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When you’re the child of a rabbi, who are you?

Graphic by Zev Kupferman, Images by Neima Fax

Graphic by Zev Kupferman, Images by Neima Fax

PRESSURE: From left, Rabbi Ari Schwarzberg, Noa Segal, Ilan Bouskila and Yakir Kanefsky are all offspring of rabbis. Their experiences have been partly the same and partly different.

Hannah Jannol, Shalhevet High School

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The already difficult pressures of being a teenager can be even greater when you have to meet the expectations not only of your parents, but of a whole community.

Junior Yakir Kanefsky felt this especially in his early teen years. Coming into Shalhevet was hard for him.

“Everyone knew who my dad was, but no one knew who I was,” Yakir said.

Yakir, whose father Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky is senior rabbi at B’nai David-Judea on Pico, said when he realized people were labeling him as “Rabbi Kanefsky’s son,” he began trying to shake that title so he could create his own autonomous identity.

He felt the best way to shed people’s presumptive perceptions was to rebel directly against them, so he pretended to be into hip-hop and rap. Some of these things ended up being actual interests of his.

“There was a time I tried being the opposite, because I didn’t want people thinking I was going to be a rabbi,” said Yakir in an interview. “I started listening to hip-hop, acting rebellious — things people wouldn’t expect from a rabbi’s son.”

As his freshman year went on, people started to look at him as Yakir. These days, Yakir is just focusing on what he is interested in — which includes music, hip-hop, sports and art. But it took some time.

“I don’t think whether or not my dad’s a rabbi, I just think about myself, so people will look at me as myself,” he said.

“Now I’m just trying to be a combination. At this point I don’t even have that on my mind, I don’t need to be rebellious or try to be a rabbi’s son, I’m just in between.”

Having a parent who is a religious leader, it seems, creates several pressures and identity issues, though there can also be upsides, and some say they are unaffected by it. In interviews conducted by the Boiling Point, it seemed at minimum to be a sensitive subject, at worst a problem, and at best something helpful and wonderful.

But always — something.

“If the preacher’s kid isn’t behaving in the way people would expect, there’s a little more of people whispering about that,” said Judaic Studies teacher Rabbi Ari Schwarzberg, whose father Rabbi Ronald Schwarzberg was the leader of the shul where he grew up. “People are a little more surprised about that. And it’s not that they’re judging the rabbi or the family differently, but it’s more of a topic of discussion than if someone else is not going to shul, or not wearing a yarmulke.”

Senior Noa Segal, whose father Rabbi Ari Segal is also Shalhevet’s head of school, feels pressure because people often associate her actions with her parents.

“I feel like in Town Hall if I’m going to make a comment, it has to be a very valid point, and it has to be a perfect, clear point, that both sides can agree with, not too controversial,” said Noa, whose mother Ms. Atara Segal teaches Gemara at the school.

“If I say something, people might look at what I say and generalize that as the Shalhevet philosophy or my parents’ philosophy,” Noa said. “I have to make sure that I get great grades, that I do well in all the Judaic classes. I have to make sure I don’t answer a question incorrectly, that I say smart philosophical things and I have great new ideas.”

She says meeting people’s various expectations is not difficult since she isn’t a troublesome kid anyway, and often sees both sides of an issue.

But it can make it difficult to connect with her peers. Even though her dad tells her it’s not her job to justify the administration’s actions, she still feels that weight on her shoulders.

“Whenever I walk into a room, kids will just stop talking,” Noa said in an interview. “And I’m like, I know you’re either talking about me, my dad, or my mom, or there’s something you’re doing that I shouldn’t know about.

“Like on the Shabbatons, we were walking to the bunks where some kids were on their phones,” she continued. “And the second I walked in all the phones went away. And I’m like, ‘If you’re gonna do it, you may as well do it and not try to hide it, because I know it’s going on.’”

According to PulpitAndPew.org, a website that publishes research on pastoral leadership, so-called “preachers’ kids” — “P.K.’s” — who join the clergy themselves statistically feel less satisfied with their “general effectiveness” and spiritual lives. It seems they put more pressure on themselves to be competent both religiously and as leaders.

A study of 799 Protestant ministers’ families found that ministers’ children “were more active, on average, in church and church youth groups; they felt called to ordained ministry somewhat earlier; and, until recently, they were ordained at a younger age than non-P.K.s.”

Tracking the church attendance of kids at age 16 supported this view. According to polls, 97.3 percent of P.K.s who became pastors attended church two or three times a month as teenagers, whereas only 81 percent of future pastors with parents in non-religious occupations attended church at the same rate or more.

Ilan Bouskila, whose father Rabbi Daniel Bouskila currently heads the Sephardic Educational Center, said he’s more engaged in Judaism because of his dad.

“It’s really nice that my dad’s a knowledgeable Jew because Judaism is really important to me, he’s the kind of guy that I can talk to and he’s really open-minded, and he knows so much about Judaism and the Jewish community,” said Ilan. “It’s been good for my upbringing, that there’s been this focus sort of on Judaic studies but it hasn’t been forced, I’m just interested in it because of my dad.”

There are also some challenges that comes along with being a rabbi’s kid. Yakir and Rabbi Schwarzberg, whose father led Congregation Ahavas Achim in Highland Park, N.J., have both heard jokes about their fathers, who are and were the more forward-thinking Orthodox leaders in their communities.

“I do hear a little bit — like ‘Oh your shul is Conservative,’” said Yakir. “I don’t really mind it that much but after a while it can get annoying.”

Rabbi Schwarzberg said he heard most of the jokes about his father’s synagogue in elementary school.

“It was tough that I once heard a couple of my teachers poke fun at my dad’s shul,” Rabbi Schwarzberg said. “And there was definitely a feeling at times that our shul could be the whipping post for people who don’t appreciate some of the progressive elements of Modern Orthodoxy — and not only from teachers. From kids who didn’t get it, or just saw anything different as weird.

“Feeling like I needed to protect the image of my family,” he continued. “That was something that I struggled with, more so than some shots from friends or teachers every now and again.”

But like Ilan, Rabbi Schwarzberg, Yakir and Noa all said there are also benefits to having a parent who’s a rabbi. Rabbi Schwarzberg said it gave him confidence in his own ideologies.

“I felt like it was already in my blood,” said Rabbi Schwarzberg. “The language of the Jewish community, the behaviors of the Jewish community, by virtue of growing up immersed in it my whole life, and therefore it gave me a certain confidence to not just follow the traditional path of rabbinic students.”

Read the full original story here

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When you’re the child of a rabbi, who are you?