What I Learned from Being a Christmas-and-Easter Jew

‘Tis the season. I went to my first Easter morning Mass ever this year, and holy cats, was it packed! Yikes. Just wall-to-wall Catholics in all phases of forward- and backsliding. It got me thinking about what I learned from being intermittently Jewish as a kid–taken to High Holy Days services a few times, once? twice? to Purim, sometimes to Passover seders. I honestly don’t remember how often we did any of this. But somewhat to my surprise, I think most of the lessons I learned from this experience were good ones.

There’s a huge, obvious caveat here, which is that I am not a practicing Jew (although my sister is). And in fact I never seriously considered practicing Judaism since by the time I got scared that God might really exist, the Crucifixion was a huge part of my nascent belief. That said, here are a few things you can learn from holiday religion:

There are some parts of your identity which are unchosen, inescapable, and which impose a relationship on you and force you to at least come to terms with how you understand them. I wrote about this here w/r/t a play about Baruch Spinoza, and I think it’s an immensely helpful experience in a culture which fetishizes autonomy and choice.

Religion is there when you need it. The synagogue is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in. Obviously there’s a danger here–you’re feeding off the fat of other people’s faith–but it’s good to have a place to fall back to. Among other things, it gives you a north for your moral compass, even if you choose to sail west.

Faith can include doubt and suffering as well. The “suffering” part is one reason I do worry about C&E Catholics–what is Easter without Good Friday?–although I note that many C&E Catholics do “give something up for Lent” or otherwise remain aware of and strangely stirred by the harder seasons of the liturgical calendar. But one thing you may learn from listening to the shofar beside your nonpracticing parent is that the Jewish faith is there for Jews who don’t know what to do with it, too. And both Jewish and Christian holy days often incorporate remembrance of suffering and trial: Think of Purim, or the Easter reading of the binding of Isaac. Think of, “Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying, sealed in the stone-cold tomb!”

I doubt that everybody takes away the same lessons from holiday religion that I did. But I think they were good lessons. Maybe some kids learned them this past weekend.

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