If you walked into just about any store across the country right now, you’d know without a doubt that it’s Christmas. Radio stations pride themselves on playing non-stop holiday music, stores race to decorate their windows with Santa and Rudolph, and you can purchase just about any of your favorite candies in Christmas colors. Red and green m&m’s? Oreos? No problem. Heck, they even make Christmas themed diapers at Target now.
Please don’t mis-understand me. I love all things Christmas. In fact, we are raising our children in a home that celebrates the holiday, and we squeeze as much holly jolly into December as our calendar allows. But. Christmas is not the only holiday that occurs at this time of year.
My son brought home this piece of artwork yesterday, and it made me so very happy. Why? Because I WANT my children to know that they live in a world where their family’s way of celebrating is not the only way to celebrate. I want my children to understand that their beliefs aren’t everyone’s beliefs, and while I want them to be confident in what they believe, I also want them to be open-minded enough to consider other ideas and perspectives.
I realize there are dozens of other religions – and I believe those are very important, too – but in the spirit of Hanukkah and my own personal history, here are the reasons we choose to teach our kids about Judaism.
5 Reasons to Teach Your Children About Judaism
1. Ignorance is not bliss. A friend of mine recently attended a shower where the guest of honor opened a platter that was decorated with dreidels. This wouldn’t be that unusual, except for the fact that the guest of honor had no idea what the dreidels were, nor did she celebrate Hanukkah. The gift giver chose the platter because she “thought it was pretty.” A valid reason, of course, but I want my own children to recognize a dreidel, menorah and Star of David. I also vividly remember a moment in college where a friend confided in me, “I’ve never met anyone who’s Jewish.” In my head I thought, “how do you know?! Do you ask everyone their religion when you first meet them?” I feel about religion the way I feel about a lot of topics; not talking about them, even when we don’t ourselves know all the answers, won’t necessarily make them non-existent. I am honest with my kids when I don’t know something, but I tell them we can look it up together to find out. That’s the thing; we don’t HAVE to know all of the answers to all of the things … but I do think we ought to teach our kids to be curious about the unfamiliar.
2. Religion is really interesting. Here’s where I nerd out on you for a minute. Regardless of what you believe or don’t believe, there’s some really interesting philosophical conversations that can happen around religion. Even if I think I won’t agree with something, you know what? I read it anyway. My favorite classes in college were based on religion, and they went well beyond memorizing who believes what. I think the more you read and expose yourself to, the more interesting your life becomes. You may even learn something in the process that helps you. One of my favorite books of all time is When Bad Things Happen to Good People. It’s written by a Rabbi. What if I had said to myself, “well, a Rabbi wrote it and I am not a practicing Jew; therefore, it won’t apply to me.” I want my children to read everything they can get their hands on, think critically about it and decide how to use that information.
3. It’s part of our history. My paternal grandmother was one of the most devout women you’d ever meet. She faithfully went to Temple every Friday night, fasted for Passover and taught me the difference between a Bat and Bar Mitzvah. As you entered her back door, you couldn’t help but notice the mezuzah. Even though my own parents raised me as a Christian, Judaism is part of my family’s history. Therefore, my children deserve to learn about it.
4. Christmas is not the only holiday. I want my kids to be sensitive to the fact that while they’re begging Santa for Legos and Ariel dresses and singing We Wish You a Merry Christmas, the child sitting next to them in class may not relate. While I don’t think it’s wrong for my own kids to be excited about Christmas, I’d like them to understand that the enthusiasm they have for Jesus’ birthday is the same excitement their classmate or friend might have for the first night of Hanukkah. My sentiments on this are best summarized in my all time favorite holiday song, “Here in my house there are candles burning bright, one for every night of the holiday. We gather with friends, sharing gifts and happy times. Happy Hanukkah. And in my neighbor’s house, the lights are shining, too. Red and green and blue ’round the door. The sound of jingle bells and laughter everywhere. Merry Christmas, and many more. Season of light. Season of cheer. Season of peace, may it last throughout the year.” Not so different, is it?
5. Matzo ball soup and latkes are divine, and Jewish weddings are a blast. Okay so this may be totally superficial, but y’all. If you haven’t had legit matzo ball soup or latkes, you are missing out. Trust me on this. Like, you need to find someone who knows how to make them immediately OR learn how to do it yourself. It will be worth the effort, I promise. I also have not attended a Jewish wedding that didn’t leave my feet sore and my voice hoarse. Between the gorgeous huppahs, sentimental ketubah signing and dancing the hora … l’chaim!