My Judaism story began with my Roman Catholic childhood. During my early life I attended daily Mass, first in the context of Catholic grammar school, then Catholic high school and finally college at the Jesuit Sacred Heart University. In case you are unfamiliar with the Jesuits, they are some of the most badass freethinkers in the world and, by the end of university, I had come to expect that particular sort of challenge in all aspects of my education.
Fast forward then to Montclair, New Jersey, a town full of mulattoes and enthusiastic openmindedness. In Montclair many families were like us, in the process of reinventing religious practice. If you weren’t married to a Jew, you knew someone who was. The complicated balance between pleasing parents and inlaws and raising children was the source of daily conversation at Jewish preschool pick-up time. Inlaws, regardless of which religion they espoused, seemed to be constantly engaged in a struggle for the hearts and, more importantly, the souls of the children.
One day while waiting in the pick-up line, the moms began to share stories about our quasi-Jewish lives. How our Jewish husbands had entrusted the Jewish education of their Jewish children to us, their non-Jewish wives. At times our entire store of Jewish knowledge came from The Jewish Catalog if not from the pre-school teacher. I shared that although I had to study a lot to stay “one chapter ahead of the children,” overall I felt that I was living a Jewish life. The challenging response of “maybe one day you’ll want to make a more formal commitment” triggered my thinking about the importance of making a formal commitment, both for myself and for my children.
Making a formal commitment to me means being active and present. Being active and present means, at minimum, showing up. Children may have their own chaos and opinions, but I raised mine to know that showing up was not an option.
My own formal commitment was not without some painful complications. While as a family we have constantly straddled an array of identities and desires, the racial attitudes that I have at times encountered, along with some baffling aspects of halacha, have only added to the challenges that we already had. Nonetheless, through it all, Temple Sinai has never wavered in living up to my expectation of meeting totally badass freethinkers.
-Anita Kuykendall Stoll