I received a bedside plea this morning, a few minutes before 7. I had planned to wake up, go to the gym, then attend to a full slate of meetings. This is how it would be until 6:57, when an agitated Jawa burst into my chamber of slumber and manipulatively began..."Daddy, I know you won't want to do this, but..."
He is many things, my Jawa.
"...can you go to Tefillah at my school today?"
Note for the uninformed, gentile, everyone whose kid doesn't attend a Jewish Day School, basically me four years ago: Tefillah is a weekly service they have at the synagogue next door to our school. All the kids and teachers attend.
I am bad at morning. Just doesn't work. But I summoned up all of the charm and goodwill that I had left from the previous evening and said, "Of course I'll go."
Change of plans: get up, take shower, shave, put on clothes. Pants are six years old and designed for the 34-year-old Lefty, not the expanded 40-year-old version. "Sorry," they seem to be saying, "You've gotten bigger. We haven't." I imagine that I am just a few pounds away from Haggar sans-a-belt double knit slacks. They can be quite attractive in chocolate or wheat.
The Jawa was pleased. I took him to school, sat in my car "stealing" wireless from an institution that gets $18,000 from me each year, walked up to the synagogue, donned my kepa, and settled into my seat to enjoy the show.
I am not a religious person. I was not brought up particularly religious, and in fact, until the Jawa began school at Brandeis, unconsciously assumed that being Jewish meant to resent the intrusion of any religion, including my own. My mother used to threaten us with temple, if I remember correctly.
So I am no more at home in the tefillah setting than I would be at, say, the infrequent masses I attended while teaching at (Bishop) Blanchet High School in Seattle, Washington. Or that time my born-again Christian girlfriend made me go to church with her and everyone was holding their arms up to the sky. Okay, that one was just plain freaky.
This was a special tefillah. Rabbis from all over the Bay Area were brought in. Each led us in prayer. I drifted off, imagining that I should be feeling my Jewish roots very deeply, transporting myself to the temples of biblical times, or to the shtetls of the more recent past.
Not really. It took me most of the service to spot the Jawa with his class. Once I did that, I just watched him to see if he was screwing around. He wasn't, but he did look bored. And he was sitting next to Mikayla, which must have made Rachel insane with jealousy.
I did, however, think of my father, who lately has taken to commenting in this blog under his Hebrew name. I don't remember him being particularly religious, either, when we were growing up. I know that he grew up in a far more secular home than my mother, who can relate childhood stories of brushing the chametz (leavened bread) away with a feather on erev pesach.
As he gets older, my father gets, if not more religious, than certainly more Jewish. And as I have learned over the past 4 years, or maybe since 9/11, how religious you are has little to do with how Jewish you are. Very few people at our school will admit to being religious. It's hilarious. At our first parent-principal breakfast, an argument erupted over the teaching of Adam and Eve to our then-tiny tots. "Only at a Jewish school," I related to Sandra Bullock, "would the Jews complain that it's too religious."
But back to my father. I'm not sure why, but he is reclaiming his heritage. This is a man who once tried to join the Israeli army, but who never attended temple and once proclaimed himself to be "an anti-semitic Jew!" (he also once claimed to be a member of the "B'nai Birch Society.") I think his transformation began twenty years ago, when he first visited Israel. "I got off the plane," he said later, "and felt like I was home." When they were shopping for a retirement place a few years ago, he initially suggested Israel. They ended up in Arizona, which is a desert where you are unlikely to get blown up by a brainwashed teenager seeking 72 virgins in heaven.
He was pleased when we decided to send the Jawa to Brandeis. It seemed to me that my father was glad to see that someone was going to give a nod to our history, that even though his children all married outside the faith, at least one of the grandchildren would be raised with a connection to our roots.
It was my father who asked us to have a bris for the Jawa. He approached us at a cousin's wedding and said, "I don't ask you for much, but I'm going to ask for this one thing." And it is my father who is very happy in Arizona, but today I was feeling a little bit sad to not have him living close enough to attend things like tefillah. I think he would have enjoyed it.
Sorry you couldn't make it today, Dad. You would have enjoyed the many rabbis. There was an orthodox guy with a beard and a big New York accent who sung beautifully, and a young guy who spoke loudly and asked the kids questions, then ran through his prayers in a rush. There was a lesbian rabbi whose kid goes to our school, and an old school guy whose kid, he said, had been a second-grader at Brandeis 23 years ago, and now lived in Jerusalem. One guy had died recently, and so they sent a young, Australian woman in his place.
I'm not sure why the Jawa wanted me to attend this particular tefillah, but I'm glad I did. I know I can't have my dad at things like this, but at least the Jawa can have his.