“Mama, what’s that building?” my son asked while we passed a mosque in Ramle on the way to the shuk. The call to prayer was ending.
“That’s a mosque,” I said. “That’s where Muslim people go to pray.”
“Right!” my son said. “They pray in Arabic!”
“And that’s a church!” my daughter said as we passed the Greek Orthodox church in Ramle. “That’s the church where Samir’s family prays! They celebrate Christmas and sing How do you Solve a Problem Like Maria!”
We turned down the little slip of ancient road that links the port city of Jaffa to the holy city of Jerusalem.
“Mama, what religion are we?” my son asked.
“We’re Jewish! Duh!” my daughter answered. “We eat matzah and light candles on Shabbat and eat sufganiyot and dance with the Torah and we pray in Hebrew!”
“Does that mean we can’t go to a Christmas party with Samir’s family?” my son asked.
“No, it doesn’t mean that, I answered. “We can totally go to Christmas parties, and break fast after Ramadan on Iftar with our friends in Wadi Joz, and play the tambourine with the Hare Krishnas. We’re Jewish – but being Jewish is more than a religion. It’s a culture. it means we are part of a tribe,” I said. “But I’ll tell you the truth, babies, I’ve decided my religion is the religion called Don’t Be An Asshole.”
Or as Rabbi Hillel the Elder, when asked to summarize the Torah: “That which is abhorrent to you do not do to others. The rest is just commentary.”
And that’s the Gods honest truth I want to pass on to my kids:
“No matter what we believe or how we pray or which direction we face or what words we use, what matters most is being kind. What matters most is being decent and fair and helping others and respecting the godliness of all.”
It seems so obvious – and yet, so much bullshit gets carried out in Gods name in all religions — war and subjugation and bigotry for starters, and THAT is a religious perversion.
That is ethically and SPIRITUALLY all kinds of wrong.
So yes, I am Jewish – a member of the tribe with DNA that traces back to this land in which I’m living. But the ethics in my DNA transcend blood ties and I want the same for my kids.
(And I’ll say it softly over Shabbat candles if that helps: Be kind. Don’t be an asshole.)
So we walked on through the shuk, and the kids took stock of this. We passed the nectarines and the cherries, the leafy green lettuce, and the mint. The air was sweet.
“Ok, I think we can be down with that,” my son said.
“Yes,” my daughter said. “Can we have some cherries?”
So we bought our spices, our cheese, a head of lettuce and a bag of cherries. And went home in good faith.
** My response to my kids was inspired by my Palestinian friend who had a similar conversation with her sons a few weeks ago.**