Religion has always filled a large, very unique space in my life. I sometimes struggle explaining this to my closest friends, my boyfriend, or any other people I have met since moving out of my parents’ home. My dad is a rabbi, but not the kind you think. I didn’t grow up in a strict household, I was never forced to pray, to believe in god, or even to attend synagogue. My father is a Grateful Dead-loving, politically conscious, well-read, pop culture-addicted “man of God.” While I hold the utmost respect for him and his line of work, I still find myself smiling from ear to ear as I write these words. What does “man of God” really mean?
Just because I was never forced into religion doesn’t mean it wasn’t always around me. Being a rabbi’s daughter has shaped me into who I am personally, professionally, and spiritually in ways that can be both incredible and frustrating. One of my favorite stories that I like to share when explaining my childhood as the daughter of a well-known rabbi in my community goes a little something like this:
It was my sophomore year of high school. I was just getting over the immeasurable embarrassment that a teenager experiences when a parent dares to speak in public, let alone in front of 1,200 people. The thing for teenagers in temple at this point was to sit on the second floor during the high holiday services. There, we would whisper, laugh, catch up on high school gossip…pretty much do everything but participate in prayer. Being a rabbi’s daughter, I knew the structure of a Yom Kippur service inside and out. I knew that if my friend and I ducked out of the sanctuary in the minutes before my father gave his sermon, we wouldn’t be allowed to re-enter until after it was over. So, we did just that. We hung out by the water fountains for 15 or 20 minutes, then we decided it was time to head back inside. The service came to a close, and I did what I have been used to doing since I was three years old. I made my rounds, said hi to members of the congregation, greeted family friends, and shmoozed my ass off. Shmoozing has always been my favorite part of this life. This shmoozing was a little different, as everyone seemed to know something that I didn’t. “That was an amazing sermon your dad gave, Julia. He is just so proud of you.” I smiled, said thanks, and wondered what that could mean. After speaking with a few other people, I realized that my dad had written a sermon all about me, and I had missed it. I missed this amazing moment in which my father expressed his pride for who I was and what I had accomplished because I was chatting with friends by the water fountain. Well, you know what? My dad didn’t even bat an eye when I told him. “I’ll email it to you,” he said with a smile.
There are usually two kinds of clergy children. There are the ones that relish in every youth group event, feel most at home at their Jewish summer camp, and maybe even head to rabbinical school after college. Then, there are the ones who have just had enough. They don’t want to be anywhere near the Jewish spotlight, as corny as it sounds. They grow up feeling angry at all that was forced upon them. While I don’t see myself as one or the other, I am more confident in my identity as a young Jewish woman today than I ever have been. Although I still don’t know if I believe in God, I do believe in the community I was brought up in, the passion for kindness and equality that my dad has instilled in me, and the openness to asking questions when it comes to the beliefs by which I have always been surrounded. So, yeah, my dad is a rabbi…but I think I turned out just fine.