My 5-year-old daughter is obsessed with all things Aly Raisman right now. Since the Olympics began, she has been begging to watch YouTube videos of performances, interviews with the much-decorated gymnast, and even watched some re-runs from when Aly was on “Dancing with the Stars.” Aly is on par with Queen Elsa right now—which, in 5-year-old-world, is a tremendous honor.
“If I keep practicing my gymnastics, can I be like Aly?” she asked.
“If you put your mind to it, you sure can!” (Who am I to dash the dreams of my budding gymnast?!)
This morning after we watched a few more videos over breakfast, I said, “Do you know Aly is Jewish?”
“What’s Jewish?” she asked, putting her spoon down and turning to me.
Naturally, Jewish guilt washed over me and my stomach sank. What kind of Jewish mother am I that she doesn’t know what “Jewish” means?! I’ve written here that we are one of the few Jewish families in Kalamazoo, but that we will be joining a local synagogue this fall and she’ll enter Hebrew School—where we will surely meet other families like ours.
Sure, she loves matzah and always asks for seconds of my great-grandmother’s brisket recipe I prepare each Passover and Rosh Hashanah; she lights the menorah and hums along with my Hebrew; she plays dreidel with her 2-year-old brother year-round (with Hershey’s kisses instead of gelt); she enjoys reading children’s books about the Jewish holidays as we celebrate them; she even belted out “Dayenu” on the checkout line in Target recently (not something you hear every day in Kalamazoo). But for now, she doesn’t grasp what religion really is.
As quickly as the guilt came, I told myself to snap out of it and gave myself some grace. After all, she’s only 5, and although right now she may not have a concept of religion, she knows and understands our tradition and values, and the things we teach her—it’s just that the term “Jewish” didn’t mean anything to her. Let’s be honest: One’s religion is not exactly what the kids on the pre-K playground are chatting about.
I answered carefully, trying to put it into terms she could understand. “Well, Aly celebrates Hanukkah like we do. And she probably found the afikomen on Passover when she was little! And she probably went to Hebrew School, like you’re going to do soon.”
All of a sudden, knowing her idol was Jewish like her was really. freaking. cool.
We didn’t talk much more about it, but I am sure the questions will come as she enters Hebrew School. I just love knowing that she can now identify on a different level with one of her idols: Aly may be an Olympian, but she’s also a Jewish Olympian.
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