Last week the kids and I were eating lunch when two Jehovah’s Witnesses rang our doorbell. Wanting to talk religion. With me. Generally not able to turn down a thoughtful conversation, dialogue or debate, I was torn between that and nap time.
As I glanced at their shiny pamphlets and hopeful expressions, a few extremely important thoughts went through my mind. The first was how my mom handled such situations (not pretty). The second was how Jason handles such situations (not pretty). And the third was how I want my kids to remember me handling such situations (Pretty. Obviously pretty).
While I was busy with my internal dialogue, my visitors were on a roll. Finally, painfully, I interrupted them with, “I don’t want to waste your time. We’re Jewish and aren’t interested but I really, really wish you the best of luck.” Is that rude? Maybe don’t tell me if it is. Because to be perfectly honest, I walked away feeling pretty graceful. And proud. Thank you very much.
I also walked away assuming door’s closed, conversation’s closed. Until I (of course) heard a little voice ask, “What did they say mommy?” And not being one to let well enough alone I decided to tell my kids, “Some people believe in their religion so very much that they want everyone to believe with them. So they came to tell us about their religion.”
Kayli, quietly, took it all in while Chloe scrunched up her face in confusion and asked, “During lunch? Really?” Clearly, we take our food seriously in our house.
After some chit chat about our days, Kayli was done contemplating and had plenty to say. She started shooting questions my way. What religion are they? Were they being nice? We believe we’re Jewish in our hearts, too, right? Indeed. And then Chloe, eyes bright and voice LOUD piped up with, “Well then let’s go out and tell everyone! We should do that, too!”
Once again, I wasn’t able to leave well enough alone. Do you wish Jason was home at this point to take over the conversation? Me, too. But he wasn’t. So I responded, “We think religion is something people know in their hearts. And we don’t try to convince anyone to believe with us.”
Oh, how very against-the-grain that must sound. Especially to school age children who are constantly taught, asked, reminded to sit like everyone else. Write their letters like everyone else. Play ball, dress, read like everyone else. If it’s in our hearts, why wouldn’t we shout it from the rooftops?
When I read a good book, I tell someone. If I see a good movie, same thing. But when it comes to religion, for me, it’s just different.
As much as I like to be right and hate to be wrong, I really and truly think that religion is personal and an in-your-heart decision, feeling, knowing. And doesn’t actually have a right-or-wrong to it.
Throughout my life certain friendships changed, some for the better, but most for the worst, when religion became the hot topic. For many of these people religion was such a burn-you-up-inside subject that they had to tell me, had to convince me, of their right-ness. And therefore my wrong-ness. In my heart-of-hearts, I can’t possibly fathom that there’s just one right answer within religion. How could so many people be wrong? And one group be the only one that’s right?
For my kids, for right now, the “in your heart” explanation sounds right. Feels right. Religion is internal, it feels like coming home. My kids’ hearts are full of challah for Shabbat, candles for Chanukah and apples for Rosh HaShannah. All of these “things” (how’s that for eloquent?) are there because Jason and I have carefully placed them in our home. In our habits. In our lives. And in their hearts. All else is a shiny object that’s fun to explore, experience and enjoy. But it’s not coming home. It’s not in their hearts.
We keep building on these memories. These traditions. Big and small. Family time circling around Judaism. It’s who we are as a family.
Jason and I still don’t belong to a synagogue. I bet that’s hard to understand, comprehend and not judge. The best way that I have to describe it is that we haven’t found a place that feels like home. (Yet.) So our Judaism happens mostly in our home.
This past week was Shavuot, honoring the Israelites’ post-Egypt-slavery arrival at Mount Sinai. After a long walk-to-freedom, they were given the Torah. I imagine them being so excited and overjoyed that they stayed up all night studying and learning. Can you think of the last time that you willingly stayed up all night reading? Learning? And not sleeping? Me neither. What an amazing story. An amazing lesson, to share with kids.
To celebrate, we went for a walk, throughout which Chloe kept announcing, “I sure hope the Israelites had their bikes, because my legs are tired!”
We let the kids stay up late and ate cheesecake outside by candle light. We asked the kids what they would be excited to stay up all night learning about. Their answers were, as always, food for thought. “Space, aliens and are they real” for Kayli (discuss) and “how to drive” for Chloe (shudder). And you know what? They asked us the same question right back. Which was…refreshing. While we work hard to make religion for our children, I love that in spite of or because of that, they view religion as something that grown ups “do” as well. Side-by-side. Shoulder-to-shoulder. With them.
Religion is in our hearts. In our home. And in our kitchen. So this year for Shavuot we also made blintzes together.
Learning takes practice. The saying is Practicing our religion, right? There has to be a reason for that one. Every time we have a new experience, religious or otherwise, it makes a path in our brains and in our hearts. Eventually those paths cross. Interact. Make meaning. And it either becomes home, or it doesn’t.
For now, our kids know in their hearts that Judaism is coming home. As far as Shavuot goes, they gave it a big thumbs up. And as far as going vegetarian for the night, a big old thumbs down. They are so, so their father’s children.