I like to browse Judaica stores.
Whenever I have free time and am remotely near a store selling a variety of Jewish products, books, and tchotchkies, I cannot resist wandering the aisles. My personal favorite in Los Angeles is one on Fairfax Avenue, the main thoroughfare of the neighborhood with the highest concentration of Holocaust survivors anywhere in the world.
In this Judaica store, the words of my mamaloshen, Yiddish, float through the air among the bearded men working there. Although I am not as religious as the men in the store nor most of its customers, I know intrinsically that I belong there. I have grown accustomed to very religious men not being super friendly and flirtatious with women, a nice respite from what I have come to expect in a lot of stores in Los Angeles, but I don’t feel unwelcome in this particular shop.
What was disconcerting, if amusing, on this day was that there was one uncharacteristically “modern” young guy working there with thick-framed glasses (in a cool way), slim slacks, and even argyle socks (yes, I was looking). We all know from my Yeshiva University Maccabeats obsession that I’m a sucker for a clean-cut guy in a kippah with hip clothes and peyos trimmed short, and this young man was certainly very attractive, I will admit. Turns out that my noticing him was mutual: he recognized me from TV and we laughed as I told him that I think he’s the only person in the store who will ever know who I am.
One side of the handsome-guy-named-for-one-of-the-12-Tribes-of-Israel Judaica store (as it will now be referred to) is two tall aisles of books; mostly big thick heavy maroon-colored volumes of the Talmud that inspire as they intimidate. The second side of the store is a mishmosh of hanukkiahs, mezuzahs, kippas, natilas yadayim cups, sponges designated milchig, fleishig, and pareve (it’s helpful, let me tell you!), and a lot of key chains, magnets, and such. I must admit I went a little shopping nuts at this store on this particular day and not just because of the handsome guy named for one of the 12 Tribes of Israel watching me. I got myself a lovely handmade-in-Israel stained glass hanukkiah with an abstract 10 Commandments motif (50% off because Hanukkah just ended and it had a little crack but it’s barely noticeable); a tiny delicate silver dreidel (also 50% off!), a San Francisco Giants kippa for Miles (blame my husband, I’m a Yankees fan), a baseball kippa for Fred, and a tiny Birkat Hamazon (the blessings after the meal) to carry in my purse for convenient reciting of the blessings after eating.
And then I went ahead and bought…the Mitzvah Kinder. What, you ask, are Mitzvah Kinder? Well, the Mitzvah Kinder are a set of figurines that are…well, frum. The box tells me that these figurines “represent a Yiddishe lifestyle” and I suppose that’s true. I bought a set of five “Totties” (“Daddies” in Yiddish), consisting of men of a variety of Ultra-Orthodox sects in appropriate attire: streimels, gartels, varying styles of peyos and all.
“Look Mom! Tzitzis!” my older son called out. I resisted the set of “Mommies” because to be quite honest, the women’s attire did not vary as significantly as the “Totties’” did and I dreaded explaining to Miles why the women all looked dowdy and frumpy. Whoever designed these modest “Mommies” could have used a pointer or two from me and my “Operation Hot and Holy” series of posts I wrote for Kveller, don’t mind if I say so myself.
I also indulged in the set of “Working” Mitzvah Kinder which consists of four men of a variety of professions, beards and tzitzis intact: a fireman, a mailman (“Delivers Tzedakah Mail!” declares the package), a construction man, and a “Hatzolah” man who is dressed in a business suit but also holds an emergency kit to assist in any circumstance requiring his volunteerism. There are two women figurines in this set, one of whom is a nurse (she holds two tiny babies) and the other visits the sick in hospitals (yes, apparently that is a sort of job in and of itself). The lack of diverse roles for the women of the Mitzvah Kinder world worried me only briefly in the context of the recent goings-on in Israel, but I know that the world is very broad for women in even very observant Judaism, even if the Mitzvah Kinder don’t quite reflect that the way I want them to.
My sons love anything new. And since they operate under the pretense that our main purpose in life is to keep on buying them everything that might remotely interest them in the way of toys and diversions, they took to the Mitzvah Kinder very quickly. My older son, who is 6, built them a shul out of Lincoln Logs (how very kind of him). I have a tiny Torah that he put in the shul. He chose to segregate them by sex, more a reflection of 6-year-old politics than religious politics, I want to believe. My younger son, Fred, who is 3, is mostly enthralled with the “Bubbe and Zaide” set of Mitzvah Kinder because, well, that’s what he calls my parents.
The Mitzvah Kinder look very at home in our home, and I especially love that I got them at my favorite handsome-guy-named-for-one-of-the-12-Tribes-of-Israel Judaica store on Fairfax, mere blocks from where I grew up, where the sounds of Yiddish float through the air. I guess the Mitzvah Kinder box is right: ”It’s fun to play the Yiddish way!”