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My Faith: Raising religious (but not too religious) children
Laurel Synder is raising her two sons Jewish, but not kosher.
April 13th, 2012
10:00 PM ET

My Faith: Raising religious (but not too religious) children

Editor's noteLaurel 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?

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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.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Judaism

soundoff (3,114 Responses)
  1. jdubya

    Secular Jews confuse me. If I say merry christmas to someone else, they feel the need to interject not everyone celebrates christmas. If i say easter or christmas break instead of winter or spring break i also get corrected. Never been corrected by a hindu budhist or Muslim. Only Jews feel the need to express themselves and put themselves in the center.
    I really dont care if it hard or confusing or what is right or what is wrong. The issue is that Jews think themselves so special!

    April 15, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • Fallacy Spotting 101

      Post by jdubya is a form of the ad hominem fallacy.

      http://www.fallacyfiles.org/glossary.html

      April 15, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • PaulLied

      How is calling the time of the year by the correct international name wrong? Or how does that make some one more special than another? Isn't it thinking that is all about Christians and their celebrations just exactly that? I guess Hindus and Muslims don't see the point any more. In one ear and out the other so might as well not say anything.

      April 15, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
  2. blastoff

    Maybe she should teach her kids that we are all humans from a single ancestor... that the recent seperations into race and ethnicity are really ruses that have both kept peoples together and apart over the centuries. That traditions are there for the choosing, but are not set in stone as the religions would like.

    April 15, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • Truth7

      God set the nations boundaries and races. The last time they all came together under a "global government" and became one as man, was the Tower of Babel. He then separated them because they developed the belief in "self" and that they could place themselves above God.

      Sound familiar to today? That's right, it does. Your belief in MAN ends civilizations. But at least this time, the wicked will be taken away.

      As God says "There is nothing new under the sun". Take it to the bank.

      April 15, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • edwardo

      @Truth7 – Using bible scriptures to prove the bible is real, is like using "twas the night before Xmas" verses, to prove Santa is real. Please hitch a ride on the next passing comet.

      April 15, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • Fallacy Spotting 101

      Post by 'Truth7' is an instance of a Circular Reasoning fallacy.

      http://www.iep.utm.edu/fallacy/#H6

      April 15, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
  3. ipmutt

    That is not faith. That is avoiding the hard right choices and then using this type of logic to make youself feel better. This is a shame.

    April 15, 2012 at 11:52 am |
  4. Jesus Loves You

    As a Christian I believe in the the gods of all organized religions and in lephrechauns because, as ridiculous as it may seem, technically nobody can prove they do not exist.

    April 15, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • blastoff

      ...and the tooth fairy, and sasquatch, and the Loch Ness monster, and the flying sphegetti monster, and Zeus, and.................................................................................................................................................................................................................................... ..................................................... when do we stop?

      April 15, 2012 at 11:54 am |
    • edwardo

      Invisible Unicorns may exit too. Nobody can prove they don't. So, there ya go.. believe in those also. You are strange!!!

      April 15, 2012 at 11:59 am |
  5. jdubya

    Main thing is that the jewish children are raised to really believe they are superior to others, are Gods chosen people and learn to support Israel in every instance and carry forward the victimization psychology. Secular Judaisim is all about being in the club and goyem and gentiles as outside the club.

    April 15, 2012 at 11:51 am |
  6. Gypsarella

    Like the author, I was raised Jewish (Conservative) and married non-Jewish man, (non-practicing Catholic). The way we raised our children was to take them to synagogue and explain holidays as well as take them to Church and explain the rituals there several times each. We celebrated holidays with each religion. When they got to be teens, they would join a Youth Group in yet another (Lutheran) Christian religion, and focus on doing good works as far as helping others in times of need and rebuilding damaged homes and schools. In Scouting they also learned how to best help their fellow man. I didn't have a blueprint for this, but a strong hope that they would learn what was really important in this life. All people are the same in these churches but if there is a God, the wish is just to help and love our fellow man. I am so proud of who they became as adults. If we could just get rid of the definitive organized religious Big Business churches, we could all be one. All, of us, except for extreme Muslims, who have a different directive in the Quoran. They have another bizzare and frightening agenda. There is a word in there: Taquya, or something that instructs them to lie to non-Muslims to be able to carry out their plan to convert the world to Sharia Law. They are already making inroads in some of the world. We should be afraid. It is open to many interpretations, but in the book it says the more recent interpretation is the one to be used. We cannot take at face value the smiling explanations from some Muslims that all is good and it's just a small faction that is militant.

    April 15, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • PaulLied

      Paul lied to convert people to the religion he founded. 1 Corinthians 9:20-23. "And so to the Jews I became as a Jew; that I might gain Jews ... to those without law I became as without law .... to the weak I became weak, that I might gain the weak. I have become all things to people of all sorts ...."

      April 15, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • me

      Read Torah, follow Torah, have a relationship with the Almighty. It is time to start returning. It has always been time to start returning.

      April 15, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
  7. .

    The funny thing is that Christians don't care what Anderson C00per does with his cabana boy. We don't even care what Richard Kwest ties around his dick when he gets high on meth and wanders around Washington Square Park dressed up like Adolph Eichman.

    So why do they spew all this hatred?

    April 15, 2012 at 11:50 am |
  8. Tim Rigney

    Tiny little detail: "consciousness" or "self-awareness." I promise you this much: You wii *never* come across a person who's truly educated about Neuroscience who will flat-out say, "Science disproves the existence of God." (Or at least will one day." They may say it's "outside the realm of Science" and of couse that's copletely valid and true. But if anything Neuroscience makes one wonder even more.

    April 15, 2012 at 11:47 am |
  9. waitasec

    "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."

    i see, so what brings a greater meaning of life is to believe in unsupportable claims, which in turn makes it more real.
    seems to me that is dressing life up and pretending that a meaningful life can be more meaningful under the guise of faith.

    everyone hopes for the better, just 'cause one has a religious hope doesn't qualify this "hope" any more meaningful or real.

    April 15, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • Tim Rigney

      Why aren't you working today? You could be making MONEY! ;)

      April 15, 2012 at 11:49 am |
    • Truth7

      You have this physical life AND an eternal life. If your eternal life is in order, so is this one. It doesn't work in the reverse.

      April 15, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • waitasec

      how do you know there is an eternal life and what bearing does that have on the here and now?

      April 15, 2012 at 11:58 am |
  10. humberto

    Why continue to persiflage about the lack of respect for your fathers fathers, forgotten. as you alone attempt to trailblaze to somekind of glory ? father refering to parents

    April 15, 2012 at 11:37 am |
  11. LVD

    Can't say it better than 2Tim 3:1-7, the world we live in presently; emphasis on 4 and 5

    (2 Timothy 3:1-7) 3 But know this, that in the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here. 2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, self-assuming, haughty, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, 3 having no natural affection, not open to any agreement, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness, 4 betrayers, headstrong, puffed up [with pride], lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God, 5 having a form of godly devotion but proving false to its power; and from these turn away. 6 For from these arise those men who slyly work their way into households and lead as their captives weak women loaded down with sins, led by various desires, 7 always learning and yet never able to come to an accurate knowledge of truth.

    Without that knowledge of truth, there is not much to offer your children. This current condition of man ruled governments (that have failed us miserably) is proof of the result of a world without a True God,.

    (John 17:3) 3 This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ. . .

    April 15, 2012 at 11:36 am |
    • I thought jesus was white

      can we read the other books too? Oops, they burned them.

      April 15, 2012 at 11:37 am |
    • PumpNDump

      You're late for your medication.

      April 15, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • justme

      reads like the new world translation. an acceptable read by the way.

      April 15, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • Truth7

      Excellent description of the end times. Only people with Truth in them will even be able to "hear" the Truth.

      April 15, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • 30to30

      Can I be Number 6? I like weak women loaded down with sins!

      April 15, 2012 at 11:49 am |
  12. LouAz

    The use of supernaturalism to manipulate and control people is the world's oldest confidence scheme, it relies on the ritual abuse of children at their most impressionable stage by adults who have themselves been made childish for life by artifacts of the primitive mind.- Your Mom on a CNN comment.

    April 15, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • edwardo

      Great post!!! I'll be plagerizing it. Are you ok with that? thanks

      April 15, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • Truth7

      Most people who God calls are adults, so your theory is incorrect. If an adult believes in God, then of course they would discuss God with their children. But you apparently are being a HYPOCRITE – you believe it's ok to indoctrinate your children in your religion of "Man is soverign" and there is no God. Do you not see the hypocrisy? I feel sorry for people like you who try and disuade their children from believing in their Creator. Go read what Jesus reveals is your fate.

      April 15, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • edwardo

      At Truth7 – You act like you "know" who the creator is. Well genious, who created the creator? If you want to drink the kool-aid, drink it. But stop "spiking" innocent children's drinks, with your toxin. Don't mean to break your heart, but Santa Clause is not real either.

      April 15, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • chris

      lou. nice perversion of concepts. introducing the idea of god to a child is abuse? you are saying thats the equivalent of burning a chiuld with a cigarette? dont you think telling a child that there is no god is a lie too? you cant possibly be the smartest most wise person in the history of the world..

      April 15, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
    • edwardo

      Children are born atheists. Telling them there is no god, would not be a lie, because that's what they were born with. If they want to "invent" things to believe in, that's their business.

      April 15, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
    • LouAz

      eduardo – I plagerized it. Saw it last week in the Jesus: Man or Myth lying contest. I of course have no idea who "Mom" is, but think what is stated is accurate/true/fact. Truth cannot be "plagerized". Fact cannot be "plagerized".

      April 15, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • LouAz

      chris – "perversion of concepts" ? Ha Ha Ha !!! You are the one that thinks cigarette burning a child of a child is the same as mental abuse about sky fairies. Why don't we teach little children quantum mechanics, or string theory, or orbital mechanics ?
      Because the are to complex for yound forming minds. Yet you and others like you think it is perfectly reasonable to teach a child:
      Now I lay me down to sleep
      I pray the Lord my soul to keep
      If I should die before I wake
      I pray the Lord my soul to take
      That is nothing to teach a child !
      Death, death while sleeping (no wonder they don't want to go to bed), the imaginary soul, that if you don't pray you will die !
      That is nothing for a child's mind. But your Mommie and Daddie taught you, didn't they ?
      These concepts of god(s) and eternal life and Jonah and the Whale are for adult minds. To an unpolluted adult mind, they are nonsense.

      April 15, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  13. In Reason I Trust

    This entire article is nothing but an attempt to plug the author's children books without upsetting any potential buyers.

    CNN needs to be careful to not waste their readers time with infomercials as they search for "experts" to write their articles.

    April 15, 2012 at 11:32 am |
  14. Sarah

    I teach/raise our children to be good people and, when they are adults, they can do whatever they want with religion. Until then, I try to answer questions the best I can and I always show them both sides via religion (what I know from my upbringing as a Catholic) AND science. We respect all religions and peoples beliefs and we don't judge anyone for what they believe in, nor should we be judged for what we do/not do in terms of our own beliefs. To each their own.

    April 15, 2012 at 11:30 am |
    • reason

      Do you teach your children that some people think the world is flat and that their opinion is deserving of just as much respect as those who accept mankind's body of scientific knowledge?

      April 15, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • Sarah

      Being respectful does not mean being accepting. You can do both without offending people.

      April 15, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
  15. Jesus Loves You

    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.

    April 15, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • Flippy1124

      LOL!

      April 15, 2012 at 11:29 am |
    • I thought jesus was white

      Hitler was a good christian,, a devout catholic. The vatican and pope supported him. And because of that and the vatican not speaking out,, the vatican wasn't bombed. Look at the beautiful pics of the pope and hitler – google 'pics of pope and hitler'.

      April 15, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • Sam

      I know (hope?) this was meant as a joke, but it's a sick one.

      April 15, 2012 at 11:42 am |
    • edwardo

      Some people think your post is a joke. The Catholic church has done a great job of hiding their horrid affiliation and approval of Hitler's actions. The Catholic church used to throw bday parties in Hitler's honor. Their crimes are unforgivable,

      April 15, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • humberto

      You people are trained liars .

      April 15, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • edwardo

      Google it Humberto! If you don't believe us, just Google it! Geez... talk about denial !!

      April 15, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • Women

      The Catholic Church also created the Spanish Inquisition, which lasted for 500 years. How many Jews did not die then? All in the name of the "holy" church.

      April 16, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
  16. Alex

    Seriously CNN...enough with the religious crap. I come here for some NEWS. This is not news. It is boring. This is your lead story?

    April 15, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • Henry

      Don’t read it stupid!

      April 15, 2012 at 11:50 am |
  17. lolzuzu

    My faith: Raising stupid (but not too stupid) kids. LOLOLOLOLOL

    April 15, 2012 at 11:26 am |
    • CNNNN

      Don't forget mutilating their genitalia without their consent...

      April 15, 2012 at 11:32 am |
  18. richiebluejay35

    I don't understand these comment sections. People are more inclined to be anti-religious then anti-abortion, against sports salaries, so on and so on. For someone reason, people enjoy saying mean things behind their protected computer screen. If you are religious then don't read this article. I don't get people that are not religious and comment on a article about a person dealing with practicing their religion. Your insight will not be helpful in a person looking for advice for practicing her Jewish heritage.

    April 15, 2012 at 11:26 am |
    • lolzuzu

      taxes are church exempt and spread idiocy to voters. I have a problem with religion.

      April 15, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • reason

      Non-religious people often have extremely valuable insight for religious people.

      April 15, 2012 at 11:30 am |
    • sam stone

      richie: people do say mean things behind computer screens. they also say arrogant things, like they know the mind of god.

      April 15, 2012 at 11:32 am |
  19. Jesus Loves You

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-2bpc7LSRZc&w=640&h=390]
    .

    April 15, 2012 at 11:24 am |
  20. esoteric1

    One cannot say, read a story and decide that you don't like some parts and remove them....see then it is not the same story, so one really didn't read it at all. The "reason", no punn intended, all religions are clearly NOT devinely inspired is that hundreds, thousands of groups and individual people read the same book/story, but decide to take parts out and interpret parts as they see fit ...like jews christians muslims. If The Bible, or Quran, in example, were "devinely inspired" than it seems pretty logical these books ONE meaning would be clear to ALL, and there would be no "orthodox" or "non-orthodox" , sunni / non sunni or any other variation of any religion, because God's word would most certainly be perfectly clear to ALL. If this were the case then science and evertything else would surely be clear and there would be no argument about devine truth...ever, which is clearly not the case. It is clear Religion's are products of man for these reasons, absolutely clear period.

    April 15, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • humberto

      Just as plants vary, so do peoples cusine.

      April 15, 2012 at 11:26 am |
    • esoteric1

      humberto--Not if God tells you otherwise.

      April 15, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • humberto

      you psyco elitists people are not God !

      April 15, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • amjp

      You make some good points, but your argument is inconsistent with Rabbinic Judaism. No contemporary branch of Judaism advocates a strictly literal interpretation of the Bible. Discussion and continuous interpretation have been an inherent part of Judaism for the past 2000 years, at least. Hence the Talmud and all the commentaries on it. However, Orthodox Jews, at least, would still maintain that the Torah is "divinely inspired;" that does not mean, though, that it has to be interpreted literally, whatever that means. That's what all the discussion is about (what it means).

      April 15, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • humberto

      you know what the Ten Commandments mean.

      April 15, 2012 at 11:46 am |
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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.