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This blog post arose after a conversation about the challenges for interfaith families in which one parent is a practicing Christian trying to raise Jewish children. We were speaking about many hot topics including:
So, here are my top five reasons for congregations to consider the idea of holding religious and Hebrew education on Shabbat morning given how many interfaith families are now in Jewish life. This switch of days could help with some of the above challenges.
When I was little, my mom made a huge deal of the Passover afikomen hunt. The prize for finding the broken pieces of matzah throughout the house was the hot toy of the day (I vividly remember the year of the Beanie Baby craze).Â She also created an elaborate Easter egg hiding game in which one rhyming clue (starting on our pillows in the morning) led to another, with a big basket filled with eggs as the grand finale. What is the allure of the hide-and-seek element of both Easter and Passover? Do they have anything in common?
As early as the age of peek-a-boo, hiding and finding is a huge part of our development of object permanence. Dad leaves the room but itâs OK! He still exists and will come back in a minute. Just because we canât see or hear something doesnât mean itâs gone. Then, as we grow, the basic game of hide-and-seek excites us for an amazingly long stretch of years. I have to imagine, as my kids are playing hide-and-seek with me at the park, that the moments when I canât see themâwhile panicky for meâare exhilarating for them. A sweet taste of future independence. Perhaps our spring rituals capture the excitement and expectation of these early forays into mystery and autonomy.
Both Passover and Easter share a theme of rebirth in springtime. For Christianity, Christâs rebirth is symbolized in the egg. On the seder plate we place an egg as a symbol of hope, recalling the Israelitesâ escape from slavery and birth as a free nation. Although in Judaism, the egg isnât hidden, both rituals harken back to celebrations of the bursting forth of life at this season that far predate either religious tradition and are shared by many peoples around the world.
But when did people start hiding Easter eggs? Legend has it that the Protestant Christian reformer, Martin Luther, held egg hunts in which men hid the eggs for the women and children. Some Christians have claimed the egg as a symbol of Christâs tomb, symbolizing his rebirth, and the hunt for eggs was likened to the hunt for Jesus in the tomb. There are images of Mary Magdelene with an egg as well. The Easter bunny didnât enter the picture as the deliverer of those eggs until the 17th century.
The afikomen ritual clearly has very different origins, and there is no evidence that the hide-and-seek rituals are linked. Afikomen means âthat which comes afterâ or âdessertâ in Greek, and the hunt for it is a clever ploy to keep kids engaged in the often lengthy seder until the end. The kidsâ elevated role is in keeping with the entire Passover experience; the holiday ritual is an elaborate scheme to pass the story of enslavement to freedom onto children.
How does it work? Early in the seder, the leader breaks the middle matzah on the table and leaves half of it as âdessertâ to be eaten after the meal. Then after everyone has eaten, the leader cannot close the seder until the dessert matzah is found and eaten. Families enact this in myriad ways, but here are two popular options:
Either way, the ritual empowers children. Itâs always fun to put one over on your parents. But the kids also learn that while they often feel less important than adults, at this moment they are powerful!
What about bringing these overlapping spring rituals together in an interfaith home? This is a matter for each family to decide. But some might find it comforting to know that egg painting in springtime is a tradition older than either Judaism or Christianity and it celebrates rebirth, hope, life and fertility. In fact, some Israelis even remember growing up decorating eggs for Passover, and might find it surprising that American Jews donât generally approve of it on the grounds that in the United States, it is associated with Christianity. There are important historical reasons why some customs have become considered off limits in order for Jews to retain their particular status as separate from the dominant culture around them. But if you end up with a colored egg on your seder plate, you are far from alone. It is common enough that a great guidebook for grandparents of interfaith grandchildren is called, Thereâs an Easter Egg on Your Seder Plate.
How will you celebrate this year? Do spring traditions overlap or collide in your home? When planning a seder or Easter rituals, think about what you want to convey through the games and symbols you share. Think back with your partner or other family members about the rituals you each grew up with around the spring holidays and share what was meaningfulâor confusingâabout them. Articulate what you need out of the experience to feel personally and spiritually fulfilled. Together, explore the messages you hope your kids will take away from this season.
After 12 years of working and volunteering in L.A.âs Jewish community, I had stepped away. Iâd loved all of the places Iâd been: The Jewish Federation, Sinai Temple, with Rabbi Sherre Hirsch, and Temple Beth Israel of Highland Park and Eagle Rock, but something was always slightly off. Not the work, which was rewarding. Not the people, who were wonderful. It was me. I had a deep, dark secret that was keeping me at armâs length from the organizations I worked for and the communities I was serving.
In reality, that secret was neither deep nor dark. Everyone knew, but it was always on my mind. I was living in an interfaith household. And it was a topic I avoided. Not because communities werenât welcomingâmany were, but the conversations around interfaith families that I had at work were so vastly different from those I was having at home. It became harder and harder to imagine that the reality of my life, and the lives of many of my peers, was ever going to connect with the Jewish community as I knew it.
So I left. While stepping away was hard, it also felt right. Working outside of the Jewish community was challenging and fun and, most of all, not personal. There were some bumps, of course. It took ages to realize that when someone agreed with me, it was sincere. Without the âbutsâ and complaints and opposing opinions I couldnât imagine that âyesâ meant yes. And I often found myself calling synagogue board members to catch up on gossip and getting coffee with friends in faith communities just to hear them talk about work. But I felt I couldnât go back.
Then I heard that InterfaithFamily was opening a âYour Communityâ in L.A. It was the first time I hesitated in those two Jewish-free work years.
NahâŚWell, maybeâŚMmmâŚI mean, I might as well find out what theyâre aboutâŚRight?
The more I spoke with the staff at IFF, the more I learned about the communities they were already in and the work they do nationally, the more my guard fell. I had no idea that there was an organization that was openly engaging the very issues my family and I had been struggling with alone.
I admit that until I walked into the national office, I remained a bit skeptical. But even someone who doesnât believe in signs from above couldnât miss these. My start date coincided with a pre-planned trip to Boston, and while at IFF HQ, every game of Jewish geography bore fruit and every conversation was one Iâd had in my head but never had the opportunity to have out loud.
It felt like home on that very first day.
As IFF/LA launches, every day has been amazing. Engaging with the extraordinary and diverse interfaith community here in L.A. and the institutions that welcome them has been inspiring and energizing. Iâm working with teen librarians at the main branch of the Los Angeles Public Library on a Passover-Easter family program. With Haggadot.com, weâll be offering a program on incorporating the traditions of family members who did not grow up Jewish into their seder. For Tu BâAv weâre working on a celebration with Honeymoon Israel.
Iâve met with amazing professionals and families from across the spectrum of Judaism and cannot wait to meet more. Instead of just acknowledging that Judaism has interfaith families, our conversations are about ways we can incorporate and honor them. And for the first time, âthemâ is me.
Itâs almost embarrassing to be this enthusiastic about work. But as IFF/LA grows, I hope that the interfaith families here in the city and the Jewish institutions that welcome them will grow with us.
Like all Jewish holidays in my family, Passover with my family is an entirely interfaith affair. There are Catholic adults and kids, Jewish adults and kids, Christian adults and kids and one 92-year-old Russian Orthodox (Christian) grandma.
But the emphasis is on the kids: Between my brothers and me, we have 10 children. My brothersâ are Catholic and Christian and mine are Jewish, and so, itâs important to me that the Passover seder is interesting and fun and meaningful for them.
For as long as I can remember, our family has used the Maxwell House Hagaddah. The old oneâŚfrom 1932âŚwhich I love and have fond memories of. But I wanted something different, something more accessible for the under-18 crowd and for a group that is mostly not Jewish.
I never thought about creating my own until my friend and colleague, IFF COO Heather Martin, told me about the one she created for her family, and shared it with me. I was hooked. I wanted our own personalized haggadah with silly Passover songs sung to the tune of âMy Favorite Thingsâ and âTake Me Out to the Ballgame!â You see, while this may not constitute a very traditional haggadah, whatâs important to me is creating a seder in which family members who are not Jewish feel comfortable and connected, and in which all of the kids participate and enjoy.
And so, using Haggadot.com and JewishBoston.com and some of Heatherâs haggadah as a jumping-off point, we made our own. We cut and pasted and pulled bits and pieces from different sites, including a quiz for the older kids at the end.
It was a big hitâthe seder was fun and silly (vital for the under 7 crowd) and accessible and interesting (important for everyone else). Most importantly, it was relevant to our familyâit made sense for the people sitting around the table, who mostly werenât Jewish but were there to celebrate Passover in a way that was meaningful. We left a lot out in order to create an abridged version that worked for my family, and I made sure to include the pieces that were most important for me to share the meaning of the holiday. Yours might look completely different, but youâre welcome to use this as a starting off point, or even to bring into your seder if you wish.
Here it isâtake a look. Like it? Hate it? Iâd love to hear what you think.
InterfaithFamily CEO Ed Case contributed an important article, “What We Know About Intermarried Families” for the Fall 2014 issue of the Journal of Jewish Communal ServiceÂ which is disseminated with the permission of JPRO Network, publishers of the Journal. Case discusses the answers that aren’t being discussed from the 2013 Pew report and his reaction, as well as how to respond as a community to the issues that are raised. We’re pleased to be able to share this essayÂ here.
On February 17, after enjoying having my three kids off for four days for Presidentâs Weekend, I was ready for them to return to school, and for me to get a lot of work done. But by 5:45 am I learned that their schools were cancelled because of snow. By 11:30 am, as I was trying to respond to work emails, my daughter Tali was complaining that she was bored and wanted to me to play Rummikub with her. My two sons each had friends over, and all of the boys were playing on various electronic devices.
I wrote down what went through my head for the next ten minutes. Here it is:
Really?Â A snow day after theyâve been off school for the last four days. Why not just a two hour delay? The streets donât look so bad. How am I supposed to get my work done today? I have 22 emails to respond to already.Â How on earth could I play Rummikub with Tali now? I feel guilty that I donât have time to play with her (and it would be fun)âŚdid I really just tell her to go watch TV?
Ugh! Now the phoneâs ringing. Who is it? Oh, itâs my friend. Iâm not picking up. Should I text her that Iâll call her later? Now I just lost my train of thought. What was I thinking about?
SeriouslyâŚthere are four boys sitting in the family room all on different electronic devices. My oldest son Benji is watching a movie on his laptop while his friend is playing a game on his phone. My middle son Noah is texting his friends as part of a âgroup chatâ (boy do I hate the âpingâ sound that goes off every time he receives a textâŚdidnât I ask him to disable that sound a hundred times yesterday?) while his friend is texting from his phone. Why do they even bother to have friends over if theyâre not going to interact with each other? Should I make them go sledding outside?
No!Â Theyâre old enough to figure out what to do themselves. And I need to get back to work. Now I have 26 emails in my inbox. Sometimes I feel like my life is just one long to-do list. I feel like that woman in the commercial from when I was a kid who said: âCalgon, take me away!â She had lots of chaos at home, and she probably didnât even have a job. I want to relax in a quiet bath like she did in the commercialâŚor at least not have to answer 26 emailsâŚand not feel guilty that Iâm not interacting with my daughter and instead sent her to watch TV.
I wish I could just shut down my computer right nowâŚand my phoneâŚand turn off the TVâŚand go take the various devices out of all of the boysâ handsâŚ.and we could all just hang out and play Rummikub.
OK, I canât realistically do it right now. But I CAN unplugâand I can encourage my whole family to unplugâas part of the National Day of Unplugging on March 6-7. We already do things differently on Shabbat than we do the other days of the week. I love it that as a family we always say the blessings and have Shabbat dinner on Friday night (no phones at the tableâthatâs one thing I insist on every night!), even if I do have to rush off at 7 pm to get to services at my synagogue. And though itâs not always easy being a family in which both parents are rabbis, I do especially enjoy those Saturdays when my kids and I go to my husbandâs synagogue for services and weâre all together. Wouldnât it be great if I didnât use my phone or computer at all on those days? Could I really do that? Not check my email, voice messages or texts, before leaving for services on Saturday morning? And not check them when I get home?Â
I could just put my phone in a drawer Friday before sundown and not take it out until Saturday after sundown. I remember when I went away on a Jewish meditation retreat last year and I had to put my phone away from Friday afternoon until Sunday afternoon. It felt weirdâŚeven scary. And refreshing. And nice. It was humbling to realize that everyone I know (in that case even my husband and three kids, because they were home without me) would be just fine without me. And they were. And I had two days to just BEâŚto appreciate lifeâŚand creation. It was hardâŚreally hardâŚnot getting that dopamine rush I get when I get a text or email for two days straightâŚnot having anything to distract meâŚbut it was also wonderfulâŚreally wonderful.
I could recreate that wonderful feeling on the National Day of Unplugging.Â That feeling of being more fully present in the moment.Â Rather than emailing, calling or texting people and making plans for when Shabbat is over, I could be more truly in the moment of Shabbat.Â Rather than playing my favorite game on my phone as a way of relaxing after services, I could finally play that game of Rummikub with Tali.Â And the boys would probably play too.Â We always have a lot of fun when we all play games together.Â And we really donât do it enough.
But for now, back to workâŚ.there it goes again, the annoying âpingâ letting us all know that Noahâs getting a text. And now I have 35 emails in my inbox. How many more days until March 6th? I donât need Calgon. For me, it can be âNational Day of UnpluggingâŚShabbatâŚtake me away!â And by âtake me awayâ what I really mean is: âTake me away from technologyâŚand let me be present right where I am.â
Do you plan to unplug on March 6-7? What will you do with your tech-free time?
The following is a guest blog post by Rabbi Evan Moffic, who is not a member of our staff but his wife, Rabbi Ari Moffic (Director of IFF/Chicago) is!
Win a copy of Rabbi Evan Moffic’s new book, What Every Christian Needs to Know About Passover!
Nothing brings people together like food. It is no accident, then, that among the most popular holiday for interfaith families is Passover. It is not only popular because it features prodigious amounts of food. It is popularâand meaningfulâbecause of the spiritual message it conveys. This message matters for Christians and Jews. And itâs a message that can bring interfaith families closer together.
I believe so powerfully in this message that I wrote a book about it this year. The book was published by Abington Press, and it has spent several weeks as the top-selling book on Jewish holidays. Clearly, the Passover message resonates. Hereâs why.
1. We are all searching for freedom: On Passover we recall the way God led the Israelites from slavery to freedom. We see the tools God gave them to rediscover that freedom in every generation by asking questions, praying, celebrating and retelling the story. As we do so, we shed light on the journey of our own lives. We ask ourselves where and how we might be enslaved. Are we enslaved to our possessions, our work, our addictions, our desire to please others?
2. We can all learn from one another: I passionately believe that religious and spiritual people can learn from traditions different from our ownâperhaps especially from those traditions that are our next-door neighbor traditions, which is how I think of Judaism and Christianity. As a rabbi, I have found great inspiration in the description of love from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. My own prayer life has been transformed by what I have learned from pastors and Christian writers. Quite often, I learn more about my own faith when I encounter it with new questions and concerns prompted by those who do not share it.
I believe the same growth can happen for Christians interested in deepening their own faith. Passover in particular holds spiritual invitations that can speak powerfully to Christians. Passover was observed by Jesus. It is a holiday centered around family, food and freedom. It is accessible and relevant to Christians of all denominations.
3. We can see ourselves in the story: In a recent class I asked members of my synagogue what the Exodus story meant to them. Did it affect their self- understanding? Could they see themselves in the story? All of them said yes. They frequently connected the Exodus with their family history. Many had grandparents and great-grandparents who emigrated from Europe to the United States. They fled poverty and persecution to build a better in life here. America was their Promised Land. Europe was their Egypt.
More recent Jewish immigrants echoed this message. Between 1967 and 1991, almost half of the entire Jewish population of the Soviet Union left for freedom to Israel, America and other Western countries. They saw their journey as an exodus from oppression to freedom.
In churches where I have led Passover seders, I’ve asked the same question. Some draw on their family history. More often, however, participants saw the Exodus in the context of their spiritual journeys. A participant who became a Christian later in life saw crossing the Red Sea as a symbol for baptism. He had fled the oppression of his past life for freedom as a believer and follower of Jesus. Some women saw the Exodus story as a paradigm for gaining freedom from the past and strengthening their role in the Church.
Regardless of who we are, Passover reminds us we can gain our freedom. We can become the person we are meant to be.
Evan Moffic is the Rabbi of Congregation Solel in Highland Park, IL, a community of 500 families on the North Shore of Chicago. He graduated from Stanford University in 2000 and was ordained by Hebrew Union College in 2006. He appears regularly on CNN and Fox NewsÂ and writes for the Huffington Post, Beliefnet and his blog at www.rabbi.me. His first book, Words of Wisdom: From the Torah to Today, is a spiritual introduction to Judaism. His second book, What Every Christian Needs to Know About Passover, makes Passover come alive today for people of all faiths.Â
Here at InterfaithFamily HQ, we have heard some fascinating personal stories about balancing interfaith lives, many of which are hilarious. Clearly, Lifetime Television agrees that interfaith lives have great stories to tell as they prepare to launch their all-new docu-sitcom Kosher Soul (#KosherSoul).
Premiering Wednesday, February 25, at 10p ET/PT, we hope you will join us in tuning in to the story of outrageous and sure-to-be entertaining Miriam and OâNeal as they bring their own interfaith story to life. I will live tweet the event over on our @interfaithfam twitter account (using the #KosherSoul hashtag) and hope you will join us in some lively conversation about this premier!
Despite doubts and concerns from their loved ones, recently engaged Miriam and OâNeal are preparing to marry and begin their lives in a Jewish home. Madly in love, OâNeal is ready to prove his dedication to Miriam by converting to Judaism in order to be accepted by her mother, Nancy, who wants her future grandchildren to be raised Jewish. At the same time, Miriam is trying to blend OâNealâs southern upbringing and traditions into her life. What results is a hilarious and touching peek into the love and affection between two soul mates whose deep and emotional connection overcomes cultural barriers.
Donât worry guys! We have plenty of resources to help you through your journey. According to the trailerâŚ you might need this!
Don’t forget to check out my live tweets during the first episode. See you there!
Iâve been reading a lot these days about âthe Millennials,â the oft-described scary generation who came of age as the millennium marker came and went. I was surprised to find out in my reading that I am in fact considered to be a part of this generation, albeit one of the founding members having been born in the early â80s. So I find myself in a tenuous balance between the desire to defend my own Millennial nature and that of my peers; and trying to figure out the age-old question of what does this new generation want and need?
It is a difficult task, to pin point the soul of a generation. The advertising agencies of the world seem to be doing a better job at it than anyone else, but thatâs nothing new. There are studies both within and especially outside of the Jewish world aimed at understanding what makes us different from previous generations, what makes us tick, how do we spend our money, what are our goals, etc.
The Millenial conversation seems to center around integration of technology, somewhat questionable values and very high expectations concerning money, both wanting to make a lot and adversely, not wanting to pay a lot. This seems like a fantastic generation with which to identify!
I must confess, sometimes I find myself acting like a millennial; I textâŚa lot, I rely heavily on the Internet and am somewhat of a savant at locating anything on the great Google. I watch TV shows on my computer and I donât have a landline.Â I am more inclined to attend an event if itâs free and I love having lots of choices for everything I could possibly want.Â I have big goals for myself professionally and I expect and demand that my gender, sexuality, politics or ideology will help not hurt me as I go through life.
On the other hand, I have the heart of an historian. I have been accused many a time of knowing more than anyone else my age does about a variety of topics from pop culture of an age long gone to lyrics of obscure songs recorded decades before my birth. I have a reverence for the past as it informs the future that many think is missing from my generation. I even took a How Millennial Are You quiz (online, of course) and as I suspected, scored 50 percent: six of one, half dozen of the other.
But thatâs just who I am. Like a good millennial, I straddle a variety of identities and I am comfortable in them all. But statistics and studies cannot tell my story completely.
The first time I confronted statistics was not as a member of a generation but rather as the child of interfaith parents. Statistically, as the child of a Catholic mother and Jewish father, there was little chance that I would end up identifying as Jewish. I love this statistic, this tiny percentage, because I was always so proud that despite the odds stacked against me, not only do I identify as Jewish but I became a rabbi: I center my life around Judaism. While I fully understand the importance of these studies and these numbers, I know first hand that they never tell everyoneâs story. My story will be different from yours even if we share a percentage.
The great cycle of generations always seems to contain a smattering of confusion and frustration coupled with a yearning for youth and the promise it brings. The Millenials are certainly not the first nor will be the last to feel the pressure from previous generations to conform just a little bit more. But rather than bemoan how left behind we all inevitably feel as a new generation takes its place, letâs keep listening to peoplesâ stories and keep telling our own.
While each of us are irrevocably tied to the time and space in which we were born and raised, it is how we live our lives and the choices that we make that define us far beyond statistics. There are always those who define the trend as well as those who buck it and it will continue to be far more important to me to ask why and listen to the answers rather than assume that I already know because I read a study or an article in The New York Times.
No matter your generational identity, I think we all want the same things at the end of the day: some happiness, love and community, and to leave the world better than we found it, despite how differently we may express it or how differently that might look.
Hopefully, with a bit of luck, we will all figure out the wants and needs of this Millenial generation just in time for the next generation to confound us once again.
My 7-year-old lost another tooth last night. Since we have been through many of these over the last couple of years, the two of us agreed to put aside any pretention that it would end up under his pillow. He is a non-believer and finds the story of the tooth fairy to be the most ridiculous of all of the farces adults tell children. From an early age, he dismissed anything beyond his definition of ârealâ as utterly ridiculous. Since my partner and I have agreed to tell our kids the truth when they ask directly for it (lest they grow up not trusting us), we let him know from early on that his suspicions were correct about the incredulity of these tales. The one rule is that he isnât allowed to go to school and burst someone elseâs bubble.
My 9-year-old, on the other hand, has a more complicated relationship with reality. For years, he has regaled us with stories rivaled only by Dr. Seussâ I Saw it on Mulberry Street. Tales would begin in our sphere of reality but end in a fantastical world. We were never quite sure if he knew where the line was between fiction and non-fiction, and only now that he is older does he sometimes fess up to knowing the difference.
Our elder child recently came up with a way to distinguish his penchant for fantasy from his brotherâs realism. Some people, he explains, are âmyth blindâ and some are not. Some are able to see past everyday reality while others just canâtâit is part of their nature. Both kids seem satisfied with the terminology, and quite out of character, they donât seem to preference one above the other.
This conversation in our home is juicy enough that the kids reintroduce it periodically, adding on layers and meanings. Recently, this category was stretched to include oneâs proclivity to believing in God. The âmyth blindâ child sees himself as an atheist, and easily links not believing in the tooth fairy, Easter bunny, or Santa with not believing there is such a thing as God. The one who is not âmyth blindâ remains intrigued by theology and asks lots of questions about God. They have also surmised that one of their parents seems to be myth blind while the other is not. This observation is astute, and we donât mind being included in this categorization.
As the ânot myth-blindâ parent, I have to confess that I like the sound of this category. It goes beyond the usual definition of a believer being one who is somehow able to suspend reality, as if the rational mind is just waiting to pounce, bringing us back to our senses. One who is not myth blind sees another layer of reality and is not terrified by it. To be not âmyth blindâ does not necessarily mean you believe, he explains. It simply implies that you are open to the idea. Furthermore, his use of the word âmythâ acknowledges that whether or not the story is âTrueâ is inconsequential. It is, in fact, more important than âTrueâ: it is real, it is powerful.
There is a Jewish mystical concept that while we are living in the ârealâ world every day, there is another layer of reality beneath it or beyond it. Sometimes we get a peek, usually just a fleeting moment, when we see that there is something more real beyond the particulars of our daily lives. Our material world is dressed in the colors, human structures,and natural world we see around us. But there are moments in our lives when a veil of sorts is lifted and we see that there is something else, something deeper. This can happen during meditation when everything ârealâ can seem to disappear for a moment, or when the body is being supported by a yoga mat at the end of a practice and feels like it is suspended and weightless. Or when youâre watching your kids grow and it seems like no time has passed, and simultaneously that eons have elapsed, crunching and expanding time in ways our minds canât understand. It can happen when we gaze at the stars and feel the concept of space and time changing as we try to picture what âeverythingâ really entails. I think that not being myth blind is about being able to lift the veil for a moment, experiencing another way of seeing the universe.
I donât need my kids to believe in the tooth fairy. I donât think I did, even as I carefully placed my teeth in a special white tooth-sized pillow someone gave me. I commend my 7-year-old for being confident and bold enough to come to his own conclusions and challenge what he hears around him. But someday both kids will learn that most of us would place ourselves somewhere between these poles rather than identifying wholly with one category or the other, seeing the nuance and challenge of complex philosophical ideas. For now, itâs an interesting way to start to make sense of their stories in relation to who they are becoming. I do hope that as they grow up they will be critical, but also that they might feel comfortable stretching their minds and being open to mystery.