“Look Gaga,” my 2-and-a-half-year-old grandson said. (Yes, I love the way he says “grandma” and I hope he never calls me anything else.) “Dad let me pick out the Havdalah candle.”
I hugged this little man who makes my soul smile and exclaimed over the fineness of his choice. When he ran off to play with his blocks, I googled “Havdalah.” It’s embarrassing to admit, but at less than 3 years old, he knows more than I do about Jewish traditions.
I was raised in the haphazardly Jewish way many of my peers were in the ’60s and ’70s. We sometimes went to Sunday school, attended an occasional Shabbat service, and suffered through joyless Passover seders at our grandparents’ house. My husband even had a Christmas tree in his Jewish home.
When our children were born, we attempted to raise them more spiritually and with more Jewish guidance than we both were raised. Our first mistake, though, was moving to a community that had fewer than 10 Jewish families. It made it too easy to let our traditions slide. Our children did study for their bar and bat mitzvahs and we did celebrate our Judaism, albeit in a loose fashion.
The change began when our daughter left for college and became active in the campus Hillel. Every Friday night, she and her friends attended services and the meal afterward. She became part of the Jewish community on campus, which gave her a connection that made the huge campus feel homey and inviting.
After college, she met and married a man who had grown up in a kosher home. Since they kept kosher in their home, and I wanted to be able to share meals with them (he is an amazing cook), I made our kitchen kosher over a long weekend. With many false starts and a few mistakes, our home is now kosher. While there have been a few missteps, I like the tradition and the meaning behind it.
And when my flaxen-haired grandson was born, I panicked, thinking that he would be able to read Hebrew before his grandma. So I contacted our local Chabad and starting taking lessons on the Hebrew alphabet from the rabbi’s wife. I am very much a work-in-progress in my Hebrew reading ability, but at the High Holiday services this year, I was proud to be able to read along (very slowly – think kindergarten level) in my siddur.
I love that when my daughter walks in the door after work on Friday, my grandson asks if she is ready to light the candles. I love going with him Friday mornings to pick out two challahs — one for his house and one for ours. I love going to Tot Shabbat services with him on Saturday mornings, listening to the wonderfully told stories and watching the interaction between the young children and the rabbi.
But most of all, I love, and appreciate that our families are embracing the traditions of our ancestors with joy, openness, and the willingness to learn and grow — at any age.