Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Leaving Our Jewish Bubble

For nine-and-a-half years, my family has lived in a Jewish bubble. Our son attended Jewish preschool, then Jewish day school and attends Jewish overnight camp.

The majority of our Dallas friends are either Jewish or interfaith raising Jewish children. Our synagogue is the center of our social network.

This Jewish circle has nurtured our religious identity and made engaging in Judaism easy for my interfaith family. Many of the stories in From Generation to Generation grew out of the supportive Jewish community in which we are immersed.

But the time has come to expand our interaction with the non-Jewish world beyond extended family, business associates, a few neighbors, and families from our son’s extracurricular sports activities. It’s time to leave our Jewish bubble.

The catalyst for this transition is our son’s education. That might be a surprise since I dedicate a chapter in From Generation to Generation to our decision to use day school and our satisfaction with our choice.

But between the writing of that chapter and the publication of the book things changed. A new administration came in and adjusted curriculum and teaching style. We gave the changes a chance, but after two years, it was clear the adjustments weren’t working for our child.

Our son who had always loved learning and bounced out of bed excited to go to school, now dreaded getting up. It became harder for him to get to school on time. He told us he wanted to leave. We agreed to investigate other options.

We found a school that we felt was a better fit for our son. It was not a Jewish school, but one affiliated with the Episcopal Church. It had a religiously diverse student body and celebrated the traditions and stories from the major Eastern and Western faiths during chapel. Still, I needed reassurance that a Jewish family, even an interfaith one, would not feel like outsiders.

I spoke to Jewish friends whose children had been students. They assured me that the faith component of the curriculum was egalitarian, representative of various religions and emphasized universal values.

Still, I wondered what it would be like, especially for our son who had been in Jewish schools all his life, to move from an all-Jewish environment to one where Jews were a minority. I pushed the thought aside. There were only 12 openings for fourth grade and at least 100 applicants. There was no guarantee he would get in.

But as From Generation to Generation moved deeper into production, we learned that our son had been accepted at the school. Now my wonders edged closer to worries.

Would the religious component really be as innocuous as my friends said? Would our family feel like outsiders because we practiced Judaism? Would we encounter prejudice or proselytizing? Would our son want to shed his Jewish identity? Should I stop production of the book and remove chapter seven?

After much thought, I chose to leave the education chapter in the book. Over a four-year-period, day school deepened our family’s connection to Judaism and nurtured our son’s heart and mind. While our son was no longer thriving, we didn't regret our choice. It was the right place, for a time, and I hoped the experience I shared would make others consider day school, even if only for a few years.

As for my other concerns, after a week of classes, there have been no problems. There are two other new Jewish students, and their shared faith has helped the three boys connect. My son said that during chapel they read about creation and the burning bush – stories familiar to him. He said that some children clasped their hands and placed them on their foreheads during a prayer, but many of his classmates did not including him. He said he didn’t feel uncomfortable in any way.  

I don’t know how this new environment will affect our family’s Jewish identity and practice. The Talmud teaches us that it’s difficult to know what is truly good or bad, regardless of appearances, when a story is still unfolding. Right now, breaking out of our Jewish bubble is just another stop on our interfaith and Jewish journey.