Thursday, April 13, 2017

Passover has passed me over

NOTE: This post is going to get a little more personal than I normally get, so feel free to skip if you choose to.  I know that some of my readers are primarily about the cultural stuff I write about, or maybe the parenting tips, or who knows, even the sponsored stuff I occasionally do.  But this is for the ones who might be interested in the personal.

This one is about my relationship with my religion.

 I've got a hard relationship with Judaism.

On one hand I feel very Jewish- my identity is very much as a Jew, at least culturally.  I had a Bar Mitzvah, I went to Israel, I can read Hebrew (although my understanding is limited) I went to Hebrew High School (The Harry Elkin Midrasha), and even taught there for two years.  I know the blessings by heart, or mostly, I have Passover Seders in my house, we occasionally have Shabbat, and I can "Oy vey" and "Nu, so..." with the best of them. I married a Jewish woman, and we stepped on the glass. I cry at Fiddler on the Roof.  I'm also a big fan of Bagels and Lox, brisket, and knishes. Kashe not so much.  And guilt?  Do I know about guilt! Well, that's part of the reason for this blog post.

 I want my son to know Judaism.  I want him to have a Bar Mitzvah, and know the blessings over wine, and bread, and matzah.  I want him to know what a lulav and an etrog are, to know the sounds of the Shofar being blown, I want that to be part of his identity, for him to feel connected to this group of people who have struggled over great adversity and managed to survive for thousands of years.  He is part of that struggle, as I am, and as my parents were before me, and their parents before them.

On the other hand, I am not a practicing Jew. I don't fast on Yom Kippur, don't eat matzah at Passover, don't regularly stop working on Shabbat, or even light the candles.  I eat pork and shellfish with abandon.  I'm not a member of a synagogue, I don't go to synagogue with any kind of regularity (and when I do go, I kind of resent it)  I have a great doubt that any of those things will help me in an afterlife I don't think I believe in and haven't gotten much spiritual comfort from.

I don't think I'd go so far as to say I'm an atheist, I believe there is some Creator, but not one that I have a "personal relationship" with or cares whether or not I work on Shabbat, or eat cheeseburgers. And while I feel a part of the grander scheme of Judaism, I have never felt a part of an individual community of Judaism.  Maybe for about 10 minutes, but certainly not on a sustained level.

The most spiritually moved I've felt has been at the theatre, and occasionally while sitting on a rock jetty with my back to the shore, watching the waves roll in.  (Oh my god, my spiritualism is a tampon commercial!)

When my parents were alive, I went to synagogue, and fasted at Yom Kippur, and didn't eat bread during Passover, and all those other things. I didn't keep kosher, but neither did my parents.  But I kind of felt that I was doing it for my mom, and not for me, and when she passed away, I decided to stop.  Since then, I have become increasingly more ornery about practicing Judaism.

When my wife and I lived in NY, we were part of a synagogue, but I never felt very close to that community.  Perhaps because it was my wife's community, perhaps because soon after I started going there was a great deal of flux due to the spiritual leader leaving, perhaps because my wife got involved in the behind-the-scenes of synagogue politics, and I saw the worst of it.

In the Passover Haggadah there is a parable about the four sons, the wise, the wicked, the simple, and the one who doesn't know enough to ask.  Each has a question about what is going on, and you are supposed to answer each differently.

When I was younger, I always cast myself as the wise son, the one who includes himself, and asks the question "What did God command us to do?"   but now I'm pretty sure I'm the wicked son, the one who holds himself apart from the group, and asks the question, "What did God command YOU to do?"

(a kind of funny film demonstrates this parable below)

So I'm in a quandary-- I feel like I'm Jewish, but don't really believe in (or do) all of the stuff that makes one Jewish.  And I want my son to be Jewish, or at least know about Judaism.  But I'm setting him a bad example, at least as a Jew.  

I'm sure I'm not alone.

I feel like I have two choices--

1) fake it 'til I make it.  Set a better example as a Jew, even though I am not getting much out of it. That might mean more synagogue time for me, more fasting, more "Religion for the sake of religion" instead of for the sake of me.

2) Don't fake it. Explain as best I can why I want him to be involved and knowledgeable, and when the inevitable charges of hypocrisy come, parry them by letting him know that when he's18, he can make his own decisions.

Is there a third option?  Or a fourth option? For those of you who are religious doubters, what are you doing to help give your child/children a basis in religion?


Lionspen said...

Friends throughout my life have told me that they were Jewish, and that was always true whether they practiced or did not practice the rituals or religious actions. That is, their identity is Jewish, and nothing could remove them from that--even if they were atheists. One man told me that if he had a good job, supported his family, and was a good father, he was a good Jew. The hatred for Jews came long before the race hating Constatine. The book Constatine's Sword proves that his taking over what was Christianity meant that Jews would be condemned. I almost converted to Judaism years ago. I think that this mean that there is a wide range of being Jewish, and learning the rituals whether one believes all of it, does not matter. Theater people love to see our children learn Shakespeare--we want for them to have him in their psyche. Why can't your approach to Judaism be the same? There are liberal Jewish Synagogues. On the other hand, you and your young bride have the creativity to pass your Judaism on to you son wiuth your own magical and brilliant twist with all honesty about your doubts and love all of the time for your past. Love you, and good luck.

Paula Kiger said...

That video! What a treasure! Okay, so many thoughts. I hope they adhere together somehow. For background, I am Episcopalian so I am not coming at this from the Judaism perspective exactly. I read a book once about a woman who was having doubts about whether to follow through on her confirmation. Her priest said something like "AH - go through the motions - you'll figure it out eventually." I always felt that priest missed an opportunity to help her work through her doubts or at least vent them. // Two writers come to mind and I wonder if you've read either one of them: Eric Weiner and Mark Klempner. Both of them, in very different ways, found themselves far apart from Judaism, especially the more religious/less cultural aspects as they became adults. It was as they wrote about their experiences (Eric of his travels around the world, Mark of rescuers during the Holocaust) that they found a different peace and closeness with Judaism. I can't remember which Weiner book, The Geography of Bliss or Man Seeks God, really talked about that at length ..... and Mark's book is ..... I can't remember if it's really IN Mark's book or just because I have kept in touch on social media but he definitely made a journey as an adult. Sorry there are so many "um.....don't remember exactly where" mentions here in this comment but just look at them as turns on the journey LOL. Thank you for sharing something so personal.

Saving For Someday said...

I think your feelings are quite common among our generation. We grew up BEING Jewish. We didn't 'practice' we just were. Then we grew up and did what we thought was right, join a synagogue and get involved. Only we saw the inner workings and thought getting involved would make the incompetence and politics go away so we could get back to BEING Jewish. But it didn't go away. And we became parents and realized we don't want our kid having to learn how to navigate this weird environment while we smiled politely at synagogue and mumble under our breath on every ride to and from.

But here's the cool part. There are options that will accept us as we are and we don't get involved in the politics and nonsense. We just get to BE Jewish and our children get to see that being Jewish isn't about reading from a book once a year or checking your watch every five minutes hoping the Seder is over soon.

I found a place where my family and I can BE Jewish and weave it into our lives without the guilt. Where when we go to shul we are welcomed. If we don't go we're called on Sunday to make sure we're ok.

Start small. My grandpa always told me that one of the greatest things about being Jewish is that any house can be a house of worship. Light candles, wrap tefillin, say motzi, and on Shabbat find time to talk and play games and sing and just BE Jewish.

Don't be so hard on yourself. You'll find a path that works for you and your family.


Paula: Thanks for the comments! I will definitely check out Mark and Eric's books. I haven't done so much CLEAR thinking about this-- as is evidenced by my post- mostly depressed down on myself thinking.

The video is from a series/podcast called BimBam, and they make lots of Jewish themed videos.

Mark: thanks for the cheering!


Sarah: Thanks for the encouragement as well, and I'm glad you have found a "right" place for religion in your family's life. We are still working on it (obviously) and haven't found the right place/balance. I am probably being too hard on myself. But I'm just not there yet. I'm hoping that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and it's not a train! (I jest)

Kevin McKeever said...

I'm a Catholic in name only, a Jew by proxy (I grew up with a lot of Chosen friends) and I'm even more perplexed than you. Peace.