November 2010:

Introduction to Judaism


I shouldn’t be surprised since I send Nate to a Jewish school, mostly because they would admit him to preschool while he was still in diapers and no one else would.  It’s a great school known as the “Harvard of Preschools,” and costs almost as much as Harvard would, I imagine.  I picked Nate up from preschool one Friday.  “Shabbat Shalom,” he says to me.

“Huh?  What?”  It’s not so much the words he spoke as how he said them, some kind of glottal hardness to the words, as if he suddenly developed an Israeli accent.

“Shabbat Shalom, daddy.  I was Shabbat aba today and Jessie was Shabbat ima.  Her mom brought the challah.”

“What the heck are you talking about?”  My son was speaking a language that was alien to me.

“I think you were supposed to bring the challah bread because I was aba.”

Seriously.  I knew I better talk to the teacher and do some quick Jewish research.

“Do you want to do the Shabbat song with me, daddy?”

“Um, sure.  But I don’t know the Shabbat song buddy.”

“It’s easy,” he said, “like this.”  He started to sing in a surprisingly melodic, baby Menudo, voice:

Put some noodles in a pot,
Stir it up, nice and hot,
Get it ready for Shabbat,
Good Shabbat.

“Okay, now it’s your turn,” he said.

I start to sing, “Put some noodles in a pot . . . .

“No, I already did noodles,” Nate said.  “You have to do something else.”

Ah, now I get it.  I start again.

Put some rice in a pot,
Stir it up, nice and hot . . .

“There you go.  Now you got it,” he said.

We drive a little further, taking turns putting different foods in the Shabbat pot, including some decidedly non-Kosher items, like pigs and cars and, of course, Nathaniel had to put pee and poop in the pot.  He is three years old.  “Hey dad,” Nate said when the song finally petered out, “do you want to hear another Shabbat song?”

“Yeah, of course, I’d love to.  That would be great buddy, let’s sing another Shabbat song.”  My mild sarcasm was lost somewhere between the driver’s seat and the child safety seat strapped into the back, because Nathaniel immediately launched into his next song:

I’ve got a Shabbat feeling,
Up in my head, up in my head,
I’ve got a Shabbat feeling,
Up in my head,
To stay.

“Do you know that song, daddy?  Now maybe next time I’m Shabbat aba you can go with me.”

“Yeah, that would be fun, buddy,” I said.

“Hey dad, you know why we have no school next week?”

“No, I didn’t know there was no school.  Is it a holiday?”

“Yep,” he said with confidence bordering on superiority, “it’s Yummy Kippur.”


Apparently it’s time to stop swearing around the kid.  When Nate was three, I took him to Seattle to visit a couple of his uncles.  We did a lot of fun Seattle stuff, rode the car ferries, checked out the fire boats which were spraying water hundreds of feet in the air, rode the monorail, saw the Space Needle, and even took a ride in a seaplane, which was probably more scary than fun or educational.  Anyway, we visited my brothers, one of whom, Mark, works at Boeing and lives in an RV, which Nate thought was the coolest house he had ever seen. “Daddy, Uncle Mark’s house has wheels on it. He can drive his house,” he said as he walked around the RV in circles.  My other brother, David, is an ex-cop who has four giant black Labrador retrievers.  We sat in the ex-cop’s living room, shooting the breeze.  Nathaniel had just met his aunt Dena for the first time.  A few minutes after we got there, Dena excused herself and started to leave the room.  Nathaniel watched her.

“Hey Aunt Dena, where the hell are you going?” he called out loudly.

There was  a stunned silence for a second and then we all started laughing.  Nathaniel quickly figured out that he had said something cool, so then he walked around the room asking everyone, “Hey, where the hell are you going?”

The next day we were playing with some model race trucks.  I launched one off a curb and it smacked into my rental car.

“Damn it dad,” he said, very calmly, as if he were saying, “good job” or something reassuring.

“Hey, do you even know what you’re saying?” I asked.  “What does damn it mean?”

“I don’t know.  Does it mean, “stop”?”

“No, no it doesn’t.  And you don’t need to be saying that word.  Got it?”

The confusion and hurt on his face was obvious.  If I could read his three-year-old mind, it would say, But, but, but dad you say damn it like a thousand times a day and Uncle David says it and Uncle Mark says it, so I want to say it too.  I didn’t even know it was a naughty word, dad.

Flash forward three months, to February 2011, where apparently his mother, D, who is a solidly religious woman, although she is on her fourth or fifth religion, has also had enough of her three year old swearing.

I was trying to get a stuck battery cover off a toy car, a cool one that flipped over and ran on it’s back (Hey dad, did you know this car has two tops, I mean two fronts, I mean you can run it on both sides, that’s cool right?).  The screwdriver slipped and I jammed it into my waiting thumb.

“Ow!  Damn that hurts,” I yelled.

“Don’t say that, daddy,” Nate said.


“When you say that word, baby Jesus gets very sad.”

“Huh? What the hell are you talking about?”

“You just made baby Jesus sad some more.”



I have an illustrated children’s Bible that I sometimes read to Nate at night.  I quickly figured out that toddlers probably shouldn’t read the Old Testament.  One night we were reading about Noah’s ark, which I thought would be a light, fun story.

“Dad, were all the people on our Earth bad?”

“No, not all of them.”

“Did Jesus make them all dead?”

“Yeah, I guess so, buddy.”

“Because they were all bad people?  All of them?”

“Well, I think most of them were bad people.”

“Were all the animals bad?  All the animals too except for the two Jesus saved?”

“Um, yeah, I think so.”

“Oh, so that’s why Jesus made them all dead?  Because all the people and animals were all bad?”

“Yeah.  Good point.  How about another story?  Hey, here’s one about Moses.”

I flip to a story about Passover, which for some reason the children’s Bible has chosen to illustrate with an angel with a sword and a mother crushing a baby to her breast.

“Hey daddy, we read this story at school.  Did you know that Moses was a Jewish baby?  Did you know that?”

“No, actually I never thought about it, so I probably didn’t know that.  I guess it’s true though, Moses was a Jewish baby.”  I started to read the Passover verses.

“Dad, were all the babies that the angels killed bad?”

“Um, no not really.”

“Why did God kill all the babies daddy?

“Um, because God was angry at the bad people,” I replied.  Great job dad, and God too.  How do I explain to a three-year-old why an angry God struck down all the innocent first born of Egypt?

“Dad, wait, I have a question.  Did Jesus kill the babies or did God’s angels make all the babies dead?”

“Hey buddy, I have an idea.  Let’s look at this other page, the one with the horses and people escaping Egypt.”

I flip the page quickly.  Here, my Bible has a relatively mild picture (mild in comparison to the picture of angels slaughtering infants, that is) of horses being swallowed by the Red Sea.  I read the story.

“Daddy, did all the bad people die when the water crashed down?”

“Yes they did.”

“Did the horses die too?”

“I guess so.”

“Why daddy?  Were the horses bad too?  Were they really bad horses?”

I think I’m going back to Disney books tomorrow night.