Okay, I admit it… I don’t have the best memory in the world but there are a few things from my childhood that stick out clearly. I have mentioned some of them before, here in this blog, but with Father’s Day rapidly approaching, I have asked my team to write about their father’s and how they shaped their Jewish life. And so, I thought I would talk about the memories from my childhood of my dad.
The men in my life have always figured prominently. Not sure why. Maybe because I was the first grandchild, a little girl, and they all felt protective of me. But either way… I was always close with the men… my grandfathers and my father. I think another thing that factors in is that my men were also always my rabbis. From birth I was dressed up and my picture taken for the newspaper… in my grandfather’s ark, lighting candles with my father, you know what I mean.
But here is the memory I was alluding to earlier. My father, though he was an ordained Reform rabbi, was a bit more observant than typical. He liked to have Saturday morning services. He would always try to get a minyan together but it didn’t often happen. I remember one Saturday morning, going to shul with my dad. There were a handful of men there and we were davvening the shachrit service. I was half-focused and maybe all of 9 at the time. I would play with my dad’s tzitzit, crawl behind the behemoths that stood on the bimah… and when we got to a part I knew, I would davven. Well all the men were rocking back and forth and so I did too… thus began my fascination with and love of the shuckel. Shuckling is a “ritual” swaying front to back and side to side. In fact, I find myself doing it right now as I write this. Anyway, I had the shuckel down pat! I overheard one man say to my dad, “Well she’s got the moves right, now she needs to learn the words.”
Fast forward a few years to four months before my bat mitzvah. I am 12 years old and we are on an El Al flight for our first trip to Israel as a family. I was a fairly intense kid and felt my Judaism strongly. (This is shortly before I began wearing a kippah everyday as well as a talit katan – the tallis undergarment that Orthodox men wear.) I had all sorts of plans for Israel, including but not limited to dressing as a boy and sneaking onto the men’s side of the Kotel, the Western Wall. (I assure you, I have figured out an appropriate way to express my enthusiasm for Judaism… 18 years later.) The flights to Israel are very long (around 13 hours) and inevitably, it comes time to davven either shachrit (morning), mincha (afternoon), or maariv (evening) services. When the time came, Orthodox men went around asking men to join them in the back of the plane for a minyan. I told my father that I wanted to davven too. He told me to grab my siddur (prayer book) and come along. Out of a level of respect, I didn’t jam myself into the back where all the men where (many sects of Orthodox Judaism forbid men and women from praying together or touching) but I stood alongside my father while we davvened. I was not spared the dirty looks though and one man said to my father, “she isn’t allowed to do this.” To which my dear, sweet abba (father in Hebrew) replied, “If you were truly focused on your prayers, you wouldn’t even notice she was here.” Chastised, he harumphed and went back to davvening.
That is how my relationship has always been with my tatti (yiddish for father). He has always been my staunchest ally and defender. But not blindly. He has always challenged me to think for myself and perhaps rethink some things. He never expected, commanded, or demanded much from me in so many words. He was always gentle and kind and treated me like an adult. He explained things to me with more patience than I currently explain technology to him (sorry, tatti) and he showed me by example how dear Judaism was to him.
One thing that I can never thank my parent’s enough for was the way the kept my brother and I engaged in Judaism. I never recall being forced to be Jewish, rather they showed us the beauty of our faith in every sector (from Orthodox to Renewal) and educated us in other faiths (I have been to dozens of churches and mosques). During the Passover seder, when the Four Children ask their questions, I was always struck with the answer, “It was because of what G-d did for me in the land of Egypt.” That was how my parents approached Judaism. This is what is important to ME, how does it feel to YOU.
I remember one defining moment as a teen. My aunt and uncle were badgering me, much to my dismay. At one point they made the statement, well of course you will marry a Jew. And just to spite them (and without much thought) I said, well I don’t know. Maybe I won’t.
They immediately ran to my parents and told them what I had said. My dear father came to me and we had a talk. He expressed how important all the holidays were to him and how much he enjoyed them as a family. He expressed that he hoped I one day had a family and that we would all share in these traditions. And he reminded me that at that point in his career, he didn’t perform interfaith weddings and could not do my ceremony if that was my choice (he has since altered this policy, having nothing to do with me). I was heartbroken. How could my thoughtless words have hurt my father so much? How could I have said these things that I wasn’t sure I meant? There were repercussions that I hadn’t thought of.
I am thankful for my lineage. I am thankful for my grandfathers, on both sides, who both held their families together in difficult times and gave me my parents. And on this father’s day, I am thankful for my Tatti/TattiSan/Abba/AbbaSama/Dad/Daddy/Father.
Thanks for passing on your love of all things odd to me.
Thanks for tolerating my teenage inability to listen.
Thanks for trying over and over to teach me Hebrew.
Thanks for being my favorite rabbi.
Thanks for always looking at all sides of an issue and helping me do the same.
Thanks for answering the phone at 3am when I was calling collect from a public phone booth on the top of Mt. Masada in Israel.
And thanks for imbuing in me a love of Judaism, my people, my homeland (Israel), and pride.
Love you, Ta. Love, Twe.