Monday, November 16, 2009

Losing My Religion

Twice a year I start to think about my kids’ religious education, or lack thereof. It usually happens in December, around Chanukah/Christmas time, and in the spring, near Passover and Easter. I was raised Jewish, but not very religiously. We celebrated most of the holidays, knew the stories, but we never went to temple or Hebrew School. My siblings and I all had Bar Mitzvahs, but they were performed by my father, not a rabbi, and were more about family and tradition and less about the Hebrew (my father wrote out my Haftorah phonetically for me). My husband is an atheist, although he was brought up Catholic. When we got married by my uncle, a Justice of the Peace, we never had a conversation about religion as it relates to the kids. When our first child was old enough to understand what was going on, we decided to light the menorah for Chanukah as a family, and go to my mother-in-law’s house on Christmas for tree decorating. In the spring, we travel to my mother’s for Passover.

But as the holidays get closer, I always regret that I’m not giving them more. Should I enroll them in Hebrew School? Should we go to temple so they can meet other kids who celebrate what they do? I end up giving in to the guilt - taking them to our local temple for the holiday celebrations. Each time, I find that I’m a fish out of water. I don’t know the songs, I don’t know the routine, and I don’t know any of the stories. Last time, my two year old stood up and yelled at the Rabbi to “Stop singing!”. I leave feeling completely overwhelmed and realize that being there doesn’t feel right for me or my kids.

Am I short-changing my boys by not giving them an official religious education? Maybe. But for now I’ll stick with the route my parents took - teaching them myself about the stories and traditions as it relates to our family - without professional help.


  1. Great essay Alysia. Have you checked out the resources available at the Dovetail Institute? See www. We used them in planning our wedding, but some of their books were also helpful in thinking about the approach to religioin we wanted to take in our family.

    When we eventually move back to DC, we hope to join the this group - I think it will be explore Christianity / Judiasm with others who take a similar approach.

    Have fun in the holiday season!

  2. Thanks Sasha! I will check those out. I have to figure out the right balance between teaching the boys about our history without disrespecting Tim's secular humanist views. What do you do in your house now?