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mixed & matched |  Help! My Jewish grandsons went on an Easter egg hunt

by Dawn Kepler

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Dawn Kepler is the director of Building Jewish Bridges, a program of Lehrhaus Judaica that embraces interfaith families in the Bay Area and helps them negotiate religious and cultural choices. Her advice column appears every four weeks. Send your letters to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


My son-in-law isn’t Jewish. My daughter and he took their 2- and 4-year-old sons to a huge Easter egg hunt this year. It’s the first time they’ve done that and it really upset me. I’m sure my daughter knows this bothered me. I haven’t said anything because they say they are raising the boys Jewish and I don’t want to jeopardize that. I’m so upset. What should I do? I want to remain close to my daughter but I feel like this is just the first step in a downhill process away from Judaism. — Distraught Grandmother


Dawn_KeplerDear Distraught: I’m sorry this has hit you so hard. Let’s see if we can cut this down to a manageable size. You are close to your daughter and you believe she knows you are upset. The best thing to do is to have an honest conversation with her that’s not colored by negativity that will put her off.

Let’s begin by taking a look at your fears. You’re worried that the egg hunt is the first step in a loss of Judaism for your grandsons. I can assure you that participating in an egg hunt, no matter how magnificent, will not dampen your grandsons’ Jewish identity. No, it is not a Jewish activity. But even if this becomes an annual event, remember that it really is just one day. If your daughter and son-in-law are raising the boys with Jewish holidays and lifecycle events, they will absorb a Jewish way of life that one day of chocolate eggs can’t destroy.

But it sounds to me like you feel that taking the kids to the Easter celebration was symbolic of much more. You feel it’s a signal that the Jewishness of your family is beginning to slip away before the dominant Christian culture. First Easter eggs, then Christmas, then Jesus and pop! the kids aren’t Jewish any more. While the presence of American Christian culture can feel overwhelming, I invite you to think in terms not of eliminating the external culture but of building up the Jewish traditions and knowledge in your grandsons’ environment. Obviously you can’t do that yourself, but you can help your daughter’s family to the extent that they want your participation.

You need to find out how your daughter and son-in-law define “raising the boys Jewish.” Do they intend to observe Shabbat each week? Do they celebrate the Jewish holidays? Will they join a synagogue? Will the boys go to Hebrew school? Will they have bar mitzvahs?

If you knew what the big-picture plan was, you’d be able to weather the non-Jewish activities more easily. You could look at the long-term Jewish living plan versus the chocolate bunny of today. It sounds like your daughter and son-in-law may not yet have a plan, at least not an articulated one. You’ll be doing them a favor if you can bring this up in a way that is gentle and supportive of their parenting.

You know best whether it would be more comfortable for them if you had a mother-daughter talk or if you should sit down with both your daughter and her husband. Decide which format is best for them and make a date for a visit. You may want to let them know what you want to discuss. If that feels too intense, just bring it up in a casual and gentle way.

Here’s how you could address things: “I was surprised that you took the boys to the Easter egg hunt and it made me aware that I am not really clear on how you two are thinking about the process of raising the boys Jewish. I’d like to be helpful if I can, but I also want to respect your choices. Could you explain to me what you’re planning and could you tell me if there are ways I can help?”

Some things you could offer are:

• Having the family over for Shabbat dinners

•Taking the boys to Tot Shabbat services or other Jewish activities such as a Purim carnival

• Signing up your grandsons for the PJ Library program

• Giving them Jewish toys, books or videos

• Reading to them and telling them family stories

I know many Jewish daughters who love having their mothers’ support. Open the conversation with love and she will respond to you.


Comments

Posted by DeliaD
05/02/2014  at  10:13 PM
Spring Hunting Season

Dear Distraught Grandma:

Your daughter needs a reminder that Jewish kids hunt for matzah (the afikomen), not Easter eggs during Spring hunting season.

At least that’s what we say around our house—

Delia

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Posted by Anonymous
05/07/2014  at  09:29 AM
Right on!

Another spot-on article from “Mixed & Matched.” I love that the author made one particular key point that’s so often overlooked.  As an observant (modern Orthodox) friend recently put it, “We often focus too much on the DON’Ts of Judaism, when we should be focusing more on the DO’s. We shouldn’t see it as ‘You can’t do all these things on Shabbat,’ but rather ‘You get to relax, spend time with family, avoid technology, and do all these awesome things on Shabbat!’”

Denying American (Christian) culture is not only a near-impossible task, but it won’t make the kids Jewish.  Meanwhile, proactively bringing Jewish activities, Jewish holidays, Jewish learning, Jewish values, and Jewish memories to your children… that’s what will actually make a difference.

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Posted by Deborah Zimmer
05/07/2014  at  10:58 AM
great article ...

I really like your answer, Dawn, especially the part about knowing the big picture and long term plans for the children to help allay the fears of the grandmother.  the lure of chocolate and the fun of hunting will always be there (and who doesn’t love chocolate?).  maybe they were invited by a friend. what I used to say to my children when they were young is, “it’s not our holiday,” which didn’t stop us from helping decorate Christmas trees and drinking hot cider and eating cookies with friends. Grandmother can make the Jewish holidays fun and family-oriented and involve the children as much as possible at their appropriate levels.

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Posted by jstamperdahl
05/07/2014  at  11:12 AM
The big picture plan

I really appreciate Dawn’s emphasis on the big picture. One of my earliest memories is of my (Jewish) mother organizing an Easter egg hunt in our home for me, my sisters, and the Catholic girls who lived across the street.  It was fun and I remember it fondly but it had no impact on my religious identity which was formed by my parent’s own strong Jewish identity, regular synagogue attendance, after school Hebrew School, and a couple of summers in Israel.

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