We were sitting at arguably the best Chinese restaurant in Los Angeles, somewhere deep in the heart of Chinatown. I watched my eldest daughter and father delight in the rare occasion of each other’s company.
My father just got his shoes shined at Union Station. This took him back into history and opened the door for his infectious walk down memory lane. We listened as he slurped soup and remembered moments from Iraq to Israel—the small boy he chased along the railroads in Baghdad where he was born; tales of stealing the school’s only ball in their small town of Affula once they escaped from Iraq to Israel when he was around 12; and then his classic tales of working for El Al after his army service, and how that brought him to meet my mom in Brooklyn, NY.
Suddenly my 14-year-old looked at me. I knew what the gleam in her eye meant. I tried to gleam something back like, “Take caution.” She smiled her “Don’t worry, Mom” smile, and took the plunge.
She asked my dad, calling him by his Hebrew name, if he knew what a Jewbu was. Not only is his hearing compromised, but the term was also clearly foreign to my dad. I was not sure if I could handle my father getting mad at me, the mother, for raising someone so out of the ordinary.
You see, my dad is a man of conditional love. He knows this about himself. He was raised in a household filled with conditions. He and eight of his siblings shared a room, while the prettiest of the daughters were bestowed a private room. Appearances mattered, and individual belief systems were frowned upon.
Would my father be able to hear the innocent proclamation of his granddaughter trying on this new role? If a kid is messy in her learning about herself, shouldn’t that be OK?
My girl began to easily explain the term Jewbu as a Jewish person who has adopted Buddhist beliefs. Apparently her mom (gasp!) had introduced her to yoga and meditation, which led her to investigate things like past lives and karma. Despite the fact that her father is a rabbi, she was never a big fan of God talk or bible stories, and now she is surrounded by artists in school who talk about belief in the universal and books on Buddhism.
The whole discourse was so innocent. She was not denouncing Judaism in any way. In fact, she showed her knowledge by explaining the similarities between the two religions, and why Buddhist beliefs have such synergy with Jewish ones. She volunteers and includes herself in Jewish rituals without even meaning to sometimes, and sings the Hebrew prayers freely in front of the friends she likes to bring for holidays. Though it is common for an RK, “Rabbi’s Kid,” to feel deeply trapped by their parent’s role as clergy, and she does, we have done our best to empower our children to think for themselves.
My dad listened. His eyes scared me at first, and I figured we might have a “Fiddler on the Roof” moment. He likes to quote Tevye’s struggles by singing, “One little thread will pull out the stops, and where will it stop, where will it stop…”
“The rabbi likes this?” he asked me.
“Yes, we are OK with this,” I gently answered. I explained that we are proud she can show such expansion in her thinking. That the teenage authority in her voice does not threaten us at all because we know deeply who we are, what we believe to be important, and cherish her youthful exploration. She does not denounce her Jewish tradition, or her parent’s beliefs. In fact, my more academically-minded husband would not have it any other way.
Still, my heart was pounding, so I took a big spoonful of rice. More slurping and shifting about of food, and the meal was finished. We drove home. Later, I saw my dad take my daughter aside. He hugged her, and said he would love her no matter what.
Later, I asked myself how I truly felt about her declaration of being a Jewbu. It was not her exploration that surprised me, but more her need to label this new approach. Because they are exposed to so much more than we ever were, it seems that kids now are more prone to determine who they are early on. The flip side of this kind of awareness can also be a tendency to pigeonhole oneself, a self that will surely face many more changes with time.
I get so much out of Judaism in belief and practice that yes, a part of me wishes she automatically did, too. But if this version, this deeply rooted-in-the-questions wise woman, is the daughter I get, then… wow. I open up my unconditional arms.