Growing up as a young child, you could say I was a bit of a religious mutt.
Neither of my parents were very religious, yet neither seemed to want to give in to the other.
As a first-generation American, my father was a cultural Jew and my British mother grew up in the church of England; so while both had religious customs, neither practiced their religion regularly. Still, when it came to holidays, both had distinct points of view.
It was safe to say there were no other kids celebrating the holidays like I was in my suburban Chicago neighborhood filled mostly with white, middle-class Catholics & Protestants. And I can guarantee no-one else had what we did: a Hanukkah Bush.
Somehow in my parents’ minds, a compromise of both religions meant buying a very short Christmas tree to decorate and calling it a Hanukkah Bush. Now we still lit the Menorah every night, but even then, I thought it was a bit strange.
Today I can look back on it and laugh, though at the time I remember feeling very torn between two very different worlds. Our celebration wasn’t a unification of two different cultures, but instead an internal division within a family. In fact, I wish had actually been taught more about my Jewish heritage because it’s so rich in history and tradition.
But it wasn’t until years later, when I came to know Christ in my mid 20s, that I truly appreciated my Jewish heritage.
And it wasn’t just because the youth pastor nicknamed me “the chosen one”.
Being a new Christian, I had a fire within me to learn as much as I could about the God I’ve now given my heart and life to.
My spiritual mama suggested I take some correspondence courses on the Old Testament from Moody Bible Institute to not only develop a firm footing in my face, but to also learn where I aligned with my Jewish relatives.
It was during this time that I also gained a new appreciation for the Jewish traditions I’d simply gone through the motions with before.
All of a sudden, I was listening with new ears during my niece’s Bat Mitzvah and wondering why we all couldn’t participate in such a rich coming-of-age tradition.
I also appreciated the holidays with new eyes, and although they missed the component of the Messiah that I now believed in, I found so many valuable morals, values and truths within these ancient customs.
Though I remember feeling out of place and awkward in my youth for having a different heritage than the majority of my peers, I’ve now come to find gratitude for it. Not only did it require me to make my belief system my own, but it exposed me to another world of thoughts, people and customs I might otherwise not have ever found.
Having lived all over the world, I’m a firm believer in learning about the customs of other cultures and how we all influence each other in this great, big world.
To think any of us have all the answers is naive, but to think someone of a different belief has nothing valid to say is just ignorant.
I don’t want my children to only believe something because I’ve taught them to; I want them to make their faith their own. One of the best ways to help your children solidify their own faith is by exposing them to others. By learning what we all have in common as individuals and cultures, our children can learn to better appreciate how we are all one in God’s eyes.
Why not take some time this holiday season to discover how someone else celebrates, even if it’s just stepping out within your own faith?