Family / Parenting

Tradition….tradition!

As the Jewish holiday of Purim (Think Halloween crossed with Mardi Gras, with a little St. Patricks Day thrown in for good measure, but unique all on it’s own) passes us by, I’m left thinking a lot about religion, and how the decisions we make about it now will affect our family in the future. For a bit of background, I come from an interfaith family.  My mother is a Jew, and my father was Roman Catholic. Great combination, actually.  

We were raised as Jews, not because of the whole maternal lineage thing, but because my best friend went to Hebrew school in third grade and I just HAD to go too.  In essence, I “chose” that path for not only myself, but my brothers and sisters as well.  Had my best friend not been Jewish, we could have easily found ourselves going to CCD with the other Catholic kids, but I digress.

Even though we were raised Jewish, and went to Hebrew school twice a week from the time we were little, till we hit the “golden age” of 13 (I actually continued in my religious education for a while after that) and celebrated all the Jewish holidays with our synagogue and family, we also participated in the Catholic holidays that were most important to my father, namely, Christmas and Easter. And while I fondly remember the traditions we took part in when these holidays rolled around, we were not taught much of the history. We went to church with my father once a year, on Easter Sunday.  He went to a traditional Roman Catholic church and much of the service took place in Latin.  Mostly, we kept ourselves occupied by playing with the kneeling benches and making up stories about the “pictures” in the stained glass that surrounded the church. And when we got home, this mythical bunny had left us eggs to hunt in the back yard, and a basket full of jellybeans.  The day culminated with an egg-salad sandwich lunch prepared by my mom from the “bounty” collected in the morning.  In retrospect, it’s amazing we didn’t all get food poisoning from eating eggs that had been out of refrigeration for so long, but that’s not the point here.

The point is this. Now that he’s gone, I feel very….much like I didn’t know enough about why we did the things we did, or the history/tradition behind it. I don’t know much about Easter outside of the candy, or much about Christmas besides Santa, reindeer, and gifts.  And while I can go to a book and read, I won’t ever be able to learn about it from him, in his words.   The fear of not knowing “why” something is done often leads to things falling by the wayside, and the thought of losing these traditions in the future saddens me.

I wish that my parents could have given us more of an education about my dad’s faith – not that we would have chosen that path (and maybe we would, who knows. Of the three of us, all bar/bat mitzvahed when teens, I’m the only sibling who considers herself to be a practicing Jew) but we would have had more of a connected feeling to something that was a large part of who he was.

S and I have already decided to raise our children as Jews.  This was a very easy decision to come to for us, for a few reasons.  One  being that S, ( ½ Episcopal, ½ Roman Catholic) has never had a really strong connection to her faith, and especially not the organized part of it, and another being that the faction of my religion that I practice (reform Judaism) is very accepting and affirming of my (queer) family, and that’s really important to me/us. What I’m wondering most about is how we can incorporate the traditions of the other faiths in our pasts while continuing to affirm the Jewish identity of our child?  This may sound….I don’t know, trivial, but I can clearly remember many times when I was a kid being told that “Jews don’t do/celebrate/believe” THAT.  Of course, I’d just experienced THAT with my family at home.  My interfaith identity was never valued or taken into consideration amongst my Jewish peers or teachers, and there were many times that I felt lost.

I would like to keep our children from feeling this kind of confusion, while also instilling a strong Jewish identity. Any ideas on how to keep the kind loss I’ve felt from happening to my children? What are some of the things you’re doing in your families to affirm more than one faith?

 

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  1. Such an interesting issue, J!

    You don’t say whether or not there’s much extended family on your dad’s side, but if there is, they could be a good resource for the “family traditions” of his faith.

    Another possibility is ye olde queer family & other friends who are like family. 🙂 Maybe you and S invite non-Jewish friends to celebrate Purim and/or other holidays of your choice with you, and ask to be included in their Easter or Christmas celebrations.

  2. Hmm, this is an interesting topic. My parents chose to deliberately cut their children off from their religious heritage, but they didn’t move away from the heart of said heritage so we’re steeped in it whether we want to be or not.

    But the affirmation of different religions is one of the things that drew Kristin and I to the Unitarian church. Of course I’m not sure that that will instill a strong religious identity on our child, but it will give her a strong encouragement to question question question and learn.

    From a complete outsider’s opinion, I would say that as long as you and S. do what you can to make certain that messages like “Jews don’t do x” are countered with stonger messages of inclusion and how Jewishness isn’t predicated on not doing certain things but rather how you feel inside, then you might just instill a strong Jewish idenity while maintaining openness to the rest of your child’s heritages. Or I could be talking out of my ass since I don’t really know much about Judaism…

  3. there’s a really great book called: “a guide to Jewish Interfaith Fmaily Life”

    You can get it at interfaityfamily.com

    It’s a lovely, well thought out book.

    Narda and I struggle with this constantly – I do MANY things by rote. Narda is a “Jew by choice.” So she’s always asking me “WHY do we do x, y, or z.” Often, I have an answer, sometimes, however, I do not. Then I have to do my homework, and look within and say to myself, do I do this out of an obligation to tradition and history, or do I do it out of a choice that I made?

    I hope that the answer is most often “Choice.”

    One of the bst things about Judaism is that we are taught to question, and not to blindly accept. Hopefully, we will all raise our children with the willingness to ask questions – that’s the best we can do, right?

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