support the public system!”

In the last months of 2003, we first interviewed these two sets of parents, along with twenty-six other families who had children in kindergarten, first grade, and fifth grade at djds. We were starting a research project to explore the relationship between parents and their children’s schools. At the time, these two sets of parents and others in our sample talked with palpable emotion about the first few months since their children started school.

Joe Kleinman—a secularJew, exploring Suki Gakai Buddhism and expressing doubts about God and about what he called “the Israel question”—remarked that “because Sandy started learning about [Judaism] and I see how that is for her, it reinforces that I want to be part of that as well.” His wife, Michelle, someone . . .

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