My husband and I are committed to raising children grounded in conservative Jewish rituals, community and values, yet we are progressive, liberal thinkers who believe in expanding their world, not limiting it in the ways religiosity can. Frankly, we believe religion can be extremely divisive and it worries us. So we struggle with how to balance the cliquishness and therefore the limits of traditional Judaism with our politics of open-mindedness and embracing a worldview without limits. Help.
First, I want to express my gratitude for this question. Truly. You have articulated a concern that is shared by a lot of people. Many of whom I know, respect, love and admire. Often I find this sentiment conveyed as a statement - a reason for opting out of religion - and one that eclipses any further conversation on the topic, so I am particularly thankful for the question, for your struggle and for your engagement.
I hold different communities dear to me, sacred: My writer-friends, my mom-friends, my colleagues in the arts & humanities. But even before I married a rabbi, and into Conservative Judaism, (I was raised Reform) I would sometimes wander around, alone, on a Friday night looking for a place of worship - a sanctuary - to enter.
I spent those days amongst artists and musicians and academics, and it was an existence full of the type of richness that I had aspired towards: cultural. But what I didn't do in those circles was pray. Or study Torah. And something in me craved that type of connection.
A decade later, married to a rabbi, I have witnessed people reaching out to us with a similar yearning. They are successful and engaged in the world and in the vibrancy of the city. But they are wanting for something else.
Religion at its worst is awful. Many things at their worst are. At its best, though, it has expanded my compassion and worldview beyond any other cause or community. When I pray I feel a gratitude and love and longing that is more centering in my own humanity - and in recognition of the connectedness to others - than any other act. And while I enjoy any thorough text study, there is an incredibly powerful aspect of struggling through the Torah - even the deeply disturbing parts.
In the early weeks after the birth of my daughter, in the depths of a very difficult postpartum, I sat in the back of my husband's service, flipping through the prayers at my own pace and stopping on a verse about Jacob alone in the wilderness. How low in despair he had sunk, using a rock for his pillow, and then, only then, did he dream of the stairway to heaven. (Read that passage while listening to Stairway to Heaven and then let's talk!)
I feel your conflict. I admire how committed you and your husband are to keeping the traditions amidst the ambivalence that you describe. That push and pull are real and it is hard. It is made more difficult by the limiting beliefs of what religion is or has to be. Bring your open-heart-embracing-willingness and acceptance into your rituals and that's what your kids will absorb, and everyone around you too.
Keep the faith.