Family Life Then and Now

By Abby Spotts

April 2, 2010


I grew up in a Conservative Jewish household with two Jewish parents. We kept kosher at home, celebrated Jewish holidays and had Shabbat dinner every week. I was active in the JCC, had a Bat Mitzvah, attended Hebrew School until 10th grade, went to JCC day camp and spent 6 weeks in Israel. Overall, a very Jewish centered childhood. My parents expected that my adult life would continue along this pattern.Pizza box

Usually on Shabbat they have homemade challah, but sometimes it’s take-out pizza. It’s still family time and togetherness.

In life, things don’ t always work out the way you expect. In my case, I took a different path than my parents had hoped. I became involved in an interfaith relationship that led to an interfaith marriage. My husband Paul and I will be married for 10 years in May. He, a non-practicing, lapsed Catholic and me a former Conservative, now Reform, Jew. He and I, and our two sons, lead a very different Jewish life than the one I had growing up. Nonetheless, it is still a Jewish life.

Paul and I committed to raising our children as Jews before we married and my husband has always taken an active role. We both felt strongly that Paul should feel comfortable when attending synagogue and be seen as an equal member of the congregation, even though he did not convert. A few years ago, we joined a Reform synagogue. For me, it was a bit of an adjustment, coming from a Conservative background, but I have since found a welcoming home and am glad that Paul feels comfortable there as well.

Compromise plays a large role in any marriage, regardless of religion. For us, it also meant deciding how “religious” our home would be. When we were dating, I was not as observant as I was growing up, so some of the decisions we made were easy.

We do not keep a kosher home. Separate dishes and searching for kosher food is a thing of the past for me. My children are not told they cannot have milk with their chicken. We can have ice cream for dessert, no matter the meal. Since I grew up kosher, I never really acquired a taste for either pork or shellfish. My husband is not a real fan of either, so the decision to not have these at home was easy!

Shabbat dinner was a big part of my youth. Each week we came to the table for my mom’s chicken soup and brisket and listened to my dad recite the kiddush. Now, I try to make Shabbat so my kids will learn to stop and think about the Sabbath and how it is different than the rest of the week. Each week, my sons and I make homemade challah together. As a family, we say the blessings over the wine and challah before we begin our Sabbath meal. Although we try to do this weekly, sometimes after a long week, we settle for ordering pizza and watching a movie. It’s still family time and togetherness, which works for us.

Holidays are celebrated in our home; whether it’s just us or with extended family and friends, both Jewish and those of other faiths. We light Hanukkah candles, eat matzah on Passover, dip apples and honey at Rosh Hashanah and break fast on Yom Kippur. Over the years, I have gotten used to the custom of celebrating only one day of Rosh Hashanah, rather than two as in Conservative Judaism. My kids do not attend school on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur and I keep them from going to any school/sports related activities on these days, just as my parents did. But, I do let them watch TV and/or play video games on these holidays, neither of which I was allowed. On Passover, I clean out a cabinet and refill it with Passover foods. I don’t burn the rest of the food; it stays in the cupboards as always. On Yom Kippur, we don’t wait until sundown to break our fast, we eat at our regular dinner time.

We attend Shabbat services when we can, our older son attends religious school, and his younger brother will begin in the fall. Both will become bar mitzvah. As a child, I remember standing next to my dad at services, listening to him daven and playing with his tallis strings. For me, he was the one who taught me about the rituals and traditions of Judaism. For my kids, I am the one who does that. My husband, while not Jewish, is able to teach our kids about the importance of faith and provide guidance, regardless of his belief.

My Jewish life now is much different than the one of my youth, but I don’t feel any less Jewish. My children are learning to identify themselves as Jews and are living in a Jewish home. The way we practice and celebrate is unique to our family. Like me, my children may choose to carry some of these traditions forth and some they may not.

While these customs we are practicing are different than what I did as a child, we are creating our own traditions, as a family.


About Abby Spotts

Abby Spotts lives in Harrisburg, Pa. with her husband and two sons.