I was driving home with my 18-month-old, both of us bopping to the Oy Baby CD that recently appeared in my mailbox thanks to the PJ Library. Ben was too young to understand what he was hearing (Hebrew music made kid-friendly), but something about the music had him hooked; after each song ended, he said “more,” his little brain not understanding why the fun had to end. Then a new song would start, and he’d resume his sweet little toddler head bop.
Watching him in the rearview mirror, and listening to the familiar music, I suddenly found myself in tears. I was having one of those “circle of life” moments, marveling at the fact that I was Mom to this perfect little boy, enjoying the melodies that just yesterday I was singing as a Sunday school student.
The moment ended abruptly when Ben dropped his sippy cup and I almost crashed the car into a tree trying to reach it for him.
However these little moments of nostalgia happen often, and in fact they happen most frequently when I introduce Ben to new Jewish things.
This has taken me by surprise, as my family wasn’t particularly observant, and Judaism was not a major piece of my self-identity pie. I was a singer first and foremost. I tried out for every musical at school, belted out show tunes in the shower, and put on Broadway revues for my family.
But between the many Friday nights spent singing with my synagogue choir, and my seven years as a member of the Shining Lights, a Jewish youth performing group, the Judaism snuck in by way of music. The sometimes haunting melodies, the comfort of the familiar lyrics, and the jubilance of so many songs can trigger emotional responses that I can only attribute to feeling like I’m a part of something bigger.
And now as I introduce Ben to Jewish traditions and holidays, I find myself recalling the music, and using the songs to engage him. We read books and look at pictures of holiday rituals, but Ben is most interested when we sing the holiday songs. We sing them in the bathtub, at the changing table and at the dinner table, and the songs connect Ben with me, and with the generations of Jews that came before us.
He claps along and sometimes joins in with a high-pitched squeal, and I can’t help but get a little teary.