There’s this blessing – it’s not often noticed, but those who pray the daily services know it well. It shows up right before the Shema, and goes “Blessed are You, God, who chooses the people Israel with love.”
I think most people would think of this as a prayer about the Jewish people, about the story we tell ourselves about our chosenness. But when I look at it, especially in the context of your question, what I see is a description of the power of making choices. To choose is Divine.
This, I think, is what your son is doing. He enjoyed Christian camp, and therefore is choosing to explore Christianity. But he also feels connected to his Jewish roots, and would like to choose to have a Bar Mitzvah.
But I wonder whether you are doing the same. In our open society, to ask whether he can really be both Christian and Jewish is important. Given that you’re an interfaith couple, it’s also pressing and needful. To ask it, though, only after he’s come back from the Christian camp to which you sent him (and old enough to be near bar mitzvah!) smacks of avoiding the obvious. I need to ask you – are you making spiritual/religious choices for yourselves and your family? Or are you somehow hoping that you won’t have to?
I’ve said before that I believe that the defining characteristic of our spiritual moment is ambiguity. Most of us, myself included, struggle to know what’s right to do in the realm of religion.
But I wonder, sometimes, if we aren’t deferring our unwillingness to choose onto our children. There are good reasons to want a child to find his or her own religious path. But the first look they take, in matters of the spirit, will be backwards towards their parents. What we now propagate, from generation to generation, is the model of not answering these questions for ourselves, but hoping, somehow, to help our kids find a solution. When one submits to being towed along by the current, it becomes difficult to teach another person how to navigate the tides.
It isn’t always about being sure. It’s not like the Jews are anyone’s idea of a safe bet, but that beautiful blessing teaches us that God chooses us every day, nonetheless. If there is a lesson in this, it is that choice is an engine, and commitment creates spiritual connection.
Forgive the overtly religious message, but be like God and choose your path.
Rabbi Scott Perlo is a rabbi at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington D.C, a unique institution that reaches out to Jewish and “Jewish adjacent” young professionals of all denominations and backgrounds.