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Are We Raising Our Daughter Jewish? More Like Jew-ish

Mar 20, 2019

Both my wife and I are Jewish. I get it from my mom’s side, making me an official “member of the tribe” (MOT) according to Israel’s Law of Return. My dad’s side of the family is Christian and, despite plenty of positive exposure to their way of life, I’ve often felt closer to my Jewish heritage. Meeting and marrying my wife certainly contributed to that, and we’re pleased to call ourselves Jews even if we barely observe any religious rituals at all.

In the long-standing tradition of secular Judaism, we’re raising our daughter exactly the same way.

I’m sure all religions have casual devotees, but I can report firsthand just how common a non-committal MOT is....

There’s a strand of Jewish culture that appears — based on my personal life experience — unique to the religion. They're the large number of Jews who maintain a close relationship with the customs that preceded them, even if they rarely set foot in a synagogue.

Lighting the candles on Shabbos, for example, is an exercise I find meaningful when my mom hosts Friday night dinners, but we never do it at home. I’m sure all religions have casual devotees, but I can report firsthand just how common a non-committal MOT is, especially in a big city like Toronto.


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My daughter is almost two years old. She attends a Jewish daycare that’s run by a delightful Orthodox family, but the students come largely from families like ours. I’ll admit: my first thought in considering the school was that it might be too focused on religion. However, all that went away when I got to know some of the other parents within the community.

My daughter hears Jewish songs and stories at school and, even when we eventually transition her into public education, those lessons may stick with her.

What I had assumed would be a devout group turned out to be a diverse representation of urban Jews, with many mirroring my trivial attachment to the Torah.

All of the major faiths teach a code of morality (my dad’s side of the family might call it the Golden Rule), and you don't need to strictly observe religious guidelines to embrace a communal pledge. My daughter hears Jewish songs and stories at school and, even when we eventually transition her into public education, those lessons may stick with her.

Someday my daughter will be asked if she wants to have a bat mitzvah. I’m inclined to let her make up her own mind (remembering my own distaste with the idea that I had to go through the same thing when I turned 13). It's a lot of work to learn Hebrew, memorize parts of the Torah and prepare for a pressure-packed performance at such a young age. My daughter may have some family members who actively encourage her to undergo the process and if she decides she’s game, I’ll support her decision wholeheartedly.


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But whether she goes through with a bat mitzvah or not is immaterial to what I see as my responsibility in raising a moral, well-adjusted human. In a beautiful and freeing way, religion can support that mission, without being its centre.

Family connection is the essential factor in my Jewish identity, and the decision of whether or not to carry on that thread will fall to my daughter at some point too. On my one trip to Israel, I thought intensely about my grandparents while visiting Jerusalem’s Western Wall. Judaism matters to me because it matters to them and it mattered to those who came before them.

My daughter won’t have to live by anyone else’s predetermined code in order to call herself a Jew, but I imagine she’ll find a similar balance to the one my wife and I maintain. There’s strength in spirituality, wherever and however we find it.

Article Author Dan Warry-Smith
Dan Warry-Smith

Dan Warry-Smith is a writer, producer and performer from Toronto with over two decades of diverse experience in the entertainment industry. Dan can be heard discussing the intricacies of fatherhood on Big Poppas: The Podcast For Modern Dads, or singing songs with his daughter while pushing her stroller around the city.

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