Last weekend, my husband and I toured the religious school my daughter will be attending in the fall for her Kindergarten year. She currently attends their preschool, so the tour was simply to get questions answered and for my husband to understand what religious school is all about.
My husband isn’t Jewish. He grew up as a non-practicing Catholic and has had a hard time understanding that we don’t pass a plate around, but rather, have to pay to be members of our synagogue. I grew up with membership dues as the norm (as have most of my Jewish friends). A lot of my friends are also in interfaith marriages and have had to explain the same thing to their spouses. It was also difficult for my husband to understand that kids have to go to religious school years in advance to prepare for their Bar/Bat Mitzvahs. For the longest time, he assumed it was just a big celebration, like a Sweet 16 party. Last month, he attended his first Bat Mitzvah and was amazed that she was able to stand up in front of so many people and sing/recite a language that was foreign to her. Of course, attending the reception was another story. Apparently my explanation didn’t do it justice. He didn’t quite realize that these parties were comparable to wedding receptions.
Before kids, being in an interfaith marriage didn’t mean much other than having the privilege of celebrating more holidays and not worrying about our parents fighting over us for Rosh Hashanah, Passover, or Christmas. Once we had kids, that all changed. We decided to raise our children Jewish (with the understanding that “Daddy’s parents celebrate Christmas, so we celebrate with them”). We agreed they would attend a Jewish preschool, religious school, and be Bar & Bat Mitzvah’d. Of course, being the Jewish parent, this all fell on me. Preschool has proven to be a HUGE help in educating my children on our religion. My daughter comes home singing Hebrew songs and is excited about all the holidays. Without any family nearby, teaching Jewish traditions to my family can be tough. And, to be honest, I haven’t been doing a great job. This is why it’s so important to me that my children attend a preschool and now religious school. While they will attend public school for their secular education, I want them to have an identity, and sense of belonging, and make friends with others like them.
A few of my friends have decided not to send their children to religious school for a few years, thinking they can catch up in third or fourth grade. For me, it’s not as much about learning Hebrew as it is learning about our culture, heritage, and beliefs. This is also why I send them to Jewish summer day camp and, when they get older, Jewish overnight camp. I never connected with people the way I did with friends I made at camp and through Judaism.
My childhood rabbi used to come into our religious school class every Sunday to visit and before he’d leave, he would remind us of his motto: “Being Jewish is FUN.” Being Jewish IS fun! Summer camp shows us how we can surround ourselves with fellow Jews and make long-lasting friendships, all while learning more about our Jewish culture. Religious school teaches us about our religion and prepares us for our rite of passage and celebration that is our Bar/Bat Mitzvah. I want my children to understand that; even if it means they have to go to school on Sundays! My husband has decided to start saving his shekels for our kids’ Bar and Bat Mitzvahs in eight and eleven years. So, maybe that part isn’t so fun…