Reconsidering one’s faith

When women become moms, many of them feel the need to instill their cultures and values in their children. And for some, the nightmare comes when you've raised your child to adopt family traditions, and then, at seventeen years of age, your child sits you down and tells you he wants to leave it all behind.

On this Passover, Youth Radio’s Joshua Raifman of Piedmont was thinking about abandoning Judaism. And no one in his family, including him, is quite sure what to think about it.

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JOSHUA RAIFMAN: Five years ago, I was singing at my Bar Mitzvah. It happened around this time of year, right in the middle of Passover. It was the culmination of eight years of preparation at Hebrew school. And it’s probably the most Jewish I’ve ever felt.

But I’m 17 now, and as lazy as it sounds, I’m indifferent to being Jewish. My mom doesn’t like the idea very much.

JOSHUA: Would it make you sad if I stopped identifying as a Jew?


JOSHUA: It would?

SUSAN: It would make me sad.           

JOSHUA: Why would it make you sad?

SUSAN: Because I think it is important, I mean that was my goal for you is to make you understand that you’re Jewish. You will always be Jewish. I just want you to understand that you are a Jew. It is what it is, sorry honey.

JOSHUA: No I’m just wondering, it’s just a question. So you want me to keep feeling Jewish?

SUSAN: Well, feeling Jewish? I just want you to know that you are a Jew.

But what makes me a Jew? We don’t go to temple, we don’t celebrate Shabbat, and we barely talk about Judaism in our day-to-day lives.

My mom says our family has operated this way since she was a kid.

SUSAN: I don’t even believe we belonged to a temple. So there was no talk of God. It was just basically knowing that you are born Jewish, and that there are not that many of us in the world.

For my mom, identifying as a secular Jew was never hard, because she grew up in Brooklyn. She was surrounded by Jewish food and music, and people saying “Oy’vey!” all the time.

But I’m growing up without that. So to get it, I’d need to join a Jewish group at school, but my mom doesn’t like that idea either.

SUSAN: I don’t like being identified and joining a group, because it’s so exclusive. I think people are so different and so alike in so many ways, to identify and be members of the Asian club or the African-American club, or the Jewish club, I don’t think that enforces unity. And to just join a club because you’re Jewish is to me absolutely absurd.

Wait a minute mom…on the one hand you want me to understand I’m a Jew, but on the other hand if I want to spend some time with other Jews, I’m being absurd?

Without joining a Jewish group, I don’t have many reminders that it’s good to be Jewish. On top of that, my family provides me with lots of reminders about how hard it is to be Jewish.

ARLENE RETTIG: I think anti-Semitism is an underlying ideology of many, many people.

This is my grandma Arlene.

RETTIG: But I think anti-Semitism is rampant, and gets worse when times are bad. It’s growing and it’s frightening now.

There’s so much baggage that comes with Judaism, even Passover is full of it. It’s all about slavery in Egypt more than 2,000 years ago. And when I get past the bondage and the religion I don’t believe in, I’m not left with much…except my family’s less than stellar rendition of Chanukah prayers.

As a teenager, I’m deciding who I want to be, but when I think about Judaism it doesn’t even make the list. Nor do I feel guilty about it.

How un-Jewish is that?

For Crosscurrents, I’m Joshua Raifman.

Youth Radio is a youth development and media organization based in Oakland.