Breaking the Glass
Episode 5 - Breaking the Mold - Continued
[AD BREAK] 32:14
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John Newbery 32:49
Well, when are we going to get to the questions?
I think the advice by remember getting is and maybe this is from my father is, you know, it's important— kids ask questions, and it's probably important and a good idea for them to be brought up in some type of faith. It doesn't so much matter what it is, perhaps, as you know, there be something that's clear and identifiable to the child and helpful to the child and answering certain questions. I was happy with that being the Jewish faith, the Jewish tradition. I didn't have any issue and I don't— I don't think, you know, my family did either.
I'm not at all saying that the heart of Rabbi Howard's point is wrong. He agrees with my grandfather that kids need consistency and that parents should start to think about answers to questions their kids may ask before they're actually confronted with the asking of them. I do think it's worth politely pointing out, however, that stewards of the community, you know, the makers of the kinds of comments that Jana mentioned experiencing, don't get to decide what the hard line for parenting within a religion or as a multifaith couple looks like. And an attitude of safeguarding the exposure to outside religions for fear that a child will have identity issues is debunked by the very fact that my sister and I, raised as Jews, still absorbed and had approximately 10 million questions for my dad about his background. And by the fact that my dad himself, who was raised in a same-faith household that was also in church leadership, ended up choosing not to formally incorporate any part of his faith into his children's upbringing, and himself has an ambivalent relationship to his Christian background. People have complicated feelings because that's part of what it is to be a person—of any faith.
I remember comments, either I heard about them or they were kind of asked, maybe partly, almost jokingly in a way, but also partly out of wonder. I think you guys were trying to figure out, because it was so clear that in terms of how you were being brought up, that it was being brought up in the Jewish faith. And I think you, I think you two, you and your sister, Caroline, were trying to figure out. You knew that I didn’t—that this was not my background. And I was certainly part of the family. But you also knew I wasn't really part of this, this thing that was more associated with mom's side of the family. So what role did I have?
I have some memory, I think I asked Dad, once, if we could try going to church.
I vaguely remember that.
I don't remember how old I was. I was asking you questions or something. It might have even been around Christmas. And I was like, could we go sometime? I remember thinking of it as I would need Dad with me to be able to get in. Like it was a club or something. I don't even remember what your response was. I mean, it definitely wasn't, “yeah!”
It was probably: I hope she'll forget this by the time we get to the other side of the street.
Yeah, I think I felt like, this is— not only is Dad, not part of this, but therefore there's a part of me that's not part of this. And what is that, then?
This was all pretty familiar territory to me. I sort of expected what my parents would say. But it was then that my dad said something that I really didn't expect.
I guess that would be—I don't know, you sort of touched on something that, and I don't even know if I can articulate it now. But I guess the one regret that I might have is certainly not that, you know, I'm not saying oh, I made the wrong decision in agreeing to, being part of you being raised in the Jewish faith. But, you know, it obviously has contributed so much to who you are. And I think it's the same for your sister, Caroline.
And I think that's all to the good. But I kind of I feel, or I wonder in some way, did I—did I forego a chance to, you know, have some kind of corresponding influence or contribution to who you are? You know?
Emma [VO] 37:36
"You know?” is a pretty common sentence-ender, but this was one of those times where I was just completely like, no, I don't know. I had no idea he felt that way. Because that wasn't how I experienced my childhood at all. I thought back to what Reza had said about parenting and religion:
The way that you move through life is, you know, we have morals, we have values, we have family values, we can try to dig down to see what the source of those values are, or they like a particular piece of line text from the Tanakh, or the Old Testament, or the New Testament, or the Qur’an, or the teachings of this whoever? You could probably try to do that if you want. But really the way most people I think are moving through life is we have moral values, those are based on something, you put those together with your partner, and you try to raise your kids the best that you can.
Emma [VO] 38:32
I could tell my mom was surprised, too. It was a video call, so I could tell from her face, but also from what her response was.
You absorb things that aren't necessarily in your face about Christianity or whatever. I mean, you didn't have to say things to the children for them to see, they saw a lot about— I think they did see how you were raised. They maybe didn't see the church services.
Yeah. I mean, I just don't think either of us have ever felt any like dearth of presence in that way at all.
So far, the series has sort of been constructed as here these couples, or these institutions face this obstacle, and then here's how they work through it, or here's what needs to be done. And then on to the next. And I guess this is the best episode of any to realize that these conversations don't just go away. People's feelings can change. And these are things that are very important to everyone and people keep thinking about them long after the quote unquote official decision is made.
Maybe it goes to my own kind of conflicted feelings about how I grew up. And specifically as that relates to what my father's avocation was, and what was my relationship to where he chose to spend so much of his time?
Emma [VO] 39:55
Remember what Jenni said?
Jenni Greenman 39:57
You know, you take pieces of, of childhood and carry that with you.
I think I just felt it would have been artificial and forced and therefore not genuine to, now that I have children, you know, say, oh, you have to have some connection to the church. So that maybe it's almost in a way, I wish that there were something that I could have contributed, you know, without upsetting the applecart so to speak.
I just think it's not true that a lack of religious input is therefore a non-input into who I am. Like, to the extent that you were my—are my other parent and are in my life. That is an input.
Yeah, so maybe it's, it's, you know, more just something that I kind of wonder about.
Well, I guess, yeah, it's, I think it's fine to wonder about, but I wouldn't discount your contributions and the impact that you've had on me and on Caroline in the process of doing that.
Emma [VO] 41:12
I was texting with my sister Caroline about this conversation after it happened. Her text response read: What? Dad imparted legitimately everything except his religion. He's one of the main reasons I am who I am. Scared, but excited to listen! So to my dad, and really to any parent, or future parent, I want to say that being who you are around your kids imparts so much on them, for better or worse. Decisions for multifaith partners and partners of the same religion who grew up differently, you know, for any partners about parenting can be hard. I can't deny that. Nor can I pretend to know what I'll want to do with my own children someday. But I can say that, as a child of my parents, my sister and I feel our Jewish identity every day. And we study other religions and learn new languages, make podcasts informed by our lives and pursue relationships with people who aren't Jewish.
Susan Clement 42:13
It is interesting to me that you and Caroline are both studying religion. I mean—
Yeah, that is interesting.
Susan Clement 42:20
I wonder, you know, it's in the blood, I guess. But maybe slightly, you know, it may have been influenced, I'm sure it was in some way.
Emma [VO] 42:27
We're going to close out this episode with another sentiment from Jenni Greenman, which I took real comfort in after thinking a lot about my conversation with my parents, and every conversation between loved ones in this series. Here, Jenni's talking to Adam about his daughters, Alex and Norah.
You know, you didn't raise them in a church or a synagogue, you raised them with the beliefs and values that you as a couple and as a family hold, while still taking part in those experiences. But it not being—like for us it was a weekly thing. You went to synagogue Friday nights and Saturday mornings, and it was every weekend. And that wasn't part of your kids' lives. And yet still to see that, you know, your daughter so strongly identifies as Jewish, I think that that really was the biggest shift for mom and dad. Because I think that that made them realize that it's not—going through the motions is not what defines you. It's what you believe in and the experiences that you have as a family and the cultural experiences that you have as a family that define you. I think that in a modern world, these things evolve in different ways.
Thank you all so much for the listens and feedback and support so far in this series, and I hope you'll join me next time on Breaking the Glass.
Today's episode was made possible by the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island.
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Breaking the Glass is produced by Emma Newbery
Executive producers are Brian Sullivan and Adam Greenman
Artwork by Alex Foster
Editorial support from Fran Ostendorf
And music sourced from Storyblocks
In studio interviews are recorded at the Residential Properties LTD Studio at the Dwares JCC in Providence, Rhode Island.