Everything our parents said was good is bad. Sun, milk, red meat… college.
–Woody Allen as Alvy Singer in Annie Hall
“Yes, I was raised Jewish,” I say to the fifth person who acts surprised to see me and my daughter at school. It’s Rosh Hashanah, but in my household it’s just Thursday. My daughter has a PB&J sandwich and library class, for which she’s dressed a little more formally than usual (some time in kindergarten, my daughter got the idea that library is a solemn occasion worthy of a nice outfit and tidy hair). On this gorgeous September day, it’s easy to walk to school. The crushing humidity is gone.
This year, so is my sheepishness about what people might think. People often expect Jews to be, you know, Jewish.
Plus, children need religion, or so it goes. Having children inspires people to seek the religions that didn’t make it to college in the station wagon full of Pink Floyd Elvis Costello REM Counting Crows Eminem posters. In spite of mom’s passionate renunciation halfway through the freshman philosophy seminar. In spite of dad’s soulful Thanksgiving 1996 performance of “That’s a Sexist, Patriarchal Belief System” (in the key of G).
Not long after they find the perfect stroller, they set out to find the perfect congregation. This is common enough to make me aware I’m an outlier—as are the bulk of my inside-the-beltway, out-of-touch, multiply-hyphenated, hippie, commie,
|Did you know? Microsoft Word’s dictionary recognizes “hippie” and “commie” but not “strategery.”|
destined-for-perdition DC friends.
I get it. And as the years have gone by, I’ve witnessed baptisms and baby namings that made me happy for those of my friends who headed back to the pews with their new families. The brises? Not so much. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not remotely interested in joining Bore Wars IV—the Foreskin Battle. I’m just saying that it’s one thing to do it, and another thing to cater it. Not that I’m going to turn down free nova lox and Manishewitz over something as minor as a pediatric surgery taking place in the living room.
|Did you know? The best place to stand at a bris is near the window. It’s amazing how mesmerizing a window treatment can be when you really, really need not to look at something else.|
But no matter how much I enjoy the hushed majesty of an Episcopal church for a baptism, or love the peace and community that her faith has brought to my dear law school friend; no matter how much I learn from the professional people of faith in my orbit—the world of civil rights—I haven’t joined them, nor do I plan to.
Strangely—or perhaps predictably—I come from a more religiously observant family than any of my now-churched friends.
|Did you know? “Observant” Jew does not refer to your friend Rachel’s tendency to notice your new haircuts and shoes. It refers to how much of the religion she practices.|
I can’t recall anything that mattered more in my family of origin than observing the holidays and raising children who would observe them and pass the practices on to the next generation. Religion was not a yearly ritual, but the canvas on which life was lived.
Except that I was the only one who didn’t stick to the canvas, or the canvas to me. It didn’t take– like ballet didn’t take. Unlike ballet, I couldn’t quit after toughing out the session my mother had paid for. It didn’t stick, and the harder my parents pressed me to it, the harder I recoiled.
But why? As a (stupid) college kid I attributed it to my superior critical thinking skills. Now I count among my friends some devout Christians and Jews who are profound intellectual examples. My observant cousins include a professor, a clinical psychologist, and a defense intelligence analyst (to name a few). I’m not a better thinker, nor is there anything in these practices that would require me to cease thinking.
It must be my heart. At age 38 I’m not so vain as to believe that my brain has divided me from religion; it’s something else in me that has always said no, and never even been open to “yes.”
As a (stupid) new parent, I watched others find or return to religion with disbelief. Why do they think they have to do that? Children can develop moral discipline without it. Why do they have to throw away their freedom for this? Are they going back to their parents ways when it’s not their parents’ business what they do?
Since then I’ve learned a few things. One is that no parent should develop any opinions before her child turns four. That’s because if you are in possession of a child under the age of four, your brain and home are dens of irrationality and chaos that render productive thought impossible.
Another thing I’ve learned is that people know what the fuck they are doing. And another: that it’s the rare 30-year-old who’s motivated entirely by desire for approval from mom and dad.
And the last—that my own path is not a victory for intellectualism. it’s not a renaissance emerging triumphantly out of my medieval upbringing. It’s nothing but a choice. My choice.
Today it’s Rosh Hashanah and getting to school is a joy. Ten minutes through 65-degree air, no blackberries, newspapers, or toys to distract us. Counting squirrels and planning our days together. This is a Thursday with my 1st-grader, who is not the chaos of my home but the wonder.
I walk my child to school on this Rosh Hashanah, an uncommonly beautiful day, and witness her morning ritual: greeting friends, stowing her backpack in the locker, and accepting her teacher’s impossibly enthusiastic morning greeting: “Buenos dias, preciosa! Como esta?” She shuffles her feet, smiles, blushes, and offers a proud “Buenos dias” before walking into her classroom.
Spanish has just begun to bubble out of her. I worked so hard to give her the gift of this bilingual school—a doorway to a wide, wide world that I had wished for in my childhood. This is what I thought was missing when I was being raised to cherish my place in a tiny community. So far, this gift and the values behind it are taking. But who knows what she will decide she really needs, when it is entirely her choice to make?
On this Thursday, we walk to school. We walk out the door of our beautiful home, past my annuals standing alert in the cool air. As of now, we are in step with each other. I feel lucky for that. Fortunate for what we have. Fortunate for the lessons I’ve learned in time to share them with her.
Lucky, happy, and dare I say it—blessed.
 That’s 18.3c to you Socialists.