There is a certain beautiful magic to raising Jewish children without ever having been a Jewish child myself. My two children are Jewish because I chose to be Jewish before they were born, but that decision happened long after my childhood. Judaism was never part of my beginning soul, the one which begins in childhood and collects all of those first memories; the vague ones you know you can’t really trust but you really want to. Just like me before them they makeup stories and play pretend; but unlike me, my children imagine in Jewishness. They sing songs as I did and they turn objects into something they aren’t but I never sang songs in Hebrew using a child’s squeaky voice, I never told stories of the animals on the ark and I never found sticks in the park and turned them into a shofar.
When my children experience something new it is often my first experience as well. Contrary to the natural order of life my children are learning before me and becoming my teachers. Last night at dinner my day-school kindergartner asked for “chalav” instead of milk and I needed her to translate for me. Although I pride myself on being able to “sing along” during services I can assure you that in a decade of going to services I have never needed to say milk in Hebrew. I am in awe to think what she will be like at her bat mitzvah.
My pre-k son lights the Shabbat candles with me and sometimes corrects my Hebrew if I stumble. An outgoing joiner-in-all-things (a personality very different from my own) my son is the one who will bring me into a hora or onto a bimah. His enthusiasm for this Jewish world I have brought him into is, in fact, the reason we go to many activities at all as his older sister (and admittedly even myself) are far more comfortable in the quiet and solitary spaces of the home.
My daughter is my Hebrew teacher and my Jewish scholar, my son is my Jewish concierge and pulse on the Jewish scene. Together they have entered into a world my non-Jewish husband and I have no experience in and very little knowledge of. Even though she is only 5 and he is only 4, they are in many ways the Jewish heads of our household, coming out to greet us and then bringing us back into this mysterious world with them. My husband and I are wholeheartedly following their lead, even if sometimes we do have to metaphorically duck down to a child’s level to enter.
Editors Note:This essay was originally published in TC Jewfolk in 2017