Raising children in a dual faith household
Religion is such a tricky thing. Wars are fought over it. People die in the name of it. If millions of people of various faiths can’t share a planet in peace, how is it possible to do it in one home?
I was raised Jewish. Although our parents hailed from Israel and spoke fluent Hebrew, our house was not especially practicing. We seldom went to synagogue, didn’t keep kosher, and did not observe any but the most signficant holidays. I’ve heard people who only go to church on Christmas and Easter referred to as “C&E Christians”. That would make my family “RH&YK Jews”. We primarily went to temple for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur if we went at all. In fact, I got Temple Sinai and Temple University mixed up as a kid. I’ve always had a strong sense of “being a Jew” from a cultural point of view, but not especially from a religious one.
I remember one Yom Kippur my brother Wally and I made a song. Our parents had come home from the services quite upset. A prayer was usually delivered at other synagogues in which the congregation would pound their chests and list the sins they had committed. It seemed at Temple Sinai, it was done to a tune… a bouncy tune. My parents had been appalled. As a “project” Wally and I decided to do our own version. We used two tape recorders bouncing back and forth singing along with previous versions to produce a tape that sounded like a chorus when it was really just the two of us. The lyrics (if you can call them that) consisted of us singing “We have sinned. We have sinned. We have sinned. Cha cha cha.” We sang it in a variety of ways and with funny voices. When they arrived home we proudly played our masterpiece for them. They were not amused.
So fast forward to the mid 1990s. I married a Jewish guy so what religion to raise our kids in was not a problem. Well that and the fact that we didn’t want any kids. It didn’t work out for reasons that would be a whole different blog entry, but suffice it to say we divorced.
I am now married to a man who is not Jewish, nor is he a “C&E Christian.” He worships Santa and the Easter Bunny, but doesn’t set foot inside a church unless he has to go to a wedding or a funeral. He was as observant a Christian as I was a Jew, so what to raise the kids was a non-issue. We decided that I would celebrate the Jewish holidays such as Hanukkah and Passover, and he would deck the halls and hunt for eggs. The running joke was that in the spring, he got chocolate and I got stale crackers.
That’s how it went for years. We would put the “Happy Hanukkah” pillows on the sofa right next to the Christmas tree and everything was fine. Recently it’s become more of an issue. My parents have joined the local synagogue for reasons that are rather maudlin. The only way to purchase cemetary plots was to belong to the congregation.
Since my parents were now members, they decided to start going to some of the activities at the temple, and have found them rather pleasant. For the two years that my folks have lived here, my daughters and I have gone to their house each Friday evening for the Sabbath prayer, candle lighting, and challah. The challah was naturally the kids’ favorite part. Raisins… yummm!
So it wasn’t such a leap when my parents invited the girls and me to the Sabbath dinner at the synagogue. The girls had a blast. The Rabbi played the guitar and sang and they got to go in a sukkah. They wanted to go back on Sunday for a sing along and luncheon; a special event at the Hebrew school. It was at this point that my husband spoke up. While he had no problem with the holiday and Friday night rituals, going to temple on a regular basis and attending Hebrew school was another whole ball of wax. He is decidedly agnostic and not enamoured of the whole “God-thing.” To send the girls to Hebrew school would throw things out of balance. He started to feel like if they were going to go to Hebrew school than they should go to Sunday school at a church as well. But then he realized that he had no interest in doing that and to send them on principle was pointless. So what do we do?
Honestly, I completely understand how he feels. We were at the Big E fair this weekend and my older daughter was looking at necklaces. She held up a cross and said “Look Mommy.” I immediately told her to put it back. No child of mine was going to wear a cross! It turns out she only wanted it because Buffy the Vampire Slayer wore one. That’s my girl!
But the point had been made. Is it fair for me to educate the children in the ways of Judaism when they are not getting an equal amount of education in their Christian heritage? But if their father has no interest in teaching them that side of their background, does that mean I can’t either? I’m glad they’ve gone and learned about themselves. They had fun and met some very nice people. The girls really enjoy being accepted and being a part of something. I don’t regret taking them there, not one bit. However, I know it would bother me if he took them to church regularly or enrolled them in classes. So what’s the answer? Was taking them to synagogue the right thing to do? I’m not sure but…
It seemed like a good idea at the time.