I’m Not Raising my Kids Jewish

I’m not raising my kids Jewish
Last week I talked about the decision to raise kids Jewish. What if you decide to NOT raise your kids Jewish? How do you teach them about their Jewish heritage? Relate to Jewish relatives? Help them understand their interfaith, intercultural family?

Let me put this in non-religious terms – what if you are raising your child American with Italian heritage? Or Swedish heritage? Or Japanese heritage?

First, racial differences can make some parents feel that they can be MORE clear about messages to the kids, after all a child of Thai heritage will always look to some degree Asian, so the external world will support and affirm this dual heritage. Frankly, that brings it’s own unique challenges, but for now let’s move on to the child who does not wear their identity on their face. I’ll talk about that next week.

Let us suppose that your family is French. You might choose to teach your child some French, make traditional French foods, celebrate Bastille Day, read about the history of France, sing some French songs.

You can do the same thing with Jewish heritage. Teach your child about the country that the Jewish parent comes from. Judaism is expressed differently in different parts of the world. Read them books about the holidays. Point out Israel on the map. You could take them to a Jewish deli, get a Jewish cookbook and make some foods together. If your child has living Jewish relatives, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, get your relatives to help by telling stories about their own lives.

Explain to your child that mommy or daddy’s family is Jewish and tell them that they are being raised – Christian, or whatever you have chosen for them.

How do you share this?
When your child is young they will understand through DOING and through hearing STORIES.
Doing: Take them to holidays at relatives. Let them participate in holiday preparation at family events.

Stories: Read books about Jewish kids. Tell them stories about their grandparents and about Jews around the world.

How might this be different from raising kids Jewish with an understanding of a Christian parent? Christianity is the dominant religion in America. The entire culture is teaching us about Christianity. You need do nothing and your American child will know the basics about Christianity. But Judaism is a minority tradition and you will have to actively educate a child to know the basics.

A caveat. Be clear to your child that they have Jewish heritage and don’t know all there is to know about Judaism. I have seen adults feel hurt and embarrassed upon learning that although they were raised by a Jewish parent their knowledge gaps are significant. When they are with Jews their gaffs make them feel bad and they call me wondering what is it they are not understanding. They don’t want to ask their parents because they interpret their parents as not knowing either.

As your Christian child of Jewish heritage gets older their questions will become more sophisticated and you can add more nuance to describing their extended family and Judaism.

Be honest with them. Tell them, without rancor that they are Christian or Muslim or whatever you have chosen for them. Don’t make the message a subtle one of anger – even if you have issues with other family members.

Naturally this is a longer – in fact, a life long conversation – so do call or email me if you have questions and issues that you are trying to sort out or articulate to your children or family members.