Walking home from shul today, my daughter picked a wildflower. I said to her, “You can’t pick flowers today; it’s Shabbos. Please put the flower down.” She responded by saying “No. I’m not Jewish.” Stunned, I ignored her response until we got home.
We have a non-Jewish neighbor in the same apartment building with a little boy my daughter’s age. They play together all the time. My daughter is aware that he’s not Jewish, though she’ll sometimes use ‘Jewish’ words expecting everyone to understand. She knows that when it comes to things like food and Shabbos, there are major differences.
With all of this in mind, the Rebbetzin and I had a short conversation with my daughter later that day. We asked her if she really meant that she didn’t want to be Jewish. She said yes. We asked if she liked Pesach, Chanukah, Purim, Kiddush, Havdalah, and Israel, because those things are all special for Jews. She changed her mind and likes being Jewish.
I’m still not quite sure what to make of the whole exchange. It’s not that I’m worried that she, all of five years old, isn’t absorbing the right values from us. She wanted to pick a flower and applied a ‘hetter’ to herself. It just made me wonder about the nature and construction of Jewish identity and how that appears to the 5-year old mind.
[PS: She fell asleep in her Shabbos clothes last night, waiting for me to come home from shul. At around 3:30AM, she wakes up and enters our bedroom, crying that she wants to hear havdalah. I sang some havdalah tunes as lullabys, and promised to make it for her in the morning.]