A rabbi’s take on ‘Harry Potter’

Harry Potter (Screenshot from YouTube)

(Kveller via JTA) — This summer, as I put my 8-year-old on the bus to sleepaway camp, he turned to his friend and said, “Let’s get on the bus quickly before our parents can say goodbye and be so embarrassing.”

As they ran toward the bus, I could not help reflecting that he is breaking away, just at the moment when I want to hold on tight. But what he doesn’t know is that I have a secret weapon waiting for when he returns from camp, and that is “Harry Potter.”

For the past few months, we have made our way through the first six books. Even when he wants nothing to do with me, for a half hour or so each night he is content to climb in my lap or sit next to me on the couch as we read about the adventures of Harry and his friends. Although he is fully capable of devouring a book on his own, there is something about the magic and intensity of Harry Potter that creates a moment of parent-child bonding I rarely find anywhere else. For that, I thank you Harry Potter.

My son had a hard year this year. He moved across the country. He started a new school. He needed to make new friends. Some of the time he was angry, sad and generally hated the world. So does Harry Potter. Lots of difficult things happen to him and he shows human emotions in reaction to those things. Sure, he’s a wizard, but he reacts in ways that are familiar to my 8-year-old boy.

In talking about Harry Potter, and how he handles challenges and disappointments, we also talked about coping mechanisms for when my child has challenges and disappointments. I was able to validate his anger, share in his sadness and support him in his transitions in a way that felt comfortable for an 8-year-old. For that, I thank you Harry Potter.

Harry Potter also saved Shabbat for us. Despite being the child of a rabbi (or maybe because of it), Shabbat is not my child’s favorite day of the week. He loves drawing and, since we don’t write on Shabbat, he does not enjoy being told he can’t. But reading Harry Potter, and then talking about Harry Potter and building Harry Potter things out of Legos and playing Harry Potter in the park, got us through many long Shabbat afternoons. For that, I thank you Harry Potter.

Finally, Harry Potter gives us a context for talking about what is going on in the world today. What happens when evil arises in the world? When something scary happens? When people are divided by politics, by fear, by anger?

Harry Potter navigates those issues and makes many mistakes while trying to live a life in accordance with his values. This provides an opening for my son to ask questions, to make connections between fiction and reality, and to put what he is hearing on the news and on the school bus into context. It allows me, as the parent, to talk about how I believe we should act in the world in a way that he can understand.

And for that, I thank you, Harry Potter.

Rabbi Rebecca Rosenthal is the director of youth and family education at Central Synagogue in New York City, where she gets to spend her time dreaming about ways to engage families with children. She and her husband live in New York City with their three children.

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