Being Jewish is a religion, but for many of us, it isn’t only a religion. In fact, for a lot for us, Judaism isn’t religious at all, but rather a commitment to a lifestyle. It entails a wide range of ethical and moral beliefs.
One of the things it includes — if you are of my generation — is a lingering belief that all non-Jews are secretly your enemy, no matter what they say to your face. This remains true even when you are married to a Christian and got married in a Christian church. And your kids don’t even consider themselves Jewish. Somewhere inside, some little piece of you is screaming “Remember the Inquisition and the Holocaust.”
It’s an angry and frightened little voice, always alarmed and ready to grab the Torah (like I own a real Torah, right?) and run for the caves.
My kids don’t have this voice in their heads or this fear because I did not bathe them in the blood of our tortured ancestors or the piles of corpses from the Holocaust. I didn’t push this on them because I thought it was time to let it go and move on.
My mother was an atheist. She did not believe in God or gods. Her bonds to Judaism were entirely ethnic and tribal. So are mine … but ethnicity and a fondness for our cuisine isn’t something one can always pass along.
Regardless, Judaism is a religion. When you are ethnically Jewish but practice no aspect of the religion, what do you pass to your children other than recipes and a totally irrational fear of non-Jews.
Your ethical and moral commitments can stand on their own. They don’t need a religious attachment. They ought to be a part of the mental armament of any sane person. Religious or not, you ought to know the difference between right and wrong.
I didn’t pass this on to my kid or grandchild because I thought it was time to end the terror and move on to a different world.
These days, though, I wonder if maybe I was precipitous. Just because I thought the danger ended, it reared up its monstrous little fanged head again. And suddenly, safety is not so safe.
Maybe it’s about more than recipes for matzoh balls. Hatred appears to live a lot longer than I imagined possible.