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The Budding Joys of Jewish Fatherhood

My two-year-old daughter’s commitment to living Jewishly amazes me. I hope I don’t screw it up.

April 08, 2016

I have never been one of those people wowed by all the budding and blossoming and frolicking that goes on now that spring is in the air. But things are different now that I’m a father and have a budding, blossoming, frolicking little girl who, even as I type this, is climbing all over my head.

A certain set of revelations have descended upon me because of fatherhood—I have a twonager—and the impending convergence of springtime and Passover has brought them to the fore once again.

Growing up I could never understand why we would need to scrub and wash every single crevice for Pesach cleaning. Like, is there really going to be chametz in the left-hand corner of the ceiling? The answer then, was “nope” (though I had to do it anyway). The answer now is: “How the hell did she get a Cheerio stuck in the left-hand corner of the ceiling?” Kids, amirite?

You see, Judaism brings out the best in her. And the best Jew in me.

My daughter is an opinionated, strong-willed, stubborn, beautiful, brilliant little girl who, in the same breath, will ask me why I’m being so cranky, then tell you to let her know if you need any help doing something, then demand we say the bracha over an imaginary cup of tea. (Seriously, kid? Like we both don’t know this teacup is completely empty?) I indulge her every time.

And don’t even get me started with Shabbat. After I let her help set the table once, she now insists on doing it every single week. And vacuuming. She legit vacuums. Shabbat Shalom to everybody!

But she doesn’t always wait for the Sabbath to begin her rituals. At various points throughout the day—any day—she asks for her siddur so she can daven. She feeds every tzedakah box in sight.

Precious as she is, I asked myself all the time: Where did this Super Jew Baby come from? Often, however, my amazement somehow morphs into worry. As a parent I wonder: How do I not ruin her relationship with god, and with Jewish customs? How can I make sure she knows that being Jewish is who she is, not what she is? In a world where a good number of Jewish kids of color don’t become Jewish adults of color, how do I make sure she stays put, right where she is?

I think about this most nights when she’s snuggled up on my chest. But until I crack that magical, foolproof parenting formula, I guess I’ll just keep on singing “Modeh Ani” with her in the morning, and the “Shema” before she goes to bed at night, and taking her to shul with me on Shabbat, and giving her pinky dips from the kiddish cup.

Or maybe I’ve got nothing to worry about. Maybe she’s got this—on her own. I think about that too, with a smile, when I hear her alone in her room singing, “Hashem is here, Hashem is there,” with the door closed.

MaNishtana is the pseudonym of Shais Rishon, an Orthodox African-American Jewish writer, speaker, rabbi, and author of Thoughts From A Unicorn. His latest book is Ariel Samson, Freelance Rabbi.

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