by Joy Randel
I was eight years old. My family, uncle, aunt and cousins sat at my grandmother’s dining room table set with her plates and bowls made of green Depression glass. Food sat on beautiful platters in the middle of the table. But we couldn’t eat it yet. It was another one of those Jewish holidays where we had to read from the thick prayer book written in Hebrew with Yiddish supplements until midnight before we could eat. My grandfather had passed away when I was one years old but we felt his presence. My grandmother took over the reading of the prayer book and kept a kosher kitchen. My mother had grown up in this home full of tradition and culture. My father sat impatiently while awaiting his meal, helping my brother and me sneak food. Other than those little tidbits, we just had to sit there hungry, listening to grown-ups recite words we couldn’t understand. Not a great motivator for us to be really into the religious part of Judaism.
My father’s parents were both Jewish, but he was raised with a Christmas tree and celebrated Christian holidays. His mother thought it was easier to do what everybody else did around them. I decided that I enjoyed the culture and traditions of Judaism, but I chose not to practice it as a religion.
My husband was raised Protestant and is also not religious. When we had our daughter, we decided that we would raise her as Jewish and teach her Jewish culture and traditions. When we moved to the Tri-Valley, I attended a local festival where Tri-Valley Cultural Jews had a booth. I learned that Tri-Valley Cultural Jews is a secular organization where my daughter could learn about Jewish culture, history and traditions without being religious. Our daughter attended Jewish Culture School where she learned about Jewish holidays, Jews from Around the World and cooked traditional Jewish recipes. She also participated in community service projects, learned about Jews during the Black Plague, and researched Jewish authors and read their books as part of her preparation for her Bat Mitzvah. She had a beautiful Tri-Valley Cultural Jews Bat Mitzvah that celebrated her coming of age in accordance with Jewish tradition. We continue to be part of the Tri-Valley Cultural Jews as our daughter goes off to college because we enjoy the feeling of community that it provides.