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Dadmissions: The Jewish Guy at Mass

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Pete Wilgoren
Pete Wilgoren

When people ask about religion, I'd like to make a box for "it's complicated." I'm Jewish. My wife is Catholic. I have big questions about whether god exists. She's certain god does. Maybe that's why we're such a good match. When we got married years ago, we knew religion would be something we'd deal with as our kids grew up. We had a Catholic priest and a Jewish cantor at our wedding. They'd never met each other before, but worked together to create a ceremony of inclusion which harmonized both faiths. But the questions about the kids remained. Would they be Jewish... would they be Catholic... Would they be something entirely different? One thing I knew for sure, I wanted them to be able to decide for themselves what they believed and why.

Now the kids are 8 and 5. Our 8-year-old especially is starting to ask big questions about the world and why we are here and how we got here. We are very clear when we explain to her that people believe in different things. She is interested in learning about god and religion so we've been fostering her interest. Which led us to today title, "The Jewish Guy at Mass." That was me. Alicia (8) has been asking more to explore church and what it's all about. We've been taking her to some services. I guess I could easily sit home and wait it out. But I feel it's just as important to be there with my wife, even though I don't believe what she believes. So, I sat in the pew at church today. I don't participate in the prayers. I mostly sit politely, absorbing what people are doing. I watch my kids closely to see what they're doing. Alicia looked intently at the prayer sheet and followed along. I held 5-year-old Andreya much of the mass so she could see what was gong on down in front. She did 5-year-old things, making faces at other kids, drawing on blank paper, remarking that one saint in the stained glass window looked they were wrapped in a stained glass shower curtain. She thought that was super funny. Towards the end of the mass, when the 5-year-old was too antsy, I took her out to the old beech tree outside the chapel. While she climbed the tree, a man started to speak with me. He asked if I knew the meaning of everything on the outside of the church. I told him no and confessed I was Jewish. He asked if I was a Jew for Jesus. I told him no again. He was curiously probing to know why I was there. I told him. "My wife is Catholic," I said. "Her faith is very important to her. So being here is very important to me."

My wife and 8-year-old walked out of church. For the first time, they went to the new member table and officially filled out paperwork for new families in the parish. She filled out my name too and then under religion wrote "Jewish." I guess that's close enough to saying "it's complicated." But that's the truth. 37 years into my life and I find myself asking the same questions and wondering the same things as I did decades ago. While some folks find inner peace through religion, I have a restlessness of unanswered questions. But I'm very at peace with the fact that the kids are now starting to search for their own answers to decide what they will believe. Church is just the beginning. I know Alicia would like to go to temple more and experience Jewish services as well. And she will. In the end, I guess it's not really my place to tell my kids what to believe or not to believe or how to believe. It's my place to show them the paths and make sure they have everything they want and need to make an informed decision. I know they will.

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