Expat Hannah from Israel tells us the story of how her daughter wanted to discover Christmas and some other Christian holidays even though her family was Jewish. She recounts how she and her husband came up with a plan to enable their kids to experience all religions!
A few weeks ago in the hubbub of Christmas preparation, my daughter asked me why we didn’t have a tree like all of her friends did or why we didn’t hang stockings over the fireplace. My first reaction was automatically to say “well because we’re Jewish!” but on second thought I had to ask myself – why not? We live in the United States where Christmas is clearly a well-liked and much-celebrated holiday, and since we are not strict orthodox Jews it shouldn’t be that big of a problem – in theory!
We moved to Colorado from Israel four years ago. My daughter was then 3 and her older brother was 7. Language was not a problem for them as my husband and I both spoke English and Hebrew at home, yet this culture was significantly different from what we were used to and took us a while to get used to it. Apparently we have adjusted so well that my daughter wants to send a letter to the North Pole and hang up stockings!
My children know all about our culture and religion and we celebrate Hanukah and several other larger Jewish holidays. Her question got me thinking about how to best bring up ones children with regards to religion, especially if one lives in a country where the religion is different. I consider myself a very open-minded person and find religion in general very interesting, yet somehow it is important to me to raise my children in my faith. Yet it would be unfair of me to expect them to completely ignore their surroundings just because I want to be stubborn about it. My husband and I sat down after putting our children to bed and discussed how we would go about solving this “problem” and came up with the following solution.
Since it is not really our right to determine which god our child should believe in (as my husband said, they are practically all the same anyway!), we will let him/her decide themselves. We will continue to teach them Judaism and take them with us to synagogue for important holidays, yet we will also enable them to join their friends for mass on Sundays or, as in the case of one of my son’s classmates, go to mosque.
We have been doing this for several weeks thus far and so far it has been quite intellectually stimulating, especially for my husband and myself. Questions such as why Jesus was born in a manger and why all innkeepers refused to give the threesome a room, etc. continuously dominated our conversations at the dinner table. My friend who is also a mother got wind of what we were doing and asked me why I was letting my children prefer Christianity or Islam to which I quite simply replied why force them to stick to Judaism?
To me it is something like expatriating. Of course you want to keep all your customs and traditions and pass them on to your children, yet at some point it will become unavoidable to let some new things from the expat culture seep into your daily routine. I can’t forbid my children to eat at McDonald’s just because I think the food is unhealthy and thus make birthday parties at McDonald’s for example a miserable experience for them.
Similarly with religion: my kids go to a public school and although there is quite a substantial Jewish community in Denver, they are exposed to other religions and traditions as well. I think people who refuse to open their eyes simply because they prefer to stick to what they are used to should not go abroad in the first place! If you’re not willing to try something out – such as in our case, letting our children experience other religions – then it is best you stay at home! Plus, it’s not like our kids are never going to celebrate a Jewish holiday again –now we just have both a menorah and a small Christmas tree, the more the merrier!
Photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons