My Jewish Daughter Attends Catholic School And Loves It
“So what did you have for lunch today?” I asked my daughter the other day. She has started a new school this year, one that provides lunches and snacks.
“I made myself a ham sandwich,” she answered proudly. “I love ham.”
“Jesus Christ!” I muttered under my breath.
In my daughter’s almost eight years on this planet, she has never once tried ham. And, quite frankly, I’m not even sure how she knew what ham was.
“And I had chocolate milk,” she continued.
“Jesus Christ!” I thought.
When I first visited her new school before she was accepted, for a tour, it was just before Christmas. All around the school were beautiful Christmas trees and scenes of Baby Jesus (or so I thought. I went home and asked her father, “What is it called when they are holding baby Jesus?” “The Nativity Scene?” he guessed. “Right! There were a lot of nativity scenes!”). Not only did I not know the name for that important religious scene, but now my daughter knows what ham is (and likes it!), and she’s drinking milk with meat.
It’s taken me a while to wrap my head around the fact that my Jewish daughter, growing up in a Jewish household, celebrating Jewish Holidays, not drinking milk with meat, is now wearing a cross on her school uniform.
Also, she now attends chapel at school. When I first went for the tour, the first place they took me was to the chapel. I’ll admit, I was shocked. The chapel, however, is beautiful. It smells beautiful. It is very calming. I don’t think I had ever been in a chapel before. But I really liked it. It felt spiritual to me. I kind of wished I could nap in it. I had to ask the tour guide, “So, um, like, uh, what exactly do you teach in chapel?” God forbid my daughter came home praising Jesus or asking me about Easter or how to do the cross from her head to her shoulders – or is it shoulders to her head? (Seriously. I know there are egg hunts, but I don’t know what the meaning of Easter is!)
I felt better hearing the response, which was basically that they teach “morals.” I left believing well, that’s cool, they’re teaching kind of like the Ten Commandments: thou shall be nice to your neighbors, though shall not steal, thou shall be nice to your parents. I felt okay with that. But, on her very first day of Chapel, I asked my daughter what they did.
“I’m not really sure,” my daughter answered.
“Were there books you had to read from?” I asked, not mentioning The Bible, which is what I was thinking about.
“No, there was a screen up that we could follow from. Oh,” she said suddenly, remembering, “At the end we said ‘Amen.’”
Okay, I can live with that. (We do that!) But what I really, really wanted to ask her, but couldn’t bring myself to, was, “Was the word Jesus or hell used at all?”
Like non-Jews who can’t understand why we eat certain kind of fish with carrots on them, or eat Matzah certain times of the year (yes, a big cracker!), I really have no understanding of Catholicism. So, after she was accepted, before school started, I visited my aesthetician to get the crib notes. She’s a practicing Catholic and though I’m not sure what lent is exactly, I know she does lent three times a week. So she’s die-hard.
“I think it’s an Anglican school,” I told my aesthetician, who patiently took me through the history of the Catholic Church and all the branches of it (kind of like Orthodox, Conservative and Reform in the Jewish religion).
It was quite fascinating, actually, and I left with a Brazilian bikini wax and an interesting history lesson. (And how to do a proper cross across your body. Did you know you’re actually supposed to touch the top of your shoulders, not just chest?)
Some of my Jewish friends don’t quite understand how I could let my daughter walk around with a cross on her uniform. They shake their heads as if I’ve disappointed the entire Jewish population and look at me like I’ll go to hell (Which we don’t believe in, by the way.) Quite frankly, I don’t really care too much about it, because the uniform is cute, and also she is getting a world-class education, even if she does have to wear a cross and now eats ham. (Which I will not buy for her at home. Mostly because any sliced meat makes me sick.)
And I am a believer that uniforms are better. I want to ask my friends who send their children to Jewish day schools if their schools are really any better. When I hear the politics that go on at Jewish day schools, be it between the teachers and parents or parents and parents or children and children, I think, ‘Thank Christ, my daughter goes to a school with strict rules about ‘community’ and that not getting along is not an option.”
Interestingly, I can say that at least 30 percent of the parents at my daughter’s school are Jewish. I know this because at a recent cocktail party the school hosted, the Jewish parents flocked to other Jewish parents. We Jews can just tell if another person is, as we say, “part of the tribe.”
So I will not say anything about my daughter eating ham (because I’m glad she’s eating) while drinking milk (she needs to grow!) or ask her if they mention Jesus or hell in chapel (because I found the place so soothing and spiritual) or worry about her wearing a cross on her uniform (because it’s a uniform.) And if she asks me what Jesus did on Easter, I’ll probably sigh, “Jesus Christ!” under my breath and Google search it. Just let us pray that my daughter doesn’t come home thinking she’s going to hell for not completing her homework. Amen.