Does Our Daughter Need Religious School?

By Elizabeth Freid Vocke

August 26, 2014


Mother and daughterWhen my husband and I first realized we were on the path to engagement and marriage we talked about religion. I’m Jewish and my husband is not, his faith being a little more vague and unidentified, although much of his family practices Catholicism. 

While dating, we were already comfortable with how we each practiced our faith on an individual basis, but hadn’t discussed how we would raise children. We quickly agreed that we wanted our children to grow up knowing both religions and so far, with our 6-year-old daughter, that has worked well.
Since I practice Judaism and my husband really doesn’t practice an organized religion, our daughter primarily identifies as being Jewish and even went to a Jewish preschool. This has been an easy road to follow until recently as I’ve started thinking about religious school.
While my daughter was in preschool at the JCC in South Tampa, FL, I saw very little need for religious school. She was young and received religious education on a daily basis. She was learning about holidays I didn’t even know about.

But since starting public elementary school, I’ve realized that her Jewish education and understanding has dropped off significantly. While we still celebrate the major holidays, we don’t go to synagogue regularly and she certainly doesn’t learn about, much less celebrate, the minor holidays. This, along with her age has me thinking about the need for religious school. 

As much as I’m glad we talked about religion before marrying and having children, there are bound to be issues we didn’t think about and this is one of them. Now that we’re facing this, there are several questions to consider.

Where do we send her? I’m making the assumption that if we sent her to religious school it would be a Jewish Sunday school and Hebrew school. I guess there’s a possibility that it could be a Christian Sunday school, but since formal Christianity has never been a part of our lives, I doubt that’s the direction we would go. It is, however, a very real consideration for other interfaith couples who truly do practice more than one religion.

Do we want our daughter to become a Bat Mitzvah? Because if we do, she needs to start Hebrew school. I know there’s a lot of talk about letting a child make the decision, but I don’t think our daughter is old enough and we need to guide her. If she changes her mind as she’s older, we can deal with that then. For now, I feel that if we see her having a Bat Mitzvah then we need to get serious about religious school. And for the record, after going to her cousins’ Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, my daughter assumes she will do it too, which is fine with us.

What about her friends? We have a lot of Jewish friends through the JCC—way more than I had growing up, and I absolutely love it. I don’t want her to lose that connection and religious school is one way to keep it up. 

Then again, what about the commitment? Religious school takes a lot of time and money. I don’t like overscheduling activities and I especially don’t like scheduling a lot of time during the weekends, when we prefer to be together as a family. And it’s also a big financial responsibility. My sense is that the benefits—especially the connection with friends and the Jewish community—outweigh these concerns, but I still worry about them.
And after all we go through, what if she hates it? I’ll admit it: I hated Hebrew school! And Sunday school! I thought it was boring, Hebrew school was a struggle for me; I didn’t want to go and fought my parents on it all the time. In the end I didn’t have a Bat Mitzvah even though I went to Hebrew and Sunday school, and honestly, I’m OK with that. So do I want to submit my daughter to something that I resisted so strongly? My sense and hope is that it’s more fun now and that since we live in a larger Jewish community, there will be more kids for her to connect with and religious school will seem like a natural part of hers and many others’ schedule.
What does my husband think? Probably my main concern is making sure my husband is on board. While he is 100 percent supportive of my religious beliefs, we’ve never been an extremely observant family. Much of the way we incorporate religion is in the traditions we carry on at home and the way we raise our daughter to be kind, moral and tolerant. There’s a part of me that feels like if we send our daughter to religious school we’re taking a step into a more religious household.

I’ll admit that I haven’t talked to my husband about it yet (although I guess once he reads this he’ll know it’s on my mind). In all likelihood he will be as open to this as he is to most things, wanting what is best for our daughter and our family. 

I’m still unsure what is ultimately best but I do see the positives of religious school. Luckily, I think I have another year or so to decide, but it’s probably time I at least talk to my husband—and maybe get over my own memories of Hebrew school. 


About Elizabeth Freid Vocke

>Elizabeth Freid Vocke is married with one daughter and one rescue dog, Chloe. She is a full-time mother, writer and founder/chief strategist of marketing communications firm, Evoke Strategy, which she runs with her husband. Elizabeth enjoys reading, writing, playing tennis and most of all, setting all that aside to spend time with her family. She can be reached at