Arts & Culture

This Shabbat We Wait for Dad to Come Home

Question: "Doesn’t he want to get out of the army?" Today my daughter spent an hour at my side, pushing, pulling, and punching springy, yeasty dough. Her mouth watered for the ending, the brown hot challah that would fill her … Read More

By / February 22, 2009

Question: "Doesn’t he want to get out of the army?"

Today my daughter spent an hour at my side, pushing, pulling, and punching springy, yeasty dough. Her mouth watered for the ending, the brown hot challah that would fill her small belly.

"When will it be ready?" she asked. I couldn’t help but smile at her excitement. And I can’t blame her. There is nothing quite like hot, homemade bread. "What if we sing while we knead?" I asked her, hoping to keep her usually fidgety body next to me just a few moments longer.

She ignored me, predictably as most five-year-olds can. But then, as our hands pushed and pulled the dough, she began to sing in her sweet, tiny voice. At first, all I recognized was a familiar tune, and then my heart warmed and expanded as I realized that she was humming a familiar Cherokee tune.

My mind drifted to my home in the mountains. The times my father and mother took us to the Cherokee reservation, determined that we knew our tie to that land. She shares my dark hair, dark eyes. She has the curly hair of her father, but her strong Native eyes mirror my own. I always felt selfish in thinking she needed to know that part of her. My part. But, as I listened to her humming, I began to realize that it is naturally in her to want to know.

I stood next to her, kneading and proud, and then as her humming grew louder and she became more confident, I heard it: her tongue snapping and curling around the consonants and sounds belonging to the Cherokee language.

With little to no way to literally prove my heritage, my family and I have had to settle for checking "white" when white never felt quite right. But what right did I have to a heritage that only partly belonged to me? Why do I have to choose when my eyes shine bright, my nose straight? My straight dark hair aching to know the winds of yesterday?

With my husband speaking Hebrew, it is easy to allow him to take control of our cultural awareness and identity. Linguistically covered for our family’s tongue. But as I look at her, her curly, bouncing hair and olive skin, I see his heritage intermingled with my own. I see those same, dark earnest eyes. And Hebrew isn’t enough.

I can’t cheat either of my children out of the chance to see their other heritage in a rich, beautiful past. So, as my son joins the kneading, the punching and pulling, he begins to sing the words that he, too, is learning.

We roll, braid, and ease our anxiously awaited bread into the oven. We sing together the welcoming night song, paying respect to those who danced, thrived, and walked a trail of hunger, pain, and tears, long before this night of peace in our home. Then we light the candles, count our blessings, and welcome the Sabbath.

Answer: He doesn’t want to get out. And I don’t want him to, either. It is because of his willingness to fight that our intermingled family can celebrate, sing, and exist in peace. Without him, the flames cannot burn freely.

Shabbat shalom, little ones. Gvgeyu.