Minnesota Mamaleh: When It Comes To Religion, Think. Please.

It's like "The Little Red Hen" at our house, you help make the charoset, you help eat the charoset.

Have you ever noticed how much information you can garner from someone’s “Info” tab on Facebook? I mean it can take years of late-night-over-a-glass-of-wine conversations to hit some of those topics. But with the click of a mouse and many, many hours invested in Facebook later, new acquaintances become fast friends.

One of my newish girlfriend’s Politics section is labeled: Think. Please. I couldn’t possibly love that more. When we’re young, we’re so quick to join groups, identify and label ourselves. We jump into belief systems headfirst and grab onto the party line as if we’re drowning. Woman. Teacher. Mom. Loaded, loaded and loaded.

As we mature we glom onto what suits us, what fits into our heart’s well being and shed the rest. Sometimes easily and sometimes with turmoil. But shed, we do.

Religion is trickier. Messier. Less shed-friendly, if you will. It has an all-or-nothing feel to it that you either run towards or away from.

Raising our family in the Midwest, I for sure knew that shedding was a risk. But honestly? I thought it was only theoretically so, because our kids have always seemed so in-their-skin within Judaism. Challah? By request! Holiday stories? Known inside and out! Hebrew? Learning! And fast.

Last week, however, Kayli and I were chit chatting in the car about some Passover Exodus storytelling possibilities. Read a book? Act out a play? Paint the scenes? And I could tell that I just didn’t have her attention. Her buy-in. Her interest. When she finally confirmed that she “just didn’t want to help with that,” my heart completely sank. And how did I react? Stay cool-as-a-cucumber? Ponder? Reflect? Talk things over with Jason? Not a chance. Cringing yet?

I totally and completely freaked out. She’s not interested in Passover! She doesn’t love being Jewish! She’s going to leave me! This totally irrational over-reaction lasted for about a minute. And then I remembered, Oh yeah! I believe in free will. And free choice. And thinking, questioning, testing out the waters before believing. Even, perhaps especially, within religion. The most authentic religion-based life living comes when that religion is user tested and approved which means it does, indeed, need to be questioned and inspected. Even by gulp my own kids.

So I took a deep breath and opened the door for Kayli to talk. I asked if she was okay. What was on her mind. And if she was looking forward to Passover. And I kept driving. I think people talk more, open up more and share more when in motion. After a few painfully quiet moments Kayli did indeed open up. It’s hard being the only Jewish kid in class (I remember that feeling very, very well). It’s also just hard being different.

She came into Kindergarten guns blazing. Ready to teach anyone and everyone about how her family does things. And now she’s a bit more reserved about all of the teaching and sharing and soul-baring information. You might not believe this, I’m even having a hard time believing it, but I just stayed quiet and let her talk. When we got home I hugged her. And told her that I love her. And that I was going to start creating the Passover story for our Seder during quiet time (Chloe and Brody’s nap time) and she could join me if she wanted.

A little bit of trickery in having her spend her usually solo time with me? Perhaps. But I say that using a tad of one-on-one time to bond with my girl and open the door for more questions totally outweighs said trickery. Don’t judge me. Kayli did come downstairs and we painted and talked and made plans for telling the Passover story together. By making her a part of the process and the plan it became her holiday, too.

So this year we painted huge murals from the Passover story. We did a week’s worth of Seder-ing. A little bit every night. We sat on pillows fort style surrounded by kid-made Passover paintings. We ate dessert in our pajamas and asked a lot of questions. We played with finger puppets and a plague bag. We sang songs. Our goal was to model our own beliefs and to include the kids fully in Passover. Show them that this, too, is for them.

We do things big at our house. AND messy. And when Daddy's at work!

A few of my favorite Passover questions from the girls. We sat around like sages discussing these babies. Well, if sages discuss things loudly, out-of-turn and in um- forts.

Finger puppets? A *big* hit at our house!

This would be the "darkness" plague. Scary, right?

It was a little bit of messy and disorganization and a whole lot of fun and learning. And ultimately, that’s exactly how I want religion to be for my kids, for us. Questions. Heart. Soul. Food. Religiosity is personal. And it’s meant to be interactive. Responsive. Fluid. And ever changing. Blindly following is not the brand of really, anything, that I want for my kids.

You can’t actually force anyone to do anything. One of my favorite parenting gurus, Barbara Coloroso describes learning this  during her first year of teaching. She asked a student to sit down. He said no. They power struggled for a bit. And then she sat on him. She’s mortified by her behavior today. She describes feeling helpless, out of control. Much the way we parents feel so very often with our own kids– when they won’t eat or sleep, follow our belief systems, our paths, our religion. The little boy looked at Coloroso and said, “when you get up, I will, too.” We can’t actually force anyone to do anything, nor should we want to.

Our goal is to live our religion with our kids. Make it fun and accessible for them. To help them understand the whys behind the whats. And to give them the freedom and space to question, waver, doubt, learn and make religion their own. To be there for them, support them and love them. No matter what they end up choosing. Even if it’s gulp-worthy-scary to do so. We can lead, guide and teach. But we can’t and we shouldn’t force.

When I asked my girlfriend if I could use her oh-so-very wise words in this post, she added an addendum: Think. Feel. Listen. Experience. How’s that for religion to live by?


About Galit Breen

Galit Breen was a classroom and reading teacher for ten years. She has a master's degree in education and a bachelor's degree in human development. In 2009, she launched a career as a freelance writer entrenched in social media. Since then, her work has been featured in various online magazines including Brain, Child, The Huffington Post, TIME, and xoJane. Breen lives in Minnesota with her husband, three children, and a ridiculously spoiled miniature golden doodle. Her book, Kindness Wins, is a simple no-nonsense guide to teaching our kids how to be kind online. You can learn more about Galit by visiting TheseLittleWaves.com.

Comments. Add Yours!


  1. This is excellent, Galit. It’s amazing how much I can relate to it, although we are not a Jewish family. The concept of letting our kids be free and decide for themselves lives in all areas of life–and one of the most difficult one for us parents is definitely religion. Maybe dating and marriage would be a close second?? Great pictures, too 🙂

  2. What I love is how the best learning has so much less to do with our ideas or even sometimes our ideals as we imagined them & so much more with really engaging with our kids & learning/growing from them/with them.

    Last year (I won’t go into our seder-less year this year, in large part my laziness, fortunately for any guilt I might have the toddler’s illness would have derailed any plans) but last year, we started seder & the kids revolted: they were tired/hungry/bored in anticipation. The adults looked at each other & decided–fine. So we talked, all of us, kids & adults,a bout the holiday, its meaning, Miriam’s cup, plagues & challenges now, the ritual, the way we live these principles. It was a totally AWESOME seder that wasn’t a seder.

  3. Religion is a funny thing. My kids go to day school and are being raised in a Jewish home. But I am careful to ask/encourage them to ask questions. I think that it is worthwhile to help them figure out what they believe and a useful skill.

  4. great post – good for you!!!!!!!

    “Our goal is to live our religion with our kids.”
    I couldn’t think of a better way to say it. AMEN.

  5. thank you so much, people! excellent to hear from every single one of you!

    lisa– agreed 100%. you and al, for sure, live this in all that you do and i think of you often as jason and i muddle through these kinds of decisions!

    sarah– your “unseder” sounds pretty incredible! and i’m totally and completely sure that by respecting your kids wishes (and needs) you helped open their hearts to the learning. awesome indeed, lady.

    jack– i love that you ask questions, too! so, so important to show that we (for sure) don’t have the answers all the time either. opens the door for learning together!

    & phyllis– thank you! that means a lot coming from *you!* 🙂

  6. Faith is such a personal matter which is why I think that questions are important. You figure out what makes sense to you that way.

  7. Great post! Take a look for the book “matzah ball”. Although it is slightly oriented towards boys and is about baseball, it is a story about being “the Jewish kid” at Passover time. Let me know if you read it with your daughter…

  8. jack, amen brother! so-very-good to hear from you, as always!

    & i2s, hi! thank you for the note and the book recommendation! i’m *always* looking for good literature to spark conversation, etc. it’s the teacher in me! 🙂

  9. Wonderful post. You’re homeschooling religion, which is what it must be, even if you live in a very Jewish environment. Good luck!

  10. thank you, batya. so very nice to hear from you! i’ve never really thought of it that way, but you’re absolutely right!

  11. Our forefathers most certainly rushed headlong into religion when they said na’aseh v’nishma (We will do (what is commanded) and only then try to understand. IMHO the basis of religion is belief, not intellectual introspection.

  12. hi david! thanks so much for the note. i wonder if questioning in and of itself implies (at least an element of) belief? ie: if there’s no belief, why bother with the questions? i really appreciate hearing from you!

  13. Galit- You are absolutely right. Only an atheist believes in nothing and therefore has nothing to question.
    One more comment on the post. Although I agree that “we cant force anyone to do anything they don’t want to” I think that one of the definitions of education is trying to get someone (especially children) to believe in and to do what we believe in and do. Not by force, but rather by learning and most importantly by example.

  14. hi david! agreed– teaching by example is an *extremely* powerful tool! so nice to hear from you! 🙂

  15. “Our goal is to live our religion with our kids. ”

    do you work out of the home?

  16. Galit,

    I just found this blog (and TC Jewfolk). Like what I see so far!

    I wouldn’t be too worried about your daughter not being as into Pesach as you are (or a certain observance). Just model for them and I think they will not forget what they see.


  17. LOZ, hi! Thanks for the comment. I do work out of our home and feel so very lucky to be able to do so!

    & Sheldon, hello! So fun to hear from you! Thanks for the support and reassurance. I definitely hope to be making long-lasting memories with my kiddos!

  18. Although discipline may be necessary at times, the main way to teach is through positive encouragement, for “Its [the Torah’s] ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace” (Proverbs 3:17).

  19. well said, rabbi! and thanks for the comment. it’s great to hear from you!