Editor's note: Laurel Snyder is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, a poet and author of many books for children. Follow her on Twitter at @laurelsnyder.
By Laurel Snyder, Special to CNN
(CNN) – A few years ago I was invited to my local Jewish Community Center to do a reading of my picture book “Baxter, the Pig Who Wanted to Be Kosher.” It was going to be a child-friendly event, so I took my kids along.
Now, “Baxter” isn’t really a book about being kosher. It’s about wanting to be accepted into a community. But I always like to make sure my listeners know what the word kosher means before I read it, since the joke at the center of the book depends on that. So as usual I asked the Jewish Community Center crowd if they could define the word.
Before anyone else could answer, my own son Mose, who was 5 at the time, jumped up and shouted out, “I know! I know! Kosher is us! We’re kosher!” Then he sat back down again, beaming proudly.
And I might have been proud too. Only, you see, we’re not kosher.
On the drive home I tried to figure out what to say to Mose about his mix-up. I wanted him to know what it means to be kosher, to live by a rigid religious dietary code, day in and day out. But I also needed him to understand that we’re not.
How could I show respect for this part of our Jewish tradition while also suggesting that it doesn’t seem relevant in our own household? Should I just blame it on my own parents, who didn’t raise me that way?
CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories
It’s not easy to explain something to a kid when you haven’t yet figured it out for yourself. One of the most helpful/terrible things about having children is that they require us to think things out explicitly. That often means they make us face the very things we’ve been avoiding.
Sometimes, as a result, kids challenge us to become more mindful or observant. I hadn’t been a member of a synagogue for years when I became a mom. I hadn’t hosted a Passover Seder or found the time to light Shabbat candles.
Even though I worked for a Jewish agency and wrote about religion professionally, when it came to my home life I was almost completely unobservant. Judaism was something I thought about more intellectually than personally. Religion was an interesting idea more than a belief system.
Now I light candles each week and say the blessings. I belong to a havurah – a cohort of local Jewish friends who get together for monthly potluck dinners – and also a synagogue.
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Because there’s something about having kids that makes me want to be a better version of my Jewish self. I want something special to pass on to them. Something more than “You’re Jewish because I’m Jewish.”
But sometimes the opposite is true. Sometimes my kids help me recognize the limits of my faith.
In truth, I do not keep kosher and I don’t really want to. My husband is not Jewish, though we’re raising our family to be. So, yeah, we eat tacos for Shabbat dinner most weeks and usually skip Friday night services.
This is the truth and I have to own it. I can only shift my life around so much without feeling inauthentic. Lying to my kids about my religious life is no way to model the value of faith.
So when, after the “Baxter”/kosher fiasco, I set out to write my new picture book, “Good night, laila tov” (laila tov means “good night” in Hebrew), I wanted to paint an honest portrait of my largely secular household.
I wanted my kids to recognize the family in my story as Jewish, but also as, well, like us. Which is to say, not exactly kosher.
On some level I was reacting to the fact that most of the Jewish picture books in my home feel like they’re about someone else. They’re usually set in a Polish village a century ago, or on the Lower East Side of New York City, where mothers cook and fathers pray.
I wanted “Good night, laila tov” to be a sort of lowest common denominator. Contemporary and universal. It’s not about Jewish history, and it doesn’t have a single rabbi in it. It won’t teach you new Hebrew words or show you how to say a certain prayer.
It’s just a story about a Jewish American family going camping, experiencing nature, love, work and rest. In writing it I hoped to capture something typical, something natural, something simple.
And it does present, to my mind, Jewish values: Nature is spiritual, and takes us beyond ourselves. Time spent with family is sacred.
The family in the book plants trees and picks up their campsite, because caring for the earth is part of Judaism, I think. Along with caring for each other.
But as I wrote, I found myself a little afraid that, in attempting to write a picture book for everyone, I was letting the Jewish particularity go. Aren’t family nature, and environmentalism tenets of faith beyond the Jewish world, in every religion?
What did it say about me, my choices, my household, that the Jewish life I was choosing to depict looked like it could be any household at all?
Then I come back around to that moment with Mose, that moment of realizing I’d somehow misled him. Because whatever I’m unsure of, whatever I don’t know about faith, I do know this: if it isn’t honest, it doesn’t count.
The purpose of faith, as I understand it, is to infuse life with greater meaning. To make it more real. Not to dress it up. Not to pretend.
My kids and I are on a journey together. We’re setting out for parts unknown.
And while we may find ourselves changing as we trek along, there is a sacred quality in simply being who we are today. Of stopping on the trail and taking a deep breath. It’s enough, I think, to be exactly who we are, kosher or not.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Laurel Snyder.
The bible, the book of moron, the koran all = Toilet paper!
Yes, for sins.
Religion had its chance to run the world. It didn't work out very well, which is why we call that era "The Dark Ages".
I see the CNN front page and I really appreciate it I do. I appreciate any effort at clarity. No ones going to get hurt or revenge. Then again reading bettween the lines is something a hip person gets and you have to be really clear with others. It just straightens the mess out. Everyone goes on with life. Forgets the hooey. Relaxs and life gets better after a maladjusted world straightens up. It will do it anyway. Why go against the flow. Cause your lifes going to get better.
Dear CNN belief,
I believe you have "jumped the shark".
Someone should tell CNN it's "it's not easy" on the front page caption, not "its not easy".
"A Jewish mom struggles to explain to her kids why they're not kosher and realizes its not easy to express something when you haven't yet figured it out for yourself."
actually, no, its not. you might want to be sure of grammatical rules before you go acting in such a condescending manner.
lol @ Tom. Are you sure about that?
This wasn't an attack – this was a suggestion for a correction of a grammatical error, which should certainly not be made in the context of journalism.
It most certainly is, "it's". ;)
Think about this. If the Jews are right and we should become Kosher, where is the atonement for the Gentiles? Is He the God of the Jews only or Gentiles as well as it says in His word? It says nowhere in the bible for us to become Jewish. The only other option is to provide atonement for all and that is through Jesus Christ. It is really a simple concept if people wouldn't make it complicated. The Gentiles have to have atonement so that we may have fellowship with God here on earth too. We can't do that if we follow Jewish law.
You mean there are impassable differences between the world's religions that create hypothetical questions with no answer like the one you raised? I wonder which religion is right...
Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are also offering atonement for 50% off.
The issue is that the churches are teaching "Jewish" instead of "Judeans". Judah was one of the 12 sons of Israel (Jacob). The Jewish religion has NOTHING to do with the Judaens of the Bible!
Nations and Gentiles in the Bible mean the non-Israelite family. So the "chosen", are the descendants of Jacob (Israel).
For what it's worth, the Torah explicitly says that things like keeping kosher are rules just for Jews. There are 7 "rules" of morality (the "Noahide Code") defining what is expected of all people, not just Jews, and these rules are mostly non-religious (no murder, no theft, have courts of law, etc.) with 2 that are arguably religious, if very general (no idolatry, no blasphemy). According to Jewish law, non-Jews who follow these laws are considered righteous and are assured a place in the "world to come" (what the "world to come" means varies all over the place in different Jewish groups, and has since biblical times, but the "same" one applies to both Jews and righteous non-Jews). Bottom line, if you aren't Jewish, you don't need to keep kosher (or follow most of the other 613 commandments) and you can still be a good person worthy of "heaven"...
http://godisimaginary.com/ Need I say more!
i.m.o., here, exactly, is the hypocrasy of America. We print "In God We Trust" on our money and then tell our kids to go clobber the other kid on the football field. We tell our kids flat-out, "Believe in God – – but not *REALLY!* (wink, wink!...)"
"Too religious" – and you don't see a problem with that??? (Not to say there's "no such thing" as in Stephen King's Carrie – but c'mon – kids know hypocrasy when they see it. The reason for all the teenage "angst" and feeling like we're hypocrites is that we ARE hypocrites.
It's not hypocritical to set standards for you and your family and strive to achieve them. As the article insinuates, she doesn't feel obligated to set her standards as the status quo but rather how she see fit for nurturing her family into society.
I can never figure out why people like you are soo upset that Christians strive to be better than what you are.
Or pay their h00kers with bills marked "In God We Trust".
*really,* you're stereotyping me. I was just trying to make a point that "sincerity is a good thing." I'm not even planning to go to church today, haven't been in ages, frankly. ;)
Atheist here. I see nothing wrong with raising your children with faith (myth) provided you: 1. Don't deny evolution. 2. Don't promote ignorance and intelligent design/creationism. 3. Don't shove you beliefs on others and try to invoke them in public schools, etc.
The fact remains that religion/faith has caused more deaths and wars than any other single cause. The Earth is 4.5 Billion years old. Dinosaurs existed, just not with man. Evolution is both a scientific theory and a scientific FACT. The whole "Noah's Ark" thing, "Parting" the Red Sea, "rising" from the dead, and other parts of the bible are complete and total myths. There is NO academically accepted, peer reviewed evidence that "jesus" ever existed. You'd think the MOST important person in Catholicism/Christianity/Baptist/Lutheran/Pentacostal and other faiths would have proof of life, but none exists. Belief what you want but keep it out of public schools, government, law & jurisprudence, domestic and foreign policy.
What makes your "religion" and "faith" more valid or real than the Greek & Roman Gods, The Druids, Mithrasian faiths, Hindi, Shintoism? NOTHING! It is more relevant, accurate or real than the other faiths you "compete" with.
If you want to raise your children to be burger flippers and ditch diggers, fine. Teach them all your religious/faith insanity and myths. They'll be working in menial jobs and manual labor.
The issue of evolution: both can be right and as I hear many say" what is one day to God could be millions of years to us". After all, if the word is divine, how are you expose to explain creationism to people who barely understand how to make a fire? The fact that He had to break it down into fairy tales to make explain our existence is a premise of evolving in its self.
Can you explain a million years to a very small child? and, would it really be that significant at that point in their lives? and hopefully your child would make the transition from Santa Clause to reality of your lessons if life in a mature fashion correct?
Parents have a responsibility to teach their children the truth, and the truth cannot be found in a book of religious myths. To do otherwise is child abuse. It's immoral. It's a crime against humanity.
Let them do it. We need burger flippers, ditch diggers and people to haul/recycle our trash.
So how did the UNIVERSE get here? OHHH, right-right-right, the "Big Bang." Which Science has explained to us happened occurred because . . . uhm . . . uhmm . . . . UHHMMMM . . . Well, see before there was TIME there was this tiny little – what do I mean by "before time?" Well see, SCIENCE has clearly shown us that uhm . . . uhmmm . . .
Tim: even your deliberate misrepresentation of the science is STILL better than the borderline obscene zealot view, whihc is just "Godddit".
But how did god..."
"I SAID GODDIDIT, NO FURTHER QUESTIONS ALLOWED!"
Tim, you hare lacking some basic education. It's not really that complicated! :-)
Science is questions that may never be answered, religion is answers that may never be questioned. How Tim can feel good believing in something that supports pedophiles and incest and murder is simply sad! Using the god of the gaps argument is a pathetic attempt on the christards behalf to make them feel better...no need to look further for answers as long as they can turn to the buybull and cherry pick.
"Let them do it. We need burger flippers, ditch diggers and people to haul/recycle our trash."
And you will use your welfare coupon to pay for them? What a miserable sencond-class minority you are.
My niece and nephew have Easter brunch and Passover seder, a Christmas tree and a Hanukkah bush, and are taught only a bit about the traditions and mythology behind it all. They very rarely attend the Unitarian church their grandmother attends. This might put them at a slight disadvantage when it comes time to take an English literature course, and they don't "get" the references to the bible...but other than that, they are great kids.
No its a thing of pacification. Its keep people calm and obiedent in the face of work quietly with your own hands minding your own business and be happy with what you have. See if you pay not attention to what people are on purpose are taking from you and others. Your not really helping humanity if helping humanity is your thing. Obey all authority isn't really in the OT. It is in the NT. Thats good if you want to be cannon fodder in a draft to invade some country which the U.S. spends a lot of time doing. One of Washingtons capes is Christian the other one is All religions. The other cape they wear is humanity. No matter which cape they put on they spend a lot of time worrying about who to kill next. They monitor the globe for that and well sometimes there is a little payoff in resources for them and their friends. Like oh say the UN "wolfpack".
I saved a cat's life this morning who had somehow got it's head lodged tightly inside an Alpo dog food can. Looked like it had been there in the middle of the road all night. I could hear these faint little gasps for air every few seconds–it's little paws trembling– the cat was definitely suffocating to death. The first two attempts to get the cats head out of the can actually lifted the cat's body of the ground which startled it, but the 3rd try was a charm. As I got back in the car, kids cheering and applauding, I was hit with this feeling–because I knew if it were just me driving down that street, I probably wouldn't have cared or even stopped. I hate cats. It was only because of the relentless insistence by my kids that I finally made the decision to stop and save that cat's life. Kids sometimes teach us.
It makes me sad to read all the posts where people insult others and their beliefs (or non-beliefs). Sure, this is a forum to comment and discuss but insults are unnecessary, childish and disrespectful. Religous or not, I believe it is important to show respect to others even when you disagree.
Do you respect the opinion that the Earth is flat?
You "believe" in respecting others beliefs? What if their beliefs are to not respect anything?
To respond to the two people who were kind enough to take the time to respond to me:
1. My comment was that "I believe it is important to show respect to others even when you disagree." You must have misread my comment because you misstated what I wrote. (Note my original comment only referenced general public conversation like this online forum.)
2. Yes, if someone truly believed the Earth was flat I would show them respect and I would not insult and degrade them. It's just unnecessary. If I chose to respond, I feel like I have the verbal and written skills to say what I'd like to say without being insulting.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I really do appreciate it!
The authors dilemma is apparent....she is more concerned about rituals and traditions than simply God. Not once was He even mentioned. God dislikes rituals; He gave the appointed feasts and that's it. The rest is about changing your heart in order to "see" and "hear" Him.
You know what your god likes? That's much like saying you know what Santa likes or what the Easter Bunny likes.
Didn't "god" command us to take a sabbath every week and sacrifice animals and purify before entering the tabernacle and stuff in the old testament? That ritualistic bast@rd.
Rather than inculcating our children with the primary-color simple Sunday school legends and myths most people do, might I suggest the following ten comandments to enable them to think for themselves.
1. DO NOT automatically believe something just because a parent, priest, rabbi or minister tells you that you must.
2. DO NOT think that claims about magic and the supernatural are more likely true because they are written in old books. That makes them less likely true.
3. DO analyze claims about religion with the same critical eye that you would claims about money, political positions or social issues.
4. DO NOT accept it when religious leaders tell you it is wrong to question, doubt or think for yourself. It never is. Only those selling junk cars get frightened when you want to "look under the hood".
5. DO decouple morality from a belief in the supernatural, in any of its formulations (Christianity, Judaism, Islam etc.). One can be moral without believing in gods, ghosts and goblins and believing in any of them does not make one moral.
6. DO a bit of independent research into whatever book you were brought up to believe in. Who are its authors and why should I believe them in what they say? How many translations has it gone through? Do we have originals, or only edited copies of copies of copies– the latter is certainly true for every single book in the Bible.
7. DO realize that you are only a Christian (or Hindu or Jew) because of where you were born. Were you lucky enough to be born in the one part of the World that “got it right”?
8. DO NOT be an apologist or accept the explanation “your mind is too small to understand the greatness of god” or “god moves in mysterious ways” when you come upon logical inconsistencies in your belief. A retreat to mysticism is the first refuge of the cornered wrong.
9. DO understand where your religion came from and how it evolved from earlier beliefs to the point you were taught it. Are you lucky enough to be living at that one point in history where we “got it right”?
10. DO educate yourself on the natural Universe, human history and the history of life on Earth, so as to be able to properly evaluate claims that a benevolent, mind-reading god is behind the whole thing.
I sometimes think that, if we first taught our children these simple guidelines, any religion or other supernatural belief would be quickly dismissed by them as quaint nostalgia from a bygone era. I hope we get there as a species.
Colin, You da man!
Man's number in the Bible is "6". Are you so full of self-belief, that you think you know better than God?
Have you ever even asked God with an honest heart if He is there? Let me guess, your intelligence prevented you from doing so. Do you know why you haven't? It's in the Bible. You have a stiff neck and God has hardened your heart. Only He can change that. One day, you will know the Truth and you will regret never having simply asked Him. Man is all about self-interest, which leads to destruction.
Truth7, when you asked GAWD something did you hear 'voices'? Seek professional help
Colin, that would defeat the purpose of blind faith and indoctrination!
Religious beliefs may be based on "myth" in your opinion, but in many others they are based in faith. Mythology and faith are completely different concepts, but you seem to lack an understanding of the distinction between them. I absolutely respect Atheists who are educated and well-versed in their knowledge of religious texts as a means of explaining their point of you. However, strongly insinuating that your point of view is the only "right" way to think is egocentric to the point of narcissism. The reason why some Atheists cannot "disprove" their hated religion de jour is because religion is not about "proving." The very basis of Judaism, Islam, and Christian religions is faith, a lack of proof for the events that make up the basis for said belief systems.
If you are passionate about "disproving" the majority of the world's population for the sake of being "right," I suggest you educate yourself by taking courses at a university's school of theology. Then you might actually know a bit more about the things you are denouncing and sound marginally less ignorant.
@Emily: Faith is belief without evidence...so what you're saying is that you don't care that what you believe is true.
Emily, my apparent personality flaws aside, perhaps you can explain to me the difference between faith and myth, becuase quite frankly, they seem interchangeable to me.
You say "The very basis of Judaism, Islam, and Christian religions is faith, a lack of proof for the events that make up the basis for said belief systems." That is exactly my point. The fact that they are based solely on faith makes them very, very likely untrue. This may have a comforting effect on the believer, but ultimately it is a rather insipid form of self-delusion.
Where can I sign up to listen to YOU every week??? I feel exactly the same way, however it is very hard to raise kids in an environment where everyone has to have a label of what they are in order to be part of a group or fit in. If people were just taught to be good to each other and do the right thing for the sake of doing the right thing instead of all of this other storybook crap, the world would be a much happier place. I know so many individuals who claim to be good religious people and walk around with their bibles or go to synagogue every week and let me tell you, they are some of worst people, biggest backstabbers and selfish individuals I know. They think they are good people, but they think about their paychecks, their ego, and themselves before anything and everybody else. I do not believe in much, but I do believe in Karma. I believe that if you are a good person and do the right thing, you will be able to go to sleep and night and feel good about yourself. The backstabbers will get what they deserve eventually, no matter what their religious affiliation.
Alison, that's where it starts. The ones who have to make a late "appearance" for the "big show" and sit right up front in the first pew in the designer dress with the kids sharply dressed. They sing the loudest, make a flourish while dropping a wad in the collection basket, make a big genuflection or bow at communion, stopping the whole line, then running out in the middle of the last hymn and cutting off several people pulling out of the parking lot. At lunch, they are usually running other people down and gossiping. Saw it every Sunday while growing up.
I almost forgot the big advertisement on the back of the weekly bulletin for their business.
The gods of all organized religions, if true, would all be horribly unjust and evil deities to send billions of people to eternal suffering for choosing the wrong one or being born in the wrong place. Looking at organized religion objectively, they are myths from iron age societies that were trying to explain the world, and there is virtually no chance any one is truth.
Rationally speaking if there is a just god and an afterlife, you will be judged on how you live your life. Rejecting reason and deluding yourself in blind faith does not help your case.
"Hell awaits our children, because we can't help but mislead our children."
Judaism doesn't have that problem. Judaism specifically teaches that the entire human race is NOT damned. In fact, the idea of eternal damnation is quite alien to rabbinic Judaism.
There is only one crucial problem with message in this video, one essential thing that's left out....
The Spirit of God , the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of Truth does NOT bear witness to "allah' and his messenger Mohamed, nor does He bear witness to Krishna, Buddha, Zeus or any other "god" of man's imagination.
But He bears witness to Yeshua, the Messiah, Jesus Christ God's Son, who came down to to live among us and became one of us, so that by His sinless life He would become sacrifice for our sins and reconcile us to God.
He arose from the dead, because the Death couldn't hold Him! Now, we may LIVE through believing in Him and trusting in Him. That was God's plan from the beginning.
To HIM The Spirit of Truth testifies, and He is the plum-line, the Standard, the measure of all things.
Every man, woman and child has been given a CONSCIENCE, so that they with that God given conscience are able to recognize this truth. BUT, it is according to what is in their hearts, will they recognize It or not.
That's where God doesn't play man's game!
That's the missing part, which those who say things as the man in this video says, fail to acknowledge. But God's Spirit, the Spirit of Truth testifies OTHERWISE!
In order to gain the right to teach one's religion to one's child, one must first ensure that one's obligation to educate the child has been carried out. This means that one must first ensure that the child has attained the mental capacities, the political freedom and security within his family and culture to question the concepts of a religion without repercussion. 'Kosher' originally described a certain diet but the word is now used as a replacement for the word 'good' in many non-diet related scenarios. If God exists we know that every child born is precious in the sight of God. Your child naturally understands this and uses the word 'kosher' in this context. When you tell your 5 year old child he is not 'good' or not 'kosher' you are psychologically crippling him. This is abuse in every sense of the word because he is at your mercy and you have denied him the ability and freedom to raise a rational defense. If instead, in fairness to the child, wait until he had attained the age of reason and then tell him he is not ‘kosher’ he will patiently explain to you that a person cannot be 'kosher' or 'non-kosher' it is only the acts of a person that can be considered to be good or evil. Your teaching is well-intentioned but as you suggest, you have misled your child up to this point. This is not all your fault because you yourself became psychologically impacted by religious concepts introduced too early in your own childhood. Each crippled generation cripples the next in dubious honor to ancient generations who, if they live on in the afterlife, must be in anguish in each helpless observance of an abuse of a child caused by something they had said or written. It's not too late to cure your child. Love the child and educate him to observe the universe with a rational frame of mind. Our children will heal us all, and bring peace to any anguished departed, if we do not prevent them from reaching the age of reason with all of their mental capacities fully intact.
If you want to be burning in a lake a fire and acid like Gandhi is right now, ignore Christianity and just live life being a good person. God will punish you accordingly.
If you want to be sipping margaritas pool-side with Jesus like Hitler is right now, become a Christian. God will reward you accordingly.
Personally got no interest in living for the rest of time in a higher state of conscious. Especially if the people i'm going to be chilling with are Christians and family, ha.
Eat a bag of cawks. What a moron.
Wow you made quite a statement. God never approved of anything Hitler did. That was a wacko that did something in the name of Christianity but God never put His stamp on that. You have to have a relationship with God to really understand this. Religion gets you nowhere.
Religion is not rational which is why you need to take a leap of faith. Only someone deluded in blind faith would think that Gandhi is in burning in hell while Hitler is hamming it up in heaven.
God does not put His stamp on any sin humans do, but Hitler was saved anyway because he was a Catholic. As long as you accept Him and worship Him, that is all he cares about. It does not matter how many millions of innocent lives you slaughter.
Well , if that is the case "jesus love you" then Id rather be in hell.
Your post has to be satire, it has to be LOL
We raised our children with no religious faith or beliefs. We didn't tell them what to believe or not to believe. We felt they could start believing any time they wanted. They are adults now and non-believers in the supernatural.
Same here. If you do not indoctrinate your children they will most likely remain free thinkers for life and will be healthy , skeptical adults immune to the Christian virus and other cults.
Big deal, You and your children are fools.
@humberto: Pot meet kettle! At least this person raised their children to think for themselves and to base their opinions on the truth. You can call people fools when you provide the verifiable evidence for your god, until then the only fool is you!
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.