Friday, October 26, 2007


While it's difficult enough for parents who are trying to teach their kids about their own culture and language in an ever-increasingly assimilated society, it's gets even harder when that culture and its language have a completely different alphabet.

When my oldest son was 3, for his upsherin. We made him a chart (similar to the picture on the right) with all of the Hebrew Alphabet (One might argue that the term alphabet comes from the Hebrew Aleph, Bet and not the Greek Alpha, Beta).  These 22* letters are the core of our Jewish lives, and they are much more than just letters that are used to make words (for example, each letter has a numerical value as well, and numerical analysis of scripture often reveals some interesting facets of the Torah).  Much like any child in any language, we have been teaching our boys the Aleph-bet since they were toddler, and similarly, while children can memorize the symbols in the alphabet quite easily, putting them together to make words is something that typically isn't done until the child is of kindergarten age.

Now that my oldest child is in Kindergarten, at our orientation meeting, his teacher talked about their curriculum and how they have a 'Letter of the week'. Each week will have its own letter, and each week they will be learning words that correspond to that letter. She also made it clear that they would also learning the Hebrew letter with the corresponding sound.

Well, the first week was 'A' which corresponded to the Hebrew Alef. The next week was B- bet. I was anticipating that the third week would be 'C', but instead of 'C' words, my son was learning 'G' words. It took me a second, but then I realized that 'G' corresponded to 'Gimel' the third letter of the Hebrew Alphabet. I was pleasantly surprised to see that they were learning the English alphabet in order of the Hebrew Alphabet.

Needless to say, our son's Hebrew vocabulary is increasing week by week, almost to the point, where he picks up on the conversations that my wife and I have in Hebrew so that the kids don't understand. I think by June we'll have to switch to a new language.

And baby makes three...

I've been very busy over the last three weeks, welcoming our third son into the world.  In addition to Mitch and Mike, I no can share foibles of Jake too!

The Purpose of a Yarmulka

After having just talked about the uphill battle in getting my middle son to wear a Yarmulka, an interesting thing happened to me yesterday, that has led me to reflect on the purpose in general of wearing a Yarmulka.

Last night, on the train, I was studying Daf Yomi. It was a crowded train and I was standing the whole ride. As we stopped at 125th St., a familiar face got on the train. I immediately recognized this person as the Rabbi of one of the non-Orthodox shuls in town. In addition to his suburban pulpit, this Rabbi also teaches at his denomination's seminary as well.

Normally, I am friendly Jew, and I like discussing religion and torah with all those curious around me. But something about this particular Rabbi turned me off completely. He wasn't wearing a Yarmulka.

In the grand scheme of things, this isn't the worst thing on the planet. Many of my friends and relatives don't wear their Yarmulkas to work, and don't necessarily throw them on their heads as soon as they get on the train. But then again, none of them are Rabbis or rabbinic educators!

Were this Rabbi an Attorney, needing to appeal to a Jury and Judge, or a Wall-Street Trader on a trading floor that sounds like a dockside bar, I could understand his lack of headgear - but this is a person who not only purportedly does the work of G-d, but also teaches others to do so as well!

The purpose of the Yarmulka, and the etymology of the word itself (which is why I prefer it to the more generic 'kipah') comes from the phrase - Yoreh Malka - (lit, Fear of the [heavenly] King). While I don't begrudge those of my friends and family who don't wear a Yarmulka in their professional life, how can someone who is a reglious leader and educator not acknowledge the creator above him? That he too, just like all of us, must defer to a heavenly king.

What message is this Rabbi sending - that fear of heaven is only for the synagouge and seminary, but not for the train, the street, and everywhere else? How can he utter the words of the Shema with any degree of sincerity?

I wonder if he even wears a Yarmulka to teach, and if not, what message does that send to his students!

I wanted to ask him this very question. But I was afraid to get into an argument! So I ignored him, which was the wrong thing to do. Maybe next time when I encounter him, I should ask him to learn with me, and offer him my Yarmulka.