Monday, December 15, 2014


After an ill-fated game of tag on a Rosh Hashana afternoon (my nephew and I had collided with a sickening crunch), Eewok and I sat on the front steps as Luke tossed the ball to the rest of his offspring, baby in arm.

In the waning light of the day, there was a variety of foot traffic trecking by, topped with diverse head coverings. Suddenly, Eewok piped, "What are we?" 

I knew what she meant, but pretended not to. "What do you mean?" 

"Like, what are we?" 

"You mean Jewish?"

"No, no, like, are we chassidish, are we yeshivish . . ."

"Well, we actually aren't anything." 

"Huh? How can we not be anything?" 

"We are something: We're Jews." 

"Nothing else? Not chassidish or yeshivish?" 

"Well, baby, we have some great-grandparents who were chassidish. And then we have some who weren't. That kind of cancels each other out." 

She took this in, then asked, "What is chassidish?" 

It's kind of difficult to explain chassidus to a seven-year-old, and as I struggled with descriptions of rebbes and sects I gave up. It was also impossible to quantify yeshivish. "You know what, booba? We're more alike than not. That's why I like to say that we aren't anything. Because once you have a label, there are also walls. 'I'm this, not that.' Jews are supposed to be all brothers and sisters, and once you start saying what else you are besides 'Jewish' then that gets lost. 'Chaverim kol Yisroel zu l'zu.' We are one, big family, see? So it's better that we're category-less." 

"Oh." She was silent a moment, then turned to me and smiled, her multi-colored eyes bright with understanding. "Most of the girls in my class are category-less."
"Good!" I said, and snuggled her close. We then continued to watch the many Chaverim stream by.    


Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

Try this one next time: Knesset Yisrael.

Sun inside Rain said...

You're going to make a great mom...Also, I applaud your response.

Sarah said...

I second Sun inside Rain. What a great response! It is truly so incredible to have so much multiculturalism within our one nation.
I'm curious: How would you explain Reform and non-Torah observant vs Torah-observant to a non-Jew who asks you about her Reform friend? That one's come up for me -- I explained about "relevant" and "obligatory" vs believing the Torah to not be so, but it was a definite curveball.

Single on the Scene said...

growing up my 'tatty' always had the perfect answer to that question: he would say, 'we're Jewish'!
nowadays I would say Heimishe, Baale Batish, Bais Yaakovish, Mamish!

Princess Lea said...

MGI: I actually had to google that. Is it the concept of Rav Kook?

Sun: 17 years of practice . . . filled with 17 years of screaming. Then, there is a great teaching moment and you feel awesome.

Sarah: Thankfully I haven't had that issue! Sometimes a classmate would ask me something about that in college but then the professor would walk in and get me off the hook.

Like, how does one manage to pithily relate Torah she'b'Chsav and Torah she'b'Al Peh, divine vs. rabbinic law, and how the Reform cherry-picks what they want to keep? Doesn't sound complimentary. Someone pull the fire alarm!

SotS: I used to consider myself "heimish," but nowadays everyone thinks that means "lapsed chassid." Yes, Ta speaks with the heimishe havura, but that's a regional dialect, and news flash, people, Europe was not composed of only (a) chassidim and (b) litvaks. Whatever chassidus we have in the family runs through the female lines, not the male.

The thing about labels—in Hungarian, it's a "tag fugalam," it's relative, it differs from person to person, what they see that label being.

So, let's hear it for the Jews!

FrumGeek said...

Rather than say you're nothing, why not say you're a bit of everything? That's what I plan on telling my kids. (And despite my jeans, internet, movies and TV show watching, I still find myself feeling more of a closeness to my chassidishe blood than anything else, though that may be from the remaining minhagim and closeness I had to my fathers mother.)

Princess Lea said...

Just to quantify, I didn't say we're "nothing," I said we aren't "any" specific "thing." And we aren't a little bit of "everything," we aren't a lot of things.

We are Jews first. Everything else is commentary.

Was your paternal grandfather chassidish, too? Minhagim go through the father, after all.