Happy Holidays from my Inter-religious Family
As someone who excitedly hosts Easter, Passover, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Christmas and Hanukkah each year, Writer, Author and Mom of Two, Summer Land, shares why and how she is teaching her kids to embrace an inter-religious life.
When people would ask my brother what religion he was when we were little, he’d always explain, “We’re Jewish… but really watered down.”
As the kids of a mom who converted to Judaism as well as a paternal grandmother that had also converted, technically he was right.
Watered down or not, growing up I always identified as Jewish. I went to temple on the weekends, celebrated the High Holy Days, partook in Hebrew School activities and of course – studied (and partied) hard for my Bat Mitzvah. Even though I drifted away from the synagogue in my late teens, I did go on a Birthright trip to Israel while in college where I reconnected with all the reasons I was so proud to call myself a Jew.
While part of me thought I would marry someone with the same religious beliefs, I was always open to the idea of dating someone who was Catholic, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist or nothing at all. As long as we shared the same values, how they defined themselves really didn’t matter to me. And this is how I find myself married to someone who grew up Anglican.
Today, my husband, Paul, and I have a seven and five-year-old who go to Catholic school! As a household with all sorts of beliefs, histories and traditions, there is never a dull moment when it comes to sharing life lessons, working through hardship, showing gratitude and of course – celebrating the holidays.
I’m not going to lie, it’s exhausting: A. practicing so many different customs and celebrating numerous holidays throughout the year and B. Answering my kids questions when they receive conflicting information regarding each religion they’re exposed to.
The thing is, I want my kids to grow up with love and respect for every individual. I want them to confidently ask questions, gather information and form their own opinions. I want them to understand just how crucial it is that society be not only tolerant, but accepting of other people’s religious beliefs. Without this, how can there be peace?
I keep a letter on my desk that my grandfather wrote to my dad about growing up in North Carolina in the 20s and 30s. “I had a bad case of low self-worth – starting all the way from being called, ‘Jew-Boy’ in grammar school to living on the wrong side of the tracks to being ashamed of being a Jew and hiding it for many years….” The letter goes on to talk about how he overcame his insecurities, embraced his beliefs and went on to be one of the most successful businessmen in the region.
As a 30-something living in 2020; I’m shocked when I see anti-Semitic rants on social media, dismayed when there is blatant Islamophobia in our politics and beyond frustrated when I learn that someone is afraid to say they’re actually Agnostic. At times, it can be overwhelming to think about my kids venturing into a world that often feels fueled by hatred and fear.
With each year that my kids get older, I try really hard to make our conversations around the numerous customs and traditions we practice more meaningful and impactful. However, since my kids are still quite young, I like to use easily digestible dialogue and playful activities to show them how positive an inter-religious life can be. This can be as simple as buying a Hanukkah themed craft set as well as a Christmas one. It’s making sure your bookshelf is packed full of books about not only the holidays you might celebrate, but also Kwanzaa and Ramadan. Together, my family loves to attempt different cultural recipes like Noodle Kugel, Harira and my kids’ personal favorite: cheese grits! (I say attempt because cooking is not my strong suit!)
The main thing I encourage all year round is question-asking. Sometimes it’s me asking my kids what the season means to them. Sometimes they’re asking me for a detailed account of how I think the earth was created. Sometimes it’s my Jewish mother and kids having discussions about Lent. Many times, it’s my kids asking their Anglican grandparents to share their beliefs about God.
While you might be confidently sitting there with a firm black and white belief that there is only one right religion, I am not. I admit that I do not want to tell my children exactly what history to embrace because at the end of the day, I don’t know what’s going to feel right for them. The best I can do is expose them to as much diversity as possible, instill a duty of empathy and encourage them to always respectfully listen and learn from others.