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.
Follow the CNN Belief Blog on Twitter
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.
Good article, I really enjoyed what it had to say and think having a religion or adhering to a higher purpose is a key component to living a healthy and balanced life . On another note, I really enjoy the comments by the typical arm chair quarterback atheists who hide behind a keyboard. It's obvious they have the meaning of life and the universe all figured out. Good job guys, you are really contributing to your community.
Armchair quarterback Jews, Christians, Muslims, et al...
" having a religion or adhering to a higher purpose is a key component to living a healthy and balanced life" If it were a "key" component that would indicate that one could not have a healthy and balanced life without it, which is obviously a blatant lie as there are many many people who do just that every day and you might know that if you cared to shut your mouth and open your eyes to the world around you.
As to your snide comments...
"atheists who hide behind a keyboard" Only because religious zealots have often enjoyed murdering us.
"they have the meaning of life and the universe all figured out." Wrong. Theists make that claim. We simply point out that you do not.
" you are really contributing to your community." As all indications point to a sharp rise in the number of atheists I would say that is true.
At least we do actual things with our hands instead of mumbling in a corner thinking that's going to accomplish anything.
Prayers are the very least and the most worthless things you can do to help others. You make loud prayers in front of others in worthless buildings that stand empty 99 percent of the time with their doors locked so that you can "look good" to every other vapid shallow fool, and then have the gall to come here and berate honest people for wanting to put an end to the lies you have been told.
Well, no one's more worthless for helping others as someone who prays. It might make you feel like you did something magical, but we can prove you wrong any time, day or night. PROVE you wrong.
You can't do anything honest like that. You can only repeat the lies of your fraudulent religions as if they meant something.
You don't have a single real thing to back you up. Not a single bit of proof to back up anything you say.
You don't even have a god to back you up. When I said not a single thing that includes your fake god stories.
You insist your god exists, yet we can prove he does not exist at all and is only a con-artist's story to bewilder and hypnotize you into following and giving away your wealth, life, etc. to these con-artists modern counterparts.
You don't like the idea of getting answers from anything but some fat fck with a microphone who takes your money and spends the rest of the week laughing all the way to the bank with your money.
I don't have to rub it in, but I can't help telling you that you are the victim of a crime. You are being defrauded, robbed of your money, time, etc by a fear-mongering false story written for that very purpose.
You are a chump. A fool who has been taken to the cleaners. You are too stupid to own money so it has been swindled from you with the greatest of ease using the oldest tricks in the book.
What a sucker. I've still got my money sitting in my armchair. Yours has been given to a bunch of worthless bums who lie to get you to part with it. Worse than any welfare queens. They lie and you pay with a stupid smile on your face.
When they count the money, they love it. Free money from idiots who are too stupid and too brainwashed to even think of asking proper questions about what's going on.
Go ahead and try to feel superior. You might fool yourself a while, but I KNOW I'm not the one falling for the lies that have been PROVEN to be LIES.
Go ahead and insult us for trying to help you understand these things. We want to help. We're even being honest.
You're a chump but you don't have to be. I'm keeping my money for real things, real bills, real important stuff.
You're giving your money away to total strangers who totally lie to you. Maybe some of them believe, but many do not and are just soaking you for the money.
How can you tell the difference? You can't. Anyone can pretend to believe with total sincerity dripping from them as they "testify" to the "truth" yet have certain knowledge, as many do, that your religion is completely made up to strike terror into the hearts of gullible know-nothings like you.
No offense to anyone, but why would anyone let some body else die for his or her sins? It seems selfish, even like a coward to me. "Go do what ever you want and I'll take the blame for it" just doesn't seem right to me, let along "die". Why would someone let someone else die for their mistakes, sins, anything? It is just wrong. It makes you wander about the state of mind of both individuals. The one dying for someone else's problems and the one letting that person die. I would think the one dying doesn't care about his/her own life ... that maybe the person is even suicidal. And the one letting the person die well it goes without saying that it is just wrong.
jesus had a mental disorder as did many of the so called prophets.
Jesus was schizophrenic and bipolar. He was also masochistic and a pathological liar. He did put on a good show for his time, but today Criss Angel has his miracles beat hands down!
Puzzled, it is God who in His unending love and mercy has provided the payment for us, fallen human race., because He knew that without Him Himself providing it, we would be eternally lost.
think of a parent who would do anything in this world just to save his beloved child, no matter how stray he or she went. Is this so hard to understand?
If we people would understand what our sin and rebellion has caused, we would understand why does it take a Lamb of God to save us. But only God Himself can open the eyes of a person's understanding to these things. But only to those who come to Him with a humble and contrite hearts will He reveal Himself and His truth. That's how God has designed it. Because it is written that HE draws close to the humble, but resists the proud, leaving them to stumble in their own "wisdom" . That;'s why they always stumble in darkness, ever learning but never coming to the knowledge of truth!
"why would anyone let some body else die for his or her sins?" I think the more important question to ask first is why should anybody be held responsible for our supposed ancestors apparent fruit binge.
Prayer changes things. .
Yes, we know your copy and paste statement. It's rather boring by now. You should use a new one to stir up the pot.
Yes, you start feeling less responsible...not sure if irresponsibility is a good thing though.
Two wonderful heart felt Truths, offered individually are not copy/paste. God bless
I look forward to the day that you get tired of posting the same old crap day after day.
Read the impostors . God bless
If you're going to insist on blessing us with a celestial fairy in mind, I'll take Loki. He knows how to make things interesting! :-)
If prayer changed things, there wouldn't be such a large market for Viagra.
If prayer actually changes things, then quit posting these messages and get to praying that people will start praying. You're wasting time and your invisible friend is jealous of the time you're spending with us.
Wow! Prayer really did give me an extra 2 inches! I must be reborn, for I have risen! ;-)
Religion: A viral transmission of toxic ideas that can cause the host a wide range of physical, emotional, and neurological disorders, or in extreme cases may lead to the death of the host and/or additional members of the population.
Virus: A molecular religion.
It's earborne and extremely contagious...
Indeed, those who believed and those who were Jews or Christians or Sabeans [before Prophet Muhammad] – those [among them] who believed in Allah and the Last Day and did righteousness – will have their reward with their Lord, and no fear will there be concerning them, nor will they grieve. 2:62
They are not [all] the same; among the People of the Scripture is a community standing [in obedience], reciting the verses of Allah during periods of the night and prostrating [in prayer]. 3:113
They believe in Allah and the Last Day, and they enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and hasten to good deeds. And those are among the righteous. 3:114
And whatever good they do – never will it be removed from them. And Allah is Knowing of the righteous. 3:115
Indeed, those who have believed [in Prophet Muhammad] and those [before Him] who were Jews or Sabeans or Christians – those [among them] who believed in Allah and the Last Day and did righteousness – no fear will there be concerning them, nor will they grieve. 5:69
Indeed, those who have believed and those who were Jews and the Sabeans and the Christians and the Magians and those who associated with Allah – Allah will judge between them on the Day of Resurrection. Indeed Allah is, over all things, Witness. 22:17
Just hurry up and die, Muneef. And take your friends with you. Become a martyr by choking on your own puke. Inshallah.
Why is that ? What has made you say that what exactly has upseted you? I am a father and my youngest daughter 6 years old is named Mariam, why do you want her be orphan for some thing i quoted..? GOD is witness to what you wished me and just might give you the same if you do not withdraw what you just said...! You could not be a Muslim because Muslim knows that what ever you wish others you get part of it...and that's why we wish people good to get part of the goodness we wished them... So I will wish you good and say may GOD forgive and guide you Inshallah...
Strange really among all the non believers posts you chose to wish bad a believer for his post...?!
Muslims are as delusional as Christians and Jews. Shame we just can't round them up and just let them kill each other in the name of their sky god.
You will surely find the most intense of the people in animosity toward the believers [to be] the Jews and those who associate others with Allah ; and you will find the nearest of them in affection to the believers those who say, "We are Christians." That is because among them are priests and monks and because they are not arrogant. 5:82
My wish is that a day comes where all of them will be under one flag and each on their path the true path of GOD.. Only then peace and prosperity will be on earth..Inshallah.
My advice to the author of this article is, drop the hocus pocus part of jewdiasm, but keep the cultural and historical part.
I see this lady has a lot to learn, yet. One also has to see how the world sees you. Your children are Jews whether you want them to be or not. Why because your a Jew. I most of the world you don't get a pass on this, your their mother (a Jew) therefore they are Jews even if they never went to synagogue/Temple. You've got a lot of work to do bringing them up to date on Jewish history and synagogue so they will be able to cope with the world as it sees them not as you would have the world see them. Yes it is unfair; to bad they need to know what being a Jew is about and what to expect from non-jews, and the sooner the better. One day they will get blind sided by some anti-jewish behavior and will be shocked, hurt and won't have the resources to use to recover and defend themselves from this bigotry. Saying "oh I'm not a practicing Jew" won't cut it with the bigots or from other Jews who will think badly of them because they don't know what and how of being a Jew.
In my own case I'm an atheist and have studied religions for some time so when someone wants to pick on me about being an atheist they better have their facts straight or I'll have 'em for lunch.
Good point about her children.
Religion is a moral code. People without religion by definition are amoral. Not so cool now, is it?
You're 'common sense chuck' too, aren't you? You wander in here every so often and say the most ludicrous things.
Religion is completely amoral. Otherwise, I would say why aren't you owning a slave in the proper manor? Why are you not hunting withces, gays, non-believers, and the myriad of other people your god tells you should die? I would claim the moral highground over the bibles god (if he even existed) any day.
I'm an atheist. I have 2 wonderful children, have been married to my wife for 26 years and never cheated. Worked at the same company for 32 years, have no criminal record. I will stack my record on these moral issues up against many of my "religious" acquaintances. How am I amoral? Your statement is ludicrous.
I dunno. Looks to me that religious folks talk a good game but aren't more moral than anybody else. I don't see why I have to cower at the thought of an invisible man in the sky to be moral.
You should watch George Carlin on the Ten Commandments:
I think it would be safe to assume that some religious people would be okay with acting less moral than unbelievers. They believe that this life is merely an interlude till they get to heaven. And that any sin can be washed away if they ask jesus really really nice (also giving money to the church and saying a bunch of prayers). So they get a nice clean slate no matter what they have done (at least in their mind).
Perhaps you can educate us as to what moral teachings religion offers that secular discourse is not capable of accomplishing.
And, BTW, you did not specify which religion you are referring to. Did you mean Islam? Did you mean Christianity?
Your statement would have credibility if you stated which religion, and why.
You are a self proclaimed atheist. You have lived, as you describe, a very moral life. But if you ascribe your goodness and your moral life to yourself as your own righteousness, IF there is a God in whom you claim you don't' believe, you will stand before Him in your own righteousness, not having covering for your sins. You have sinned, and if you hAve sinned just one time, your good deeds can not be a bail offering with God.
It is written that by his own works no man will be justified. Because God wanted to provide His offering, His sacrifice, that those who accept it in His Son's person, they will be accepted in His beloved Son....So, It is Christ's righteousness imputed to us, by faith in His finished work on the cross that we are saved. No man made religion offers this, in fact every religion is man'\s attempt to find his way to God. BUT, when God sent His son, Yeshua, who is Christ, the saviour of mankind, HE sent Him to declare and explain Him. He came to his own, but His own did not receive Him, nor recognize Him. But to those who receive Him He gives the power to become the sons and daughters of God.
But whether you are atheist to or agnostic, you must acknowledge that there is a Standard of righteousness, and by your life you described, you must already acknowledged it. That in itself is a miracle. Animals don't know it, don't have it, becaue they don't have a conscience on which this knowledge is written. You do! Why? The answer lies deep in your heart, which you already know if you are willing to face it !
Wow your god is more vain than Snookie.
Man: "I've lived a good life, taken care of my family, and always tried to seek forgiveness from anyone I have harmed. I'm content now, oh look there's an afterlife, guess one of the religions was right."
God: "Give account of yourself, you have lived a fairly good life, better than many can say, but you denied me, so you shall burn."
Man: "What? That's not very fair."
God: "Well to bad, I created your kind to worship me, so nyah."
Murderer: "Good thing I did that death bed conversion thingy."
@PRISM 1234, I know it tears you up inside when you hear that people can be moral without your invisible superhero friend. Yet, I too am one of those accursed moral atheists. Your post shows that you're so far indoctrinated in your delusion that your only recourse is to doubt anyone or anything that comes in opposition to it. Talk about "missing the mark." If your god is as shallow and existing in as much a state of denial as you, then you should be living in constant fear of him. My life on this planet has taught me that people like that can't be trusted. I'll reverse Pascal wager you on this one... If you're wrong about god, then you're a nonsensical crazy person, but if you're right... you're just scre.wed.
Let time pass, and we'll see what's what and who's who!
Your opinion of me is worth as of those who throw them around dime-a-dozen!
We'll see whose words will stand the test of time and whose won't!
Till then, keep your insults to yourself, they show what's inside of you more then you ever know!
@PRISM, Reality will be here waiting for you when you're ready to accept it.
Oooooooh, Prissy's pis-sed off.
@Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son, I find the comedy of these discussions between atheists and fanatics usually follow a predictable pattern. Atheists present evidence, and call for evidence in return. Religious people claim you can't understand it because you're not doing something right (the secret decoder ring argument). Atheists respond that they come from a religious background and have studied the bible extensively, "here's what we've found..." Fanatics respond with, "well we'll see who's right on judgment day" (The equivalent of "I'm telling mom when she gets home"). One of these groups has grown and matured into adulthood, the other is stuck at an adolescent stage of development.
No one lives a good life because it's just another lifestyle choice. That's like Obama's insistence that everyone pay more taxes because it's "just a good thing to do." Even Buffet is fighting the million dollars in back taxes he owes, big hypocrite. People choose to be good, because it's right. It's right, because God says so. And He's the BIG CHEESE. Everyone else is just pretending to be moral so they can have friends. The true believers do it because they know it's right.
That's some epic logic fail.
Where's PipeDreamer? he makes more sense than this.
He's packing his bowl. He'll be back soon.
I don't accept the moral code of beings who torture other beings eternally.. I also don't accept moral codes from hypocrites; god tells us to forgive and love our enemies, and then fries his in a never-ending lake of torment.
The Judeo-Christian deity is like a little boy with a magnifying glass that has come across an ant hill, and has a mischievous look in his eyes.
@sam, Quote of the day!
I personally believe children should be raised with Christian spirituality, taught good Christian morals, and let decide if they want a church. Church is a handy thing, Priests are teachers and counselors, they can often be of help when it is needed.
Christian morals are relative to the christians teaching them.
How about just 'morals'? The whole 'christian' part is optional.
No such thing being not to religious. Either you is or you ain't.
@HawaiiGuest: Christian morals are set in stone right in the bible. There's no need for it to be considered relative.
@Sam: No, it isn't. We do not want our children in Hell. We want them in Heaven with God.
@David: Incorrect. "Too religious" means zealotry. I personally am not a zealot, unlike the original pilgrims who came to the US. I'm also not Southern Baptist, who are zealots to a scary extreme. The Orthodox Church teaches everything in moderation, including religion. Children do have to receive baptism, reconcilliation, and Communion.
So then why aren't you out stoning non-believers, "witches", unruly children, gays, really anyone who disagrees with you. If the morals are set in stone, then why aren't you living biblically? But wait, don't some of the laws get changed within the bible itself? You know for being an unchanging being, your god is really schizophrenic.
Nothing more to say? Can you not defend the ugly parts of your "holy book"? Or is it that you recognize that those things are not moral?
They cannot defend their violent book, they can only turn to pages that contradict the violent parts and claim that God doesn't change except when he does because it's not a contradiction when he does it, kind of like when Nixon said "When the President does it, that means that it is not illegal." He's allowed to be the vindictive God of the Hebrew's raining death on women and children alike, then all of a sudden he is turning the other cheek and healing the soldier ear.
Also, the morality that was "set in stone" predated the Exodus by about 2000 years so Godspeople doesn't know what he's talking about so it's pointless to debate him/her/it.
Depends on what you call religious extreme. Just because you worship in another faith doesn't mean everyone else is an extremist.
Well, I can't say I agree with this article. I am very religious, and I am teaching my children about everything I believe to be true and everything I live my life by. However, their upbringing is a bit unique in that my husband is atheist, and is also teaching the children about his beliefs. They love their Daddy very much, but they are honestly becoming more interested in spiritual things as they get older, and are able to reason more.
This article is interesting for one point: it's a fulfillment of the scripture at 2 timothy 3:1-5 that says that in the last days, people will be "having a form of godly devotion, but proving false to its power". Religious people are increasingly making their faith less about what's right and more about what feels/sounds good.
Go all the way and teach your kids that religion is not necessary and counter productive to sound reasoning.
If religion makes you happy keep it. If it doesn't then chuck it. I find that after years of being forced to attend church, that I've just never liked it, or enjoyed it. So I Stopped. Relgion is not for everyone.
If you want to teach your kids about religion there is a lot of great content on the internet. This is a great video about Noah's ark:
I approve of this message! :-D
An honest article Laurel – congrats for 'coming out'. This must have been hard and I think I can feel, reading between your lines, that you are like many of my friends who claim to be Jewish socially yet really unable to live with the ancient supernatural core with all its trimmings.
I have 2 children myself and have ensured that they understand the various religious beliefs out there but feel no need to take them to any services. I always wonder about this tug that parents feel and whether or not its born of guilt or some sense of bet hedging about the after life for them...? Morality is the usual reason given when this comes up in conversation with other parents but to me this is a red herring – morality is not the sole dominion of religion! We feel that as parents, we are responsible for turning our young ones into respectful, productive members of society and not some well-meaning but deluded folks for an hour or two on a Saturday or a Sunday.
Religion is just a means of social identification. "Us," "them," those over there," etc. But at least many people see the need to be "less religious" than, I presume, wholesale zealotry.
I see the point of humans having God...what's the point of God having humans?
To play with them.
To have them worship and flatter you on a regular basis.
To punish them if they offend you Or fail to worship you.
How about educating children instead of indoctrinating them? You could teach them what anthropologists, archeologists and religious historians seeking the truth think of about where god came from:
Not Too religious?.. Naw. Go ALL IN. Full blown Southern Babtist to the Maximun degree. Life is so much better after you've read the bible 62 times cover to cover.
"life is so much better after you've read the bible 62 times cover to cover."
What a waste of time.
I seriously doubt there is a significant percentage of mentioned flavor of believers who read the whole Bible at least once. It is usually atheists or agnostics who do the reading...
Ha – then go to the next step and make it the only doggone book in the house!
Laurel, your article touched me. I am not Jewish. I am Christian. But the gist of your story spans faiths. I do regret allowing my household become too secular in light of the importance of faith in our life. Sure, the kids would choose for themselves, but I wish I was a better teacher (by example & word) for them to know my Jesus. Fortunately, God didn't totally rely on me...lol. My son married a Christian gal from a solid Christian family. And, my son helped me dig my faith roots deeper. Again, I related to your experience even though we don't share the same believes.
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.