What Being a Teva Traveler Means to Me and My Kid by Jodi Kushins
When I first came to Columbus in 2003 for graduate school, it felt like the diaspora. I saw myself as a displaced New York Jew with no plans to stick around once that was finished with my program. By 2007, when I discovered The Little Minyan, I was divorced (from the “nice Jewish boy” I was raised to marry) and in a new relationship with a Columbus native (a recovering Catholic) and his two kids.
As making a life in Central Ohio became an increasingly likely possibility, I decided it was time to face my feelings of being culturally and spiritually adrift. I wanted a connection to Judaism but I had reservations. I wanted something that felt authentic and engaging. I didn’t want to do anything because I was commanded to. I hoped for programs I would look forward to; ones that would be intellectually fulfilling, creatively conceived, and communally enacted. And I didn’t want to have to drive across town to “the Jewish neighborhood” to get them.
Needless to say I was relieved to find The Little Minyan. It was just what I wanted – a member-lead group, made up largely of academic and environmentally minded folks from my neighborhood. It was a group working to build traditions together in kehillah (community).
Fast forward to 2014. I am married to the hometown boy and have two step-children and a daughter of my own, Cora. Our home is more Jewish than anything else, but quite different than the conservative, strictly-kosher, home in which I was raised. Perhaps in part because my step-children are not technically Jewish, I feel the need to really think through how I bring Jewish values and traditions into our home.
Years ago, for example, we made up our own blessing for Chanukah, an English version that doesn’t mention God, a word my husband and I don’t really connect with, but honored the meaning of the holiday. It was a stroke of brilliance, if I dare say so. It even rhymes. Patentable perhaps. “Thank you for being here with me tonight, to celebrate the miracle of the Chanukah lights.” We taught it to our friends and family and feel the meaning of the words when we say them together.
And then came Cora. I wanted her to grow up hearing blessings in Hebrew, even if I wasn’t sure who, or what, I wanted her to give thanks unto. I wanted her to know the tunes of the blessings, to recognize the sound of Hebrew when she heard it. And so, I started saying the traditional Hebrew blessings alongside our English, eccumenical ones. We started making challah on a regular basis and video conferencing with my family as often as we could to light the Shabbat candles. By the time she was two, Cora could sing a great rendition of “Shabbat Shalom” and recite the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. We were on our way, but we were lonely. I was ready to introduce her to some other Jewish kids and help her start making memories within a Jewish community.
We are finding this in The Little Minyan’s Teva Travelers program. Every other week we gather with a few other families with children ages 3-7 at one of our homes to sing songs, read stories, and make things in the name of Jewish education. These are semi-structured meetings that usually dissolve into the kids running around and parents bantering about life, work, and our own Jewish backgrounds and experiences.
This year, I volunteered to organize the programming for this group. As a professional educator, part of me is sad when the kids don’t respond well to activities I’ve planned or their attentions are diverted, but another part of me has grown to appreciate what is happening – for kids as well as the parents at these gatherings. And at the core of the experience, we are spending time together because we are Jews.
After a year in Teva Travelers, Cora now refers to kids from The Little Minyan as her Hebrew school friends whenever we run into them at school, the library, or farmer’s market. And for now, that seems like just enough.