I don’t know what exactly it is that makes my dad so cool, but a lot of people seem to think that he is. He wears a big kippah, sometimes it’s a hand-knit one from Africa, sometimes it’s an embroidered one like the kind you can buy in Jerusalem, and that right there is pretty unusual. It isn’t like he’s Sephardic by heritage, but he dresses and prays that way and knows the laws of both “sides” of Judaism–and knows that there are more than only two lineages. When we went to my birthday party at an Ethiopian restaurant, he told me Amharic (the main language of Ethiopia) is closely related to Hebrew, being one of the very few Semitic languages left (along with Arabic, of course), and always encouraged my studies and travel. He has lots of friends who are converts to Judaism, and conversely, Conversos who came back. He has multicultural backyard parties every year at Lag BaOmer, but they aren’t intentionally so–he just happens to meet and befriend people from all over, and they all look up to him. People call him “Rabbi” sometimes, just assuming that he is but he’s not. He goes to synagogue, but he also lets you know when it was boring. He doesn’t push on anyone the fact that he’s a native speaker of Yiddish, or that he speaks German, but if you happen to start a conversation with him or mention that you’re living in Germany and are just here on vacation, he might just blow you away with conversation and teach you more about the language you’re struggling to learn than the teachers you’ve been studying with for the past several months have been able to do.
He makes people feel comfortable, and maybe that’s because he can live without them. When he’s not giving Hebrew lessons on the pink, wooden-legged couch in the living room, he does a lot of geometrical artwork on the computer, which resembles mosaic tilework, being very intricate and colorful . He’s taken my list and hemp bags to the health food store and done my grocery shopping for me, and regularly prepares and serves plates of fruits or pickles and olives arranged in a mandala pattern, for no occasion at all.
He makes Judaism fun and brings deep meaning to everyday activities, while keeping this meaning accessible to a wide variety of people, in exactly the way they need to hear, see, touch, feel, taste, and know it.
With my cool-Jew father, every taste of every food or any walk in nature is a gateway to where this plant came from, how it migrated from one place to another, how it’s changed the face of the planet and its peoples, what it does for us and what we can do for it. There is nothing bland, nothing pointless in this world–the world into which you’ll soon be led when you sit down for a tiny piece of cheesecake with tea, at first not knowing this treat is anything more special than that.