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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)
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    June 2, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
  11. Flip

    Some people become more religious because of their religion. Please visit http://www.ofwforum.com, this is a forum site you can tackle any topic here.

    May 28, 2012 at 12:13 am |
  12. Kindness

    Some thoughts to consider without a typical ego response

    Accept Jesus christ as your lord and saviour. You never know how soon is too late. Transcend the worldly illusion of enslavement.
    The world denounces truth....

    Accepting Jesus Christ (for me) resulted in something like seeng a new colour. You will see it .....but will not be able to clearly explain it to anyone else..... Its meant to be that way to transend any selfism within you.

    Also... much the world arranges "surrounding dark matter into something to be debated" in such a way that protects/inflates the ego.

    The key is be present and transcend our own desire to physically see evidence. We don't know anyways by defending our own perception of dark matter.

    Currently.... most of us are constructing our own path that suits our sin lifestyle. Were all sinners. Knowing that we are is often an issue. But both christians and non are sinners.

    We don't like to Let go and let god. We want control to some degree. This is what Jesus asks us to do. "Let go and let god".
    It's the hardest thing to do... but is done by letting the truth of scripture lead you (redemptive revelation)... as I said .

    Try reading corinthians and see if it makes sense to you. Try it without a pre conceived notion of it being a fairy tale.
    See the truth...
    do we do what it says in todays society... is it relevant... so many have not recently read and only hinge their philosophy on what they have heard from som other person...which may have been full of arogance pride or vanity..

    Look closely at the economy ponzi, look at how society idolizes Lust , greed , envy, sloth, pride of life, desire for knowledge, desire for power, desire for revencge,gluttony with food etc .

    Trancsend the temporal world.

    Just think if you can find any truth you can take with you ....in any of these things. When you die your riches go to someone who will spend away your life..... You will be forgotten.... history will repeat iteslf.... the greatest minds knowledge fade or are eventually plagerzed..... your good deeds will be forgotten and only give you a fleeting temporary reward . your learned teachings are forgotten or mutated..... your gold is transfered back to the rullers that rule you through deception. Your grave will grow over . This is truth .

    Trancsend your egoism and free yourself from this dominion of satan. Understand you are a sinner and part of the collective problem of this worldly matrix... Repent.... Repent means knowing

    Evidence follows faith. Faith does not follow evidence..... Faith above reason in Jesus Christ.

    Faith comes by Reading or Hearing the word of god from the bible . Ask Jesus in faith for dicernment and start reading the new testament... You will be shocked when you lay down your preconceived notions and ....see and hear truth ... see how christ sets an example ... feel the truth....

    Read Ecclesiastes. Read corinthians.

    You cant trancend your own egoism by adapting a world philosophy to suit your needs. Seek the truth in Christ.

    Sell all your cleverness and purchase true bewilderment. You don't get what you want ....you get what you are in christ.

    I promise this has been the truth for me. In Jesus christ .

    Think of what you really have to lose. ...your ego?

    Break the Matrix of illusion that holds your senses captive.

    once you do . you too will have the wisdom of God that comes only through the Holy Spirit. Saved By grace through Faith. Just like seeing a new colour.... can't explain it to a transient caught in the matrix of worldly deception.
    You will also see how the world suppresses this information and distorts it

    Your all smart people . I tell the truth. Its hard to think out of the box when earthly thinking is the box.
    I'ts a personal free experience you can do it free anytime . Don't wait till you are about to die.. START PUTTING YOUR TREASURES WHERE THEY REALLY MATTER >
    Its awsome .

    May 22, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "Your all smart people . I tell the truth."

      LMAO! Your all smart people . I tell the truth. = EGO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      May 22, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
  13. kindness

    A thought to consider without ego
    Accept Jesus christ as your lord and saviour. You never know how soon is too late. Trancend the worldly illusion of enslavement.
    The world denounces truth....

    Accepting Jesus Christ will result in something like seeng a new colour. You will see it .....but will not be able to clearly explain it to anyone else..... Its meant to be that way to transend any selfism within you.

    Currently.... your constructing your own path that suits your sin lifestyle.

    Look closely at the economy ponzi, look at how society idolizes Lust , greed , envy, sloth, pride of life, desire for knowledge, desire for power, desire for revencge,gluttony with food etc .

    Trancend the temporal world.

    Just think if you can find a truth you can take with you in any of these things. When you die your riches go to someone who will spend away your life. You will be forgotten.... history will repeat iteslf, the greatest minds knowledge fade or are eventually plagerzed, your good deeds are forgotten and only give you a fleeting temporary reward . your learned teachings are forgotten or mutated, your gold is transfered back to the rullers that rule you through deception. Your grave will grow over .
    Trancend your egoism and free yourself from this dominion of satan. Relise your a sinner and part of the collective problem of this worldly matrix... Repent....

    Evidence follows faith. Faith does not follow evidence..... Faith above reason in Jesus Christ.

    Read Ecclesiastes. Read corinthians.

    You cant trancend your own egoism by adapting a world philosophy to suit your needs. Seek the truth.

    Sell your cleverness and purchase bewilderment. You don't get what you want you get what you are in christ.

    I promise this has been the truth for me. In Jesus christ .

    Think of what you really have to lose. ...your ego?

    Down is up. Break the Matrix of illusion that holds your senses captive.

    once you do . you too will have the wisdom of God that comes only through the Holy Spirit. Saved By grace through Faith. Just like seeing a new colour.... can't explain it to a transient caught in the matrix of worldly deception.

    Your all smart people . I tell the truth. Its hard to think out of the box when earthly thinking is the box.

    May 8, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • Bianca

      Well written. Jesus Christ is the way!!!

      May 18, 2012 at 10:05 am |
  14. JustTired

    You people win, keep your fairy tales and sky fairies and just continue to dumb down the national IQ...I just can't discuss this with you folk anymore. This is one atheist who is signing off for good. I almost want to say I'll pray for you and your children, but we just don't do that. Live long, prosper, be happy and love everyone. There is beauty in everything, unfortunately some just don't see it.

    April 29, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
  15. Jay

    "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."

    Ms Snyder's definition of "faith" is exactly opposite of its actual meaning. Faith is belief in that for which you have no evidence. It's difficult to evaluate the statements of someone who is insisting "up" means "down" — what other words might she be misusing?

    If it doesn't propogate irrational claims, it's not a religion — it's just culture.

    In fact, even if it does propogate irrational claims, it's still just culture.

    April 29, 2012 at 9:29 am |
    • Dave

      Seriously, dude, positivism got its ass kicked about 80 years ago. If you want to be a rationalist, fine, just acknowledge that your point of view is just as dogmatic and irrational in its foundations as any brand of fundamentalism you want to name.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:14 am |
    • n8263

      Dave did you just say that it is dogmatic and irrational to be rational?

      April 29, 2012 at 10:36 am |
    • Dave

      @n8263 No, I said that the foundations of 'Rationalism' - which is a very specific philosophical belief system that does not satisfy its own criteria - are dogmatic and irrational. Rationalism - at least the current faddish brand of so-called 'Scientific Rationalism' is really just Logical Postivism in a populist form. Jay's statement is a pretty succinct expression of that.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • Jay

      I won't pretend that I can puzzle out what you're getting at here. But I assure you that if you're inferring Positivism in my comment, you haven't understood what I'm getting at either.

      But I do understand you had something you needed to say, and that it's sometimes more satisfying to frame one's pronouncements as a rebuttal of someone else's.

      April 29, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • momoya

      Dave, could you be a little more explicit and detailed.. I feel like I might agree with you if I had any idea what you were saying.. Sincerely, momoya..

      April 29, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • Sterling

      Faith in the New Testament koinos Greek means, "to be convinced of."

      When Jesus called people to believe in Him, He was standing right in front of them.

      May 22, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
  16. Jimmy Rustles

    That really rustled my jimmies. Why is pastafarianism underrepresented???????

    April 29, 2012 at 7:14 am |
  17. John Savard

    The important thing isn't what you don't believe in as much as what you do believe in.

    What is the difference between right and wrong? What is human consciousness? Why do human beings matter?

    Then, if you believe in an omniscient and omnipotent God, of course you will obey Him. Depending, of course, on where you believe His will may be found, and what His will is likely to be.

    If there's something you don't believe, of course you don't take it seriously or act on it; but there's nothing much to say about that, it's only to be expected.

    April 28, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • k blake

      Atheists are more honest in their pursuit of what is truth. We prefer unanswered questions to unquestionable answers.

      April 28, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
  18. W.G.

    For people who do not believe in GOD I´ve noticed a lot of Atheist fervently commenting on this blog .
    Why waste the time if you do not believe in GOD ? Psalm 14 : 1-3 and Psalm 53 :1-3 both say a fool in his heart
    there is no GOD . So what´s the atiests point of commenting here is it to justify your own disbeife and
    immorality ?

    April 28, 2012 at 5:41 am |
    • k blake

      The socially accepted insanity of religion has too long influenced humanity. Please help us get it out of our schools.

      April 28, 2012 at 11:34 pm |
    • asrael

      Actually, W. G., they come here to enjoy your barely literate posts...

      April 29, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
    • momoya

      W.G.

      I am an atheist, but I have issues with the term.. I think that people (believers and nonbelievers) comment on here for a variety of reasons.. In fact, I would put forth the idea that the reasons people comment here are so hard to tease out that most people don't know themselves why they come here.. How did you come to your general conclusion so quickly and with what data do you support your decision?

      April 29, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
  19. Raider

    You are brainwashing your kids, I feel sorry for them.

    April 27, 2012 at 7:42 am |
  20. Pope_Inquisitor

    god is just pretend

    April 26, 2012 at 11:58 pm |
    • Ol' Yeller

      Intelligent people realize this when they find out they were lied to about the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and then Santa. They all serve their purpose as does the Jesus stories. Some people learn the lesson and move on with their lives, some cling to their religion forever. I have no problem with either. I bow my head when people of any faith pray in my presence. I do this out of respect for the person. I just wish that religious people would respect me in the same way and not tell me I'm going to burn in Hell or that I'm an evil person just because I don't believe what they do....

      April 27, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
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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.