It’s a mother’s worst nightmare. You raise your son to embrace family traditions, and then, at seventeen years of age, he sits you down and tells you he wants to leave it all behind. On this Passover, Youth Radio’s Joshua Raifman of Piedmont, California, is thinking about abandoning Judaism. And no one in his family, including him, is quite sure what to think about it.
AMBIENT: Singing at Bar Mitzvah.
That’s me five years ago, singing at my Bar Mitzvah. It happened around this time of year, right in the middle of Passover. It was the culmination of eight years of preparation at Hebrew school. And it’s probably the most Jewish I’ve ever felt…
But I’m 17 now, and as lazy as it sounds, I’m indifferent to being Jewish. My mom doesn’t like the idea very much.
JOSHUA: Would it make you sad if I stopped identifying as a Jew?
SUSAN RAIFMAN: Yes!
JOSHUA: It would?
SUSAN: It would make me sad.
JOSHUA: Why would it make you sad?
SUSAN: Because I think it is important, I mean that was my goal for you is to make you understand that you’re Jewish. You will always be Jewish. I just want you to understand that you are a Jew. It is what it is, sorry honey.
JOSHUA: No I’m just wondering, it’s just a question. So you want me to keep feeling Jewish?
SUSAN: Well feeling Jewish? I just want you to know that you are a Jew.
But what makes me a Jew? We don’t go to temple, we don’t celebrate Shabbat, and we barely talk about Judaism in our day-to-day lives.
My mom says our family has operated this way since she was a kid…
SUSAN RAIFMAN: I don’t even believe we belonged to a temple. So there was no talk of God. It was just basically knowing that you are born Jewish, and that there are not that many of us in the world.
For my mom, identifying as a secular Jew was never hard, because she grew up in Brooklyn. She was surrounded by Jewish food, and music, and people saying Oy’vey all the time.
But I’m growing up without that. So to get it, I’d need to join a Jewish group at school, but my mom doesn’t like that idea either.
SUSAN RAIFMAN: I don’t like being identified and joining a group, because it’s so exclusive. I think people are so different and so alike in so many ways, to identify and be members of the Asian club or the African-American club, or the Jewish club, I don’t think that enforces unity. And to just join a club because you’re Jewish, is to me absolutely absurd.
Wait a minute mom…on the one hand you want me to understand I’m a Jew, but on the other hand if I want to spend some time with other Jews, I’m being absurd?
Without joining a Jewish group, I don’t have many reminders that it’s good to be Jewish.
On top of that, my family provides me with lots of reminders about how hard it is to be Jewish.
Arlene Rettig: I think anti-Semitism is an underlying ideology of many many people.
This is my grandma Arlene…
Arlene Rettig: But I think anti-Semitism is rampant, and gets worse when times are bad. It’s growing and it’s frightening now.
There’s so much baggage that comes with Judaism, even Passover is full of it. It’s all about slavery in Egypt more than two thousand years ago. And when I get past the bondage, and the religion I don’t believe in, I’m not left with much…except my family’s less than stellar rendition of Chanukah prayers…
AMBIENT: Singing Chanunkah Prayers…
As a teenager I’m deciding who I want to be, but when I think about Judaism, it doesn’t even make the list. Nor do I feel guilty about it.
How un-Jewish is that?
For Youth Radio, I’m Joshua Raifman.