It was a perfect fall day in late October, one of those days that are a rarity with our finicky New England weather. The bright sun shone strong in the sky given the time of year, the heat warming my very pregnant body as I walked — or more aptly, waddled — hand-in-hand down the bike path through Davis Square with my husband.
photo credit Lorna Stell Photo
I soaked in this spontaneous day date as our daughter spent the afternoon with my husband’s parents. We were weeks away from welcoming our second daughter into our family, and I knew these precious moments alone with my husband would be scarce in the upcoming months.
That morning my husband and I had attended our first Parenting Through a Jewish Lens class. I had learned about it when I was pregnant with our first, but it took us four years to finally sign up.
It was clear, though, from that first class that we had made the right decision to enroll. As my husband and I walked, we used the conversation from the day’s class to spark a discussion about our very different understandings of what it meant to be Jewish and to raise Jewish children.
Growing up as a Conservative Jew, my Jewish identity as a child was tied to specific rituals. Attending weekly Saturday morning Shabbat services with my mom and sister. Keeping kosher in our home and the yearly ritual of preparing our house for Passover. Friday night dinners as a family where we welcomed in Shabbat by lighting candles, sipping candy-sweet Manischewitz wine, and eating challah fresh from the oven. I attended my shul’s religious school from kindergarten through my senior year of high school. I even worked at the religious school my last two years of high school.
Through the years, many of these rituals fell by the wayside. In college I stopped regularly attending Shabbat services, opting instead to sleep in on Saturday mornings. While I didn’t keep kosher outside my home growing up, I started mixing meat and dairy in the electric griddle I had purchased for the purpose of cooking matzah brei in my dorm room my freshman year.
Also, while I loved the sense of connection I felt attending Shabbat services, when I went to visit my family, I did not feel compelled to spend an entire Saturday morning at services. Plus, “praying” felt disingenuous to me. It was the recitation of the familiar sounds and immersion in the melodies where I felt a sense of connection, rather than the words that I was chanting.
Although I continued to identify strongly as Jewish, as I entered adulthood — and particularly as I became a parent myself — I went through a bit of an identity crisis. I worried:
How would I instill a sense of Jewish identity in my own children if I didn’t do all the things that made me feel like I was a “good” Jew growing up?
The texts and themes we had discussed in that first PTJL session aided in steering my husband and my conversation as we strolled down the path. We shared our “Shehecheyanu moments” — those blessings of firsts — we had experienced with our preschooler: a surprisingly astute comment she made; her thoughts on what to do with her tzedakah money; the “big girl” bed that was to soon replace her toddler bed so we could transform it back into a crib for the baby….
Participating in Parenting Through a Jewish Lens helped me to realize that being Jewish and raising Jewish children can manifest itself in many different ways.
You don’t have to attend Shabbat services every Saturday morning to be a “good Jew” or have separate meat and dairy dishes and cutlery. “Being” Jewish could mean so many different things. Though it might look different from how I was raised, my husband and I are forging our own path toward bringing up children with their own Jewish identity in a way that feels right to us.