Three out of four of my children’s grandparents grew up as Christians. So why am I insisting on raising my children with Judaism as well as Christianity? The philosophical, political and psychological reasons recur as themes throughout this blog. But since I recently posted the Christian stuff I love, I thought I should also list some of the things, big and small, I love about Judaism:
- The Music. Leonard Bernstein and George Gershwin, the Klezmatics and Shlomo Carlebach, Regina Spektor and Matisyahu. I feel a kinesthetic rush of communal joy when dancing in a circle, singing ancient, minor melodies.
- The Middle East Connection. Even though Israel is deeply problematic for interfaith families, I feel the pull of the Mediterranean. I belly dance, I pine for my estranged Arab sisters, I hold eggplants over the burners of my stove to make baba ghanoush from scratch.
- Hebrew. It’s diabolically difficult, but exposing our children to it makes their neurons sprout, right? Personally, I enjoyed puzzling it out as a child. The idea is that Hebrew will stimulate their potential for both math and mysticism.
- Feasting. I’m not just talking about Ashkenazi deli food here, though I admit to eating chopped liver straight out of the container, like peanut butter. I’m talking about the way food is central to Jewish practice. The sensuality of the perfumes and textures and rituals surrounding food—bitter herbs and haroset, the Tu Bishvat seder and the braided challah. Food to Jews is both sacred symbol (thus food for the intellect), and primal earthly delight.
- Bibliophilia. As the publishing industry collapses in on itself like a dying star, Jews will be the last to forsake investigative reporting, editing, newsprint, reading books. I suppose it’s because the Torah is so central to Jewish practice. I intend to stand with my people and be the last one to cancel my newspaper subscriptions.
- Tikkun Olam. Every religion stresses community service. It’s one of the most defensible aspects of religion. But I find particularly evocative and mysterious the Kabbalistic concept of a broken world that needs to be put back together, the impulse to gather and fit together the shards of a shattered vessel. Although the original story ends with the termination of the material world: kind of a downer.
- Thirst for Justice. From Jewish support for civil rights in the twentieth century, to Jewish lawyers working pro bono on LGBT equality cases today, the thirst for justice creates good in our world. Is it the ancient memory of slavery? The recent memory of deadly persecution? It doesn’t matter why, it’s a good thing.
- Minority Empathy. On a related note, it builds character to grow up as an outsider in America: to empathize with other minority groups, to cultivate the stance of critical, thoughtful observer. To stand out is to invite discrimination, but to withstand discrimination is to become stronger.
- Compatibility with Atheism. I love a religion that includes a significant contingent of practicing adherents who don’t even believe in God. Personally, I’m agnostic. But I find very appealing the idea that ritual, a sense of community, even spirituality, can all be accessed by doubters and even rowdy nay-sayers.
- Shabbat. Turn off your cellphone, log off facebook, say no to the essential meeting. Sit and eat with family. Give thanks for light, and wine and bread. Sing, and smell the spices. All children crave this peace: Christian children, Jewish children, interfaith children.
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Journalist Susan Katz Miller is an interfaith families speaker, consultant, and coach, and author of Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family (2015), and The Interfaith Family Journal (2019). Follow her on Twitter @susankatzmiller.