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Chassidic Dad Blog

Guest Post: Communicating on the Commute

August 30, 2013 12:48 PM
The Zalmanovs' view as they traverse downtown Chicago to and from school each day.
The Zalmanovs' view as they traverse downtown Chicago to and from school each day.

So, school started again. And R started preschool. Her backpack reaches almost to her ankles, but that didn’t stop her from sleeping with it two nights before school started. She is having a blast at school, but I think A misses her at home.

Every morning, T walks out the door with the kiddies in tow. She drops off Y at the yeshivah, and then continues to walk to Beth Rivkah, where she drops off R. The cool thing is that my office is so close that I can poke my head out the window and wave to my little girlies as they walk by. Contrast that with my colleague Rabbi Eliezer Zalmanov, who lives with his family in Munster, Indiana. Here is how he describes his trips to school with his tribe:

I’m a different kind of chassidic dad.

Most chassidic parents raise their children in neighborhoods with other chassidic children. But we live in a mostly secular community, where my wife and I run the local Chabad, and our kids don’t have any local friends that are like them.

But at least we live close enough to a chassidic community with a school that our children can attend and where they have friends.

Now, “close enough” is relative. On a regular school day, we spend close to three hours in the car shuttling the three older kids to and from school. But thankfully, our minivan is equipped with a DVD player, so between videos and an array of handheld gadgets and books, the kids are generally able to pass the time.

(Of course, there are always exceptions, but we won’t get into those now . . .)

So, all this time in the car gives me the opportunity to get to know my kids really well, and—while keeping a safe eye on the road—engage them in all sorts of ways. Whether it’s helping with homework from the front seat, to reminding them to recite the correct blessings on their breakfast (which is always eaten in the car), it’s almost as good as hanging out with them in the family room. Almost, but close enough, which is relative . . .

It’s also a great time for questions. And, trust me, these kids have questions. The other day, on the way home, my 8-year-old asked, “Ta, what did you do today?”

Me: “Um, I prayed, had breakfast, replied to some e‑mails, and made some phone calls. Then I spent an hour preparing a Torah class for later on. After lunch I met a local friend to discuss some ideas to enhance attendance at Shabbat services. Then I replied to some more e‑mails and paid a few bills. And then it was time to head out to pick you guys up.”

Him: “Oh. But what did you do?”

I’m not quite sure what he meant by that, but it definitely got me thinking. Not always is being busy the same as being productive. You can have a fairly busy day, but then look back and question yourself, “What did I do today?”

And if you aren’t reminded of that on your own, I have an 8-year-old who can help out with that.

Rainbows and Blessings

August 21, 2013 6:19 PM

Yesterday, we were hanging out on our friends’ porch. Suddenly our host exclaimed, “There’s a rainbow!”

“Where, where?” said the kids.

“There,” said I.

“Where, where?” said the kids.

“There,” said I.

“Where, where?” said the kids.

“There,” said I.

“See the house next door?” I responded. “See the balcony? See the white roof over the balcony? Now, look right over the roof.”

“I have a book with a rainbow. The rainbow in the book is much clearer. There you can see the colors,” Y said, holding up clenched fists to accentuate his point.

He’s right. Rainbows in books are much better defined than real ones. But it was cool showing them their first rainbow (cool enough that we were still talking about it at bedtime).

After they oohed and aahed, we took out a siddur (prayerbook) and recited the blessing. Why is there a blessing for a rainbow?

As Y will be happy to explain to you, after G‑d brought the great flood, He assured Noah that He would never again destroy His world, and the rainbow was to be the sign of His promise. When we see the rainbow, we thank Him for keeping His covenant and not washing the world clean, however undeserving we may be.

And it ain’t just rainbows.

For every food, there is a blessing as well. From the time the kids can speak, we begin to teach them the blessings that we say on various foods. More than just mastering ritual, in our experience, having the kids learn the blessings has done so much to teach them where food comes from and give them a sense of gratitude to G‑d, from whom everything comes.

Before eating something that grows from the ground, we say the blessing that translates as “Blessed are You, L‑rd our G‑d, king of the universe, who creates fruit of the earth.” When eating tree fruit, however, we replace the word “earth” with “tree.” You get the point.

In the beginning, they would just say the blessings with us, word for word. But by now they have mastered many on their own. And when they do not know them, and ask, “What do I say on this, Daddy?” we like to turn the question around and ask, “Well, where does it grow?”

They have learned many things. First of all, they are very much aware of where and how foods are produced. And perhaps more importantly, now when they need help with a blessing, instead of asking “What brachah (blessing) is this?” they ask where the food in question grows. I am not sure what it would be, but I am sure that there is a term somewhere to describe the process of asking one question and transferring the information to answer another.

But the blessing is just the beginning. You see, after we say a blessing, all present are supposed to answer “Amen.” Now, R has gotten it into her head that she needs to make sure that everyone answers Amen to her blessing. So after she makes her blessing, she will go from person to person making sure that they respond accordingly.

Maybe it is a power thing. Maybe it is her sincere desire to have everyone participate in her praise of G‑d. Whatever the reason, I think it is pretty cute.

This is a blog about life with my wife and three children, who will, with G‑d’s help, grow up and probably be embarrassed by what I write.

As of spring 2013, Y is a thoughtful four-year-old who loves books and learning things. R is one year younger and full of energy. A is a sweet little girl who loves her red shoes. T is their ever-capable and loving mother, and I am their dad.
Menachem PosnerRabbi Menachem Posner serves as staff editor at Chabad.org, the world’s largest Jewish informational website. He has been writing, researching, and editing for Chabad.org since 2006, when he received his rabbinic degree from Central Yeshiva Tomchei Temimim Lubavitch. He resides in Chicago, Ill., with his family.
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