Here in the Zevin household, April ushers in both Passover and Easter, reminding us that another year has gone by without my wife and I getting our act together and deciding what religion our children are.
I am a non-practicing Jew and she is a non-practicing shiksa. It wasn't an issue before we had kids, since both of us were fans of any activity that didn't require practicing. This doesn't mean I don't feel culturally Jewish, or that she doesn't feel culturally gentile. On second thought, she doesn't feel culturally gentile. I'd describe her as a culturally Jewish girl trapped in a culturally gentile woman's body. Especially the nose. It's no wonder she loves teaching our kids Yiddish words, yet tends to teach them the wrong ones. "It's so hot in here," she'll tell the kids. "I'm fapitzing!"
Religion-wise, she's just a little mixed up. We both are. Which is pretty surprising, since we both have fathers who were raised in strict religious households. Mine is the son of an Orthodox cantor, and hers is the grandson of a Baptist minister. Listening to our dads reminisce about their childhoods--those lazy weekends spent panicking about what God would do once He found out about The Sabbath Light Switch Incident (Papa Zevin), or The Using His Name In Vain Digression (Papa Tingley)--it's easy to see why they'd want to raise their own kids free of guilt and fear. (Well, at least "fear," speaking for myself. Let's not forget I'm the one who also got the Jewish mother.) In the process, they also raised us pretty much free of religion.
Our early religious identities were shaped not by whether we went to temple or church, but by whether we celebrated Passover or Easter, Christmas or Chanukah, that one where you eat the cookies or that one where you give up eating cookies. I'm a holiday Jew and she's a holiday shiksa. Where does that leave our children? Simple. They're Holiday Both.
Only recently have our kids become aware that Holiday Both is not a recognized denomination by the people who organize these things. Who can blame them? They're six and nine. Developmentally, these are the years children spend defining their own personal brands. Mets or Yankees. Barbie or American Girl. Mezuzah or crucifix. Our son could barely ride a two-wheeler when he proudly declared himself "eggnogstic." But that was before so many of his friends started going to church on Sundays or Hebrew School on Saturdays. Our daughter, meanwhile, hasn't seen the inside of a synagogue since the day she blew out of nursery school. It's my fault. Two years ago, when we first left Brooklyn for the 'burbs, I decided Josie should go to the nursery school in the temple. The reason I decided she should go to the nursery school in the temple is that it's really close to our new house. Granted, the nursery school in the church is even closer to our new house. But the problem with the nursery school in the church is, it's in a church.
I may only be Holiday Jewish, but there's no way in hell I'd ever be comfortable sending my daughter to school in a church. Wait. Do Jews believe in hell? I don't even know. See how messed up these kids are going to be? You should have seen us trying to explain to Josie why it wasn't a good idea to wear her Mrs. Santa shirt to temple nursery school last winter.
"But I thought I'm both," she protested.
"You are both, honey," I replied. "It's just that Mrs. Santa over here isn't."
Josie's in kindergarten now. Thanks to her, we light the Sabbath candles every Friday night that she remembers to remind us. Okay, they're not really Sabbath candles. They're votive candles from Pottery Barn. Megan's mother gave them to us for Christmas last year.
Also thanks to Josie, we still get the emails from her temple nursery school's interfaith committee. I save them all, thinking one day we'll find time to get ourselves to an interfaith meeting, and this meeting will be enlightening, and soon we will be season ticket holders at Friday night services, and thus our children will develop a strong sense of identity because they will be official interfaith children, as opposed to Holiday Both.
Then I remember something Leo said on Christmas when he was just three. "It's impossible for reindeer to fly," he said. "They're quadrupeds." Six years later, let's just say it's hard to imagine dragging him to temple and expecting him to buy the one about the dude who parted the Red Sea. Or, for that matter, dragging Josie to church in her Mrs. Santa Sunday best, so she can learn the significance of that sparkly rhinestone cross necklace she put on her Chanukah list last year.
So it's one more year of being Holiday Both. I'd like the kids to be more Holiday Jewish, but seriously, who can compete with the Christians? They're so much more sensible with their holidays. Look at Easter. The Christians are like, "Okay, every year, we're doing it on a Sunday. Egg hunt, chocolate bunny, bonnets, baskets, boom, we're done." But with Passover, it's never the same day of the year, it always has to start at sundown (or maybe it's sunrise), then it goes on and on for eight days and nights, then you have to blow the shofar, build a sukkah, and find costumes so your kids can dress up like Queen Esther and King Hamentashen.
Or maybe that's Purim. Which I'm glad I'm bringing up, because what parent's religious identity crisis would be complete without an amusing little Purim anecdote? This year, I found out it was Purim at five p.m. in Grand Central Station. On the way to my train, I passed a Zaro's bakery, where a guy in a baker's hat (Zaro, I assume) was giving out free samples of hamentashen. Hamentashen, for those of you who are not Holiday Jewish, are dry little triangle cookies. But at least they're cookies. That's the good news. The bad news is that they're filled with prunes or apricots instead of some sensible Christian substance, like icing. Still, I was determined. If I bring these hamentashen home to my children, I convinced myself, they will develop a strong sense of their religious identity.
The problem was that Zaro wanted 20 bucks for a box of 12 hamentashen. I'm not here to perpetuate negative Jewish stereotypes or anything, but that's 19 more bucks than I was willing to spend (and 11 more hamentashen than my children would be willing to eat). Zaro refused to sell me just two, one for each kid not to eat. But he did tip me off to a nearby tray of rugelach, which were available in single size servings. That's the good news. The bad news is that your average rugelach looks more like a dog treat than a human cookie, not to mention how it somehow manages to be dry and soggy at the same time. The other bad news is that rugelach are Chanukah cookies, not Passover cookies. Or possibly they're Rosh Hashanah cookies. Or Tu Bishvat. Whatever kind of cookies they are, I bought some for Leo and Josie. They wouldn't know the difference, I figured. After all, they're just Holiday Both.
Long story short, they took a bite each, then spit it out into the sink. I put the rest in the freezer. I plan to defrost them in time for our fried chicken Seder. Or maybe we'll just stuff them into their Easter baskets.