Today was my younger daughter’s last Religious School class. After thirteen years of going most Sunday mornings during the school year, she, much like her sister did two years ago, will find herself able to sleep late on Sunday mornings. She will no longer be able to complain about getting out of bed or getting dressed or sitting in the sanctuary with a bunch of wild younger kids or singing along or trying to make friends with kids that she doesn’t have much in common with outside of her religion, such as it is. Her faith may not have stuck after her many lessons about Judaism, but her Jewish identity is strong, for which we have religious school, and the rabbi, to thank.
She started when she was three, attending a monthly pre-school class that did not always hold her interest. As a three-year-old, she was head-strong, stubborn, and non-compliant, which dominated both her Montessori experience as well as her religious school hours. No one had determined yet how to make her participate in anything she didn’t want to do. I recall her pre-school teacher at temple asking me if she understood how to color, or if she even knew her colors. I knew she just didn’t want to do what she was told to do, and she didn’t want to do what the other kids were doing, and pretty much fuck you, but in a three-year-old way.
When kindergarten started, everything changed. A girl her age joined her religious school class, and suddenly, she had an instant friend with whom she could relate, rather than the rest of the class, all boys who liked boy things and didn’t appreciate her passion for fashion or stuffed animals. The new girl did, and they became best friends.
Suddenly, we had another family to be Jewish with. We celebrated holidays together. We had cookouts. As the girls got older, they had sleepovers at both of our houses. We took vacations together and generally looked out for one another.
When fifth grade ended, her best friend, along with the rest of her Jewish family, moved up north, where they quickly assimilated into a community with probably ten times the number of Jews, if not more. My daughter went back to being the only girl in a religious school class of boys at a time when they were all on the verge of middle school and puberty. It wasn’t an easy adjustment for her.
She rallied a bit for her bat mitzvah, and because she loves our rabbi, she agreed to continue past her b’nai mitzvah year to confirmation. Those few years saw more of her religious school class leave, either just because they had enough, or, like her best friend, they moved away. She tried to be involved with the youth group as a way to stay connected to her Jewish peers, but the experience wasn’t really for her, even if she did make a few friends.
Which brings us to this year, her confirmation year, her last year of formal religious school education. She half-heartedly continued to join in youth group events out of obligation, but she made a point of being present and engaged for her class with the rabbi. It was her and one other boy, the only two who made it all the way from the beginning together. They are friends and share a bond that comes from shared experiences, but I suspect they too will grow apart as their paths diverge with each of them going to different high schools and having different interests.
They have one joint shabbat service left, and then, well, it will probably be high holy days and holiday celebrations at home here on out. In a couple more years, she will go to college, and she may or may not decide to participate in Hillel or other Jewish college groups. She may take her Birthright trip, or she may never make it to Israel. And as she grows up, she may get married and have children and have to decide if she too will enroll them in religious school so that they can understand the faith that goes along with the culture.
In the meantime, we can sleep in or go out for brunch on Sunday mornings. Our lives will spill over into that time slot that for over a decade was devoted to being Jewish, and chances are pretty good, at least for now, that another time slot won’t open up on a different day to replace it. Will she miss it? Will I? Does anyone miss going to religious school?
Thirteen years ago, I drove her to religious school. Today, she drove me home from the temple. It feels so final. Of course, we can go to temple whenever we want, but will we?