Keeping her Judaism enthusiasm alive &mdash by way of Broadway

Before summer break a few years ago, when I was contemplating what gift certificates to purchase for the end-of-the-year-teacher’s gifts, my daughter said, “I know. Get one for the temple!”

I smiled and said, “Good idea,” not wanting to explain that the temple didn’t offer gift certificates and her teacher wasn’t even Jewish. Why burst an enormous happy bubble? I settled for non-denominational gift certificates for dinner and a movie, but I know what my daughter was thinking: What’s a great place I know? What’s something different? What’s exciting? She loves all things Jewish and at that moment I happily envisioned a lifetime interest in learning about her religion, background and culture. We were on the right track and it would lead us far, I thought.

The enthusiasm carried beyond the walls of the temple, and for a child with little family involvement and a house without a mezuzah on the doorframe, this was promising. She told me once that she had met a Jewish man at a play date at a friend’s house. He was a friend of the family’s and was wearing a kippah, so she asked him, “Hey, are you Jewish?” Turns out he was. She was curious; she was paying attention. She told him he should go to “rock and roll Shabbat” at the temple.

As her awareness and interest bloomed, she became more intrigued in her search for Jewishness in her everyday life. “Is Harry Potter Jewish?” she’d ask as she looked up from her reading. “Are any of his friends?”

While devouring the “Little House on the Prairie” books, she would ask, “Why do they always go to church and no one goes to the temple? Why is Sabbath on Sunday?”

I countered by giving her Sydney Taylor’s “All-of-a-Kind Family,” about growing up Jewish in New York’s Lower East Side.

When we lighted the Shabbat candles, I wondered aloud just how many homes around the world were doing just the same thing. I wanted her to visualize a community, make a connection to a wider common experience.

Sadly, but not unexpectedly, the joyful, precious, youthful enthusiasm for all things Jewish has faded now that she’s 9. She has come to realize that Judaism is a minority religion, that Jewish things aren’t always predominant in the avenues of her life. Going to temple has become just another thing we do. Or don’t do. I’ll admit, our service record has taken quite a dive.

Are there some things I can change, I wonder?

“It’s a parenting question, not a Jewish question,” says Vicki Kelman, director of the Jewish Family Education Project at the Bureau of Jewish Education.

Immediately my Jewish guilt surfaces and I blame my own lack of involvement as the cause of my daughter’s diminishing interest. I know I could be a better role model. Take more classes. Share what I’m learning. Invite friends for Shabbat dinner.

Are we “Jewishly engaged and doing things that make Jewish life deep and meaningful?” Kelman asks.

She suggests that more involvement from the children as they get older can help — they can plan the meal, choose which guests to invite. We can say what we are grateful for in the past week, choose something special for Shabbat morning, do a mitzvah, reach out to those in need, create new rituals.

I think about making candles, a project my daughter loves, and we can light them on Shabbat. It’s okay if her interest waxes and wanes, I learn, but maintaining a joyful ritual and keeping up with tradition is the best thing I can do.

Tradition. The song sticks in my head. I remember that during the height of my daughter’s interest in all things Jewish she once asked which radio station was the Jewish one. We had been scanning stations on the car’s satellite radio and landed on more than one Christian broadcast and a surprising number of country and rock songs about that guy named Jesus.

A Jewish radio station?

Fortunately, I knew exactly what to tune in: XM Radio Channel 28, otherwise known as “On Broadway.”

And as my luck would have it, we didn’t have to wait long for a song from “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Joanne Catz Hartman lives and writes in Oakland. She can be reached at [email protected].