For the last several years, we’ve been on the hunt for a
religious institution to attend as a family—perhaps not every Saturday, but,
you know, occasionally. We knew when I was pregnant with Archer that we would
raise our kids Jewish, because that is what they are. (Seven-eighths, anyway. Hal is
Jewish and my dad is Jewish and my mom is half Jewish—and, well, their last
name is Isaacson.)
Hal grew up in a small town where being Jewish was
anomalous, and while he felt the need to hide his Jewishness as a child, it was
incredibly important to him that our kids did not.
For me, it was different. I grew up in a “hippy beach down”
where “all of the above” was the way to go. I went to temple sporadically (to
see my grandpa sing, mainly), attended Christian youth group Bible Study with my
friends once a week, meditated in the Self-Realization Fellowship gardens (my
best friend growing up was SRF) and danced with the local Hare Krishnas.
I always assumed I would raise my kids the same way I was raised, but when Hal and I got together and talked about how we would raise the son I was newly pregnant with and Hal told me straight up that raising him Jewish was hugely important to him, I agreed.
But perhaps bigger than all of that was the “World Religion
Class” my mom taught in our living room every Sunday. It was important to her
that we find our own spiritual paths so every week we read from different books
of worship and studied the ONE GOD pervasive in all religious contexts. You
know those "COEXIST" stickers? That was my childhood. That is my mother. That is
(My mom also sang in the Unitarian Universalist Choir,
because of course.)
My dad on the other hand, although raised Jewish, was (and
still is) an agnostic and was a reluctant bystander to our family’s spiritual
I always assumed I would raise my kids the same way I was
raised, but when Hal and I got together and talked about how we would raise the
son I was newly pregnant with and Hal told me straight up that raising him
Jewish was hugely important to him, I agreed.
And while we celebrate Christmas (non-religiously) and
Easter Brunch (also, non-religiously) at my parents’ house, we have had a
Christmas tree-free, no-Easter-Bunnies allowed household from the beginning.
Our problem, though, has always been an inability to find a
temple that suits us. Over the years we have tried on several for size. We have
looked into various Jewish preschools and attended various services, but never
have we felt comfortable in any of the environments. On the contrary, we both
felt incredibly uncomfortable at all of the services we attended because
organized religion does that to both of us. (Hal and I are on exactly the same
spiritual page, which is remarkable, really. Our politics are identical as well,
which I am also grateful for. I am realizing, as I get older, how crucial that
has been to our marriage, but that’s for another post.)
Recently, after touring ANOTHER temple we had heard
rave reviews about, we finally looked at each other and admitted that this
joining-a-temple thing was not going to work. It wasn’t for us.
“I felt like I was going to have an anxiety attack in
there,” I said.
“I know. Me, too.”
“How do we raise Jewish kids without attending organized
I also believe that coming of age ceremonies are crucial, especially for boys who do not have a “moment” when they realize their manhood in the same way that girls have their periods
It turns out, there are many options out there for people
like us. It ALSO turns out that there are A LOT of people like us—who want
their kids to have religious knowledge and experience, to identify to their
cultural ancestry, be familiar with the Bible stories, and most importantly,
find their own way to GOD (whatever GOD means to them).
I believe wholeheartedly in the spiritual significance
of higher powers, whether they be science-based or faith-based or both. (I am my
mother AND father’s daughter, after all.)
I feel it is important for my children to understand and identify
with their ancestry and religious heritage. I was reminded of this this week
when various members of my family posted old photos of some of our European cousins
and great-aunts and uncles that were lost in the Holocaust. There were 21
pictures in all, many of them children—all family that I knew existed but had
never seen, whose great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren would have
been the same age as my children. If we cannot know them and their stories, the
least we can do is join them in solidarity.
This is who you are
and where you come from. This is part of our family story.
I also believe that coming of age ceremonies are crucial,
especially for boys who do not have a “moment” when they realize their manhood in
the same way that girls have their periods. And while it is more than possible
to have these kinds of ceremonies without religious affiliations, it is
meaningful for us—for Archer—to follow in Hal’s Bar Mitzvah-having footsteps.
(It was a life-changing moment for him as a boy/man.)
Anyway, we knew from the beginning we would send our kids
to Hebrew School but it wasn’t until we found something called Hebrew Helpers,
here in LA, that we found our perfect fit.
Temple à la Carte, I like to call it. It consists of
classes here at the house. We have teamed up with another family and will be
doing twice-monthly classes, similar to what my mother did for us growing up,
but heavy on the Judaism part.
The kids’ Bar/Bat Mitzvah(s) will be wherever they want it
to be—a beach or a forest or a train station, their Nana’s garden— wherever
it is that makes him/her feel whole and spiritually alive. AND I LOVE THAT. Create your own house of worship, become
the man/woman you want to be in the place that moves you most.
I feel so fortunate to live in a time (and a place) where options like this exist for people (like us) who straddle the line between WANTING their kids to have a religious experience and feeling uncomfortable with THE religious experience. We do not have to believe in organized religion to respect and learn about Judaism. There is not a one-size-fits all when it comes to belief in God or any spiritual experience (Not to us, anyway.) and the fact that we can pool our collective knowledge gained through two very different upbringings and smash it all together, makes everything feel... right.