What does it mean to be a Jew, especially in our complex world? Here is one Parenting Through a Jewish Lens instructor’s intriguing and perhaps unexpected reflection on this issue, inspired by students he’s met with while teaching PTJL. Given that this is an important and exciting debate, please read Natan Margalit’s blog post and let us know what you think.
I’m always amazed by the things that I learn in my PTJL classes. This year, I am privileged to teach a number of intermarried couples. Like all couples, they bring their personalities and backgrounds, parenting styles, and pet peeves to our PTJL discussions. The added dimension of religious and often cultural diversity makes our class sessions that much more interesting. One thing that I’ve noticed pretty consistently: the non-Jewish partners are usually the ones who are most interested in learning about Jewish ideas of God and prayer.
Typically, the Jewish partner has been brought up in a fairly secular home. Their taken-for-granted Jewishness is often a vital part of their identity – many celebrate holidays, support Israel and Jewish causes, enjoy Jewish food, and understand Jewish humor. But they were not necessarily brought up with a lot of prayer or God talk. In fact, God talk often feels “un-Jewish” to them.
This often confounds and confuses their non-Jewish (and usually Christian) spouses, who ask, “If being Jewish is so important, why didn’t you learn anything about Judaism?” This question leads to discussions about Jewish peoplehood, and how Judaism is a people and a religion mixed together.
But it also brings up the fact that very often the Christian (or formerly Christian) partner is the one who is taking the lead in teaching the kids about God, prayer, the soul, afterlife, etc. – all the things that secular Jews are uncomfortable talking about! The non-Jewish spouse is also quite eager and anxious to learn the Jewish way to approach such subjects. They know they are important, and want to teach their Jewish kids the proper Jewish way. So, I’ve learned in these classes that we – the Jewish community -- may be receiving a huge gift from these non-Jewish spouses: they are helping to re-introduce us to God.