Demystifying Temple

My daughter had her consecration last month. (I know I am a little late getting to this blog post.)  She loved dancing around with the Torah, singing songs and in her words, “finally getting to be a big girl.”  She is the youngest and has been dragged to religious school and forced to wait for her brothers for 6 years now.  We were not planning to send her to kindergarten religious school for a variety of reasons, but she would not hear any of that.  She is a big girl and big girls go to religious school on Sundays.  How do you argue with that?

My mother came to visit us from California.  She is getting on in years and we appreciate that she is still able to make the journey to visit us.  She would shoot me if I told exactly how old she was, but let’s suffice it to say that you would be impressed that she managed the trip.  Initially she had planned to leave on Simchat Torah.  She had no idea the importance of the day, it just worked with her schedule.  I asked her to stay.  She did.

She spent much of the time she was here trying to get out of going to the service.  She had never been to a service in the temple and I think she was worried that something would happen to her because she isn’t Jewish.  Quite the opposite happened.  The “older” ladies in the temple all welcomed her and tried to include her.  I think if she had lived locally she would have walked out with phone numbers and lunch plans. 

It made me happy to see everyone be so friendly to my mom.  I think she was sort of surprised too.  While Simchat Torah is not a typical service, it was still a good way for her to see that the temple isn’t scary or too strange.  Hannah was thrilled that she had a relative at this life event.  Living far away from family means that my kids’ life cycle events tend to go unattended by anyone other than us.

While at the time when I asked my mother to do this, I was not thinking about the longer term implications.  We have a bar mitzvah in two years.  It is really important to me that my family comes to this.  But, if my mom is uncomfortable in the temple it is less likely that she will do it. If she does not come, it will give others an excuse not to come too. As a result of going to Hannah’s consecration, I think that she is not so intimidated by the temple.

I wish I had thought about this when we were first married.  Had I really considered the importance of having my family attend my kid’s religious life cycle events, I might have taken my family to Friday services when they visited.  I might have worked harder when my kids were younger, to better educate my family about what is going on.  For a variety of reasons, that all seemed valid at the time, I never thought it was important.  I just assumed that because they didn’t care that I married a Jew they would participate in my raising my kids as Jews.  It never occurred to me that they might be nervous or uncomfortable.

I hope that some of that has passed, and that my mother will share the good feelings she had at temple with my other family members.  Hopefully between now and the bar mitzvah I will be able to do other things to demystify the experience.  I sure would love to have my big, wild and crazy family show up at Mac’s bar mitzvah! 

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3 thoughts on “Demystifying Temple

  1. Really important post!  So much has to do with how the Rabbi and other congregants welcome family members, regardless of their heritage.  I’m so glad it worked out well for you and will pave the way for future celebrations with the whole family.

  2. I believe its all about the temple and rabbi. Its how welcoming they are to others. My husband is vietnamese and when ever we go to my sisters very conservative temple he feels out of place. He will joke and say “looks like I’m the only asian again!”. After going to my sisters temple a few times I decided on a nice reform temple where he is comfortable and my kid’s think nothing of the other interfaith children there.

  3. This post reminds us it is important to share the religion of your household, of your kids with your non-Jewish family from the beginning of your interfaith relationship.  Just as you, the non-Jewish partner are learning and observing along with your partner and child, you need to share those experiences with your birth family through invitations to worship at your Temple and holidays at your home.  You can also offer them books and other resources that explain Jewish ritual. Your Rabbi and Temple educator and child’s religious school teacher are just some of those available to you for more ideas.

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