Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Half Jewish

Charlotte has mastered the art of fashioning her own hijab. I’m not sure where my youngest granddaughter learned to tie that Muslim headwear or why she chose the hijab over the Al-Amira, the Shayla or the four other kinds of Muslim veils. She’s only worn it around the house a couple of times and as the weather warms up she’ll probably toss it aside along with her snow hat and mittens.

Not long ago, Charlotte declared to her parents that she wants to be half Muslim. Now mathematically that might be a challenge since Charlotte already considers herself half-Jewish and half-Catholic. No matter. Even at five-years-old, Charlotte seems determined to stake her claim on the religion of the moment despite what those pesky adults in her life keep telling her about waiting until she is an adult herself.

I think this fascination with other religions began when Charlotte started a preschool program at the Jewish Community Center in St. Paul. During classes on alternate days of the week Charlotte was exposed to many of the Jewish traditions. She loved the classes and her teachers.

Central to Judaism is an engagement with stories and ideas and even to argue about them. Arguments are encouraged because that’s how one learns what is important to other people and why. Our L.A. friends here in the desert have a saying: Two Jews, three opinions. Now that sounds like it would fit Charlotte’s personality to a T. The same can be said of all my grandchildren. *

Recently Charlotte marched in the Purim which is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the savings of the Jewish people in Persia from extermination. She can now proudly recite several prayers in Hebrew and even knows several songs in that language.

Then on alternate days of the week Charlotte attends a preschool program at Holy Spirit Catholic grade school. There she is introduced to Catholic tradition and song which she has taken to with equal enthusiasm. So this winter, without a lot of fanfare, Charlotte declared to anyone who was willing to listen that she is now half-Jewish and half-Catholic.

Works for me.

This sudden interest in Muslim headgear seemed to come out of nowhere but like all of my grandchildren Charlotte’s antenna is always scanning the air, subconsciously searching for life’s little surprises and mysteries. It might have been something she heard on television (although unlikely since Charlotte and her brother get very little screen time). It might have been pieces of a hundred thousand conversations her parents have had in the front seat driving someplace. Or it might simply have come from a visit to her brother’s school which has many Muslim students. Living in an urban environment, Charlotte is exposed daily to the hijab, the yarmulke and dozens of other accouterments of ethnic cultures.

Charlotte seems to be picking religions the way other people pick their favorite television shows. Over time it will probably ebb and slow and perhaps disappear. Or she may find some philosophy that finds a home in her ever-expanding and inquiring mind.

A recent report from the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life found that twenty (20%) percent of Americans now check ‘none’ when asked about their religious affiliation. Back in 1956 a government survey found that only three (3%) percent of Americans checked that ‘none’ box. Now they’re a fifth of all Americans.

In time Charlotte can decide how she wants to embrace her faith and her beliefs. Knowing all of my grandchildren as I do that will be a decision they make on their own despite any influences they might feel from parents or grandparents. During the normal course of growing up they’ll be exposed to options and opportunities to find a belief system that works for them.

English sociologist David Martin has been quoted as saying that ‘a belief in God tends to correlate strongly with belief in the objectivity of moral values.’ Again, that works for me.

My wish for my grandchildren is not necessarily an affinity with a specific religion but rather membership in the greater ecumenical community at large. A community of values and charity and sharing and kindness and a spiritual element of their own choosing. I want them to share those values in a world they will soon impact with their lives and life style. The religious moniker they chose is their own business when they’re ready to make that determination.

I simply want them to be good people and contributing citizens of the world.

*Some comments lifted from those made by Rebecca Kanner on the Minnpost web site.

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