Mike and I are Jewish but we’re not really very religious. Growing up, we both went to temple on high holidays and on Passover (that boils down to three times a year), attended Hebrew school and got Bar/Bat Mitzvahed at the age of thirteen.
Once we became adults living on our own, we both stopped going to temple. Like many of our friends in New York, being Jewish became more about our ethnic background and cultural traditions and less about religious beliefs. With the kids, being Jewish manifests itself in which holidays we celebrate, but beyond that, Judaism is not a major player in our household. For instance, we don’t own a mezuzah, we don’t light candles on Friday night and we eat bacon and shellfish at every opportunity.
This year, we made the decision to send Mazzy to Hebrew school once a week which meant we had to actually join a temple for the first time in our adult lives. Our Jewish friends with kids in New York are pretty split on this. A handful made the decision to all join the same temple so our kids will be in Hebrew school together, a few decided they are no longer practicing and a few are going to revisit the discussion again next year.
We also transferred Harlow to a Jewish preschool this year, a decision that was based more on schedule than religious upbringing. This new school offers classes for Harlow’s age every day, whereas her old school was only three days a week.
Mazzy went to the same school when she was little but for whatever reason, she didn’t bring a lot of the Jewish learnings home with her. There were small Jewish elements that we noticed and appreciated, but nothing that really made a big impact in our house.
Harlow is a different story. She is a big fat Jewish sponge. On Fridays, she comes home from school singing, “It’s Shabbat! Time to celebrate!” In fact, almost every song Harlow sings now is about Shabbat or Hanukah, sometimes both. She wonders why we don’t have a Tzedakah box in our home, which is a place to put coins for charity. She has started saying the Brucha (a Hebrew prayer) before we eat. Once she forgot until after the meal was done and burst into tears because it was too late.
During Harlow’s moments of extreme Jewish faith, Mike and I always exchange smiles, partially because we are happy she is learning this stuff but also because there’s something truly hilarious about seeing your toddler buy into your religion hook, line and sinker.
Mazzy can get competitive when she sees her little sister getting our attention, so now sometimes she’ll fight Harlow to say the Brucha first or claim she can do the “CHHHHH” sound better than her. The ensuing “CHHHHHH” sound fight is ridiculous. Mike and I sit stunned as we watch the kids argue over who is more Jewish, with the resolution being, “We are all the same amount of Jewish!”
Last Friday, as we often do, Mike and I got home as the kids were finishing dinner. We usually use the time after work to play with the kids and then have dinner just the two of us after they go to bed. I’ve been trying to institute dinners as a family, but since Mike does the cooking, it hasn’t quite worked out.
After playing with the kids for a bit and reading stories, I said it was time for bed. Harlow FLIPPED OUT.
“What’s wrong, Harlow?”
“WE DIDN’T DO SHABBAT!!!!!”
“Do you want to say the Brucha?”
“NO!!! THAT’S NOT A REAL SHABBAT!”
Then my tiny three-year-old with the chipmunk voice ticked off a list on her fingers of all the things I was forgetting.
“You have to make the challah, you need to light the candles, you have to drink grape juice…”
“Ummm… okay, but I don’t think we have all those things…”
Harlow was beside herself. “WHY DON’T WE HAVE REAL SHABBAT??????!!!!!!!”
“Uhhhh….we can have real Shabbat next week.”
“But today is FRIDAY!!!!!!”
I told her I would go into the kitchen and see what I could find. We usually have mini Challah rolls we get from Trader Joe’s in the cabinet. I found half a roll left.
“Look, Harlow! I found challah!”
“YOU HAVE TO MAKE THE CHALLAH!”
“We can’t make challah tonight, but we can have a Mini Shabbat.”
“Okay.” This seemed to satisfy her.
“We don’t have any grape juice,” I said gently.
“YES, WE DO!” Harlow opened the fridge and there on the bottom shelf was a little mini bottle of Welch’s grape juice that I guess Ruth had bought per Harlow’s request.
I cut up the half mini Challah roll into four pieces. Then I poured a the juice into glasses for each of us. I took the green clay candlesticks Harlow had made in school and put them in the middle of the table. I didn’t have any actual candles but Harlow didn’t seem to notice. Harlow and Mazzy said the Brucha together and we all ate our tiny portions of challah and sipped grape juice.
Mike and I exchanged glances over the table. It wasn’t a joke this time. It was the realization that celebrating Shabbat on Friday night is the perfect compromise to figuring out family dinners. If we can’t make every weeknight work, we can certainly make Friday night dinners happen. Shabbat really is an excellent tradition to end the week, even if it is one neither of us grew up with.
After Mini Shabbat, Harlow announced that she had to go to the potty. (She just recently started potty training.) Mazzy went in the bathroom with her and they shut the door.
When they came out, Mazzy announced, “MOM! HARLOW PEED IN THE POTTY!!!” (It was only the second time it had happened.)
I looked in Harlow’s princess potty. “I don’t see any pee.”
And then my older daughter said something truly amazing: “I flushed it.”
“Did you wash out the pot afterwards?”
“Mazzy. That’s awesome. You know, being a big girl is not just about learning to do things for yourself, it’s about doing nice things to help out other people.”
Harlow piped in, “Yeah! That’s a Mitzvah!”
Mike and I have never laughed so hard.