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Julie Gardner, an intermarried mother of two boys, writes a monthly column about her Jewish journey. Julie lives in San Francisco and was raised without a religious tradition.
Once again, it is Sunday morning and the day has gotten off to a bad start. My husband is in New York running the marathon and I am here, at home, running a marathon of my own. "C'mon get up. It's time to go to school," I cheerfully assert. "I'm not going" my son responds. "Yes, you are," I shoot back. "No, I'm not." "Yes, you are." "Am not." I am no longer cheerful. This is well-worn ground.
This morning the fight was worse than usual. "I hate this stupid religion. Nobody asked me if I wanted to be a Jew," he finally wailed. "I don't believe any of it. I don't understand the Hebrew, and I won't learn it. You can't make me!" he finally added, tears streaming down his face. "Actually, I can." I said. We arrived at Sunday school twenty minutes late. He slowly got out of the car, his eyes swollen and red, and walked off with resignation.
Attendance at Sunday school is nonnegotiable. My older son has grudgingly attended class for the past three years at our family synagogue. My husband and I have waited for him to embrace his time there, to feel inspired and joyful by the energy and enthusiasm in the room, to feel proud to be part of a tradition that goes back thousands of years. I have entered with him each week, looking forward to the merry-go-round of songs, activity, and bustle in the sanctuary. He hasn't joined me for the ride. He obviously prefers the roller coaster.
Although I have guided my children through the Jewish preschool, embraced the Jewish holidays, and attended family services off and on (more off than on) for years, it is the joy I feel on Sunday mornings in the temple that has made me want to pursue the idea of conversion for myself.
I like the guitarists. I like the music. I like the families, their sense of community and belonging. I like the children's rabbi; the way he plays "Simon says" in Hebrew, and the stories he tells. I like the feeling of continuity and safety. I want to find that haven for myself, to join my husband and children there. I want to be able to ask my kids to commit to their heritage and their history without being hypocritical in my expectations. I want us to share each other's journey. I want, at last, to be in harmony with my husband, his family and our children.
What I am discovering instead is that our family orchestra is a little out of tune. Ironically, my son is rebelling at the very moment that I am embracing Judaism. Additionally, I am beginning to resent that my husband has not been more "proactive" in the boys' Jewish education. I never expected that it would be me, the gentile of the family, who would insist on Shabbat candles. Never expected that I would give away the Christmas ornaments I spent years lovingly collecting. Never thought I would learn to say the prayers, but I have. And now I am expecting the rest of my family to keep up.
As my son sits among his friends (three pews away) I scour their eager young faces for any traces of anger and resentment that they might be experiencing with their own parents. The boys jostle and elbow each other for room, some of them singing, others too shy to join the chorus, and my son, stiff but relieved to be among friends. I wish silently that he could shift his perception of the morning's activities and garner what is positive. I wish he could be a "glass-is-half-full" kind of kid. I wish he were happier to be at the temple. I wish he felt pride in his Jewish ancestry.
The marathon is 26.2 miles. My son and I are at mile 2. We have a long way to go, both individually and together, before we reach the finish line. I need to remember that the miles don't come easily or without pain. I need to remind myself that it was my own ambivalence that allows him to question his Jewish identity. I resolve to try to slow down and keep pace with him for a change.
The rabbi finishes his story and the kids assemble into their individual groups. I nod good-bye and watch my son walk off with his class. I'll pick him up in three hours, and we will continue on toward the finish line.