Daddy And The Torah
One crucial turning point in my life remains a vivid experience, I know I will remember it always. I was five 1/2 years old and had just started the first grade at Yeshiva. I didn’t last more than two weeks or so before I was propelled into second grade. By then I read English perfectly well.
In second grade, however, the other children had been exposed to Hebrew and could do daily prayers, and the beginning of the five books of Moses. My father said that was not a problem, for he would teach me Hebrew quickly. And he did. He sent away my brother and mother, and he sat alone with me. Such moments were rare. Some of the words were familiar, from my Grandmother’s Sunday newspaper and from the Yiddish (Judaeo-German) my family spoke at home most of the time.
The phonetic part, the consonants and the vowels — well, that was not difficult. I memorized the sounds quickly. The problem was what it all meant. We plowed through the book, with the next part being to me more exciting. What did it all mean? The language was cleverly simplified by my father. The three consonant roots that could become either verbs or nouns. And no verb “to be” — just a juxtaposition of words. The second grade Hebrew teacher seemed impressed with me, and I knew I was ahead of the others a little after those precious instruction from my father. My father and mother did not seem to like the excessive piety I was being taught. Strict woman’s sex role. Never to switch a light on during the Sabbath day.
One day we went to the Synagogue. My mother chased my brother around on the far side of the altar. My father took down a Torah scroll, which I pointed out to him should not be done on a Sunday. He told me that what we were doing was more important. He took down the silver “Yod,” the pointer with a hand at the end, that was used to touch the sacred scroll, as the human hand could not. He opened the scroll and placed the Yod in my hand. He told me to read. This sacred honor is usually reserved for an adult male, or at least a Bar Mitvah. I was scared stiff. “Daddy!” I was thinking the sky would fall down upon us, for I looked up to the inside of the synagogue dome, painted with clouds. I looked below us, fully believing the earth would open and gobble us up.” I was getting ready to tell Daddy this was not right, and I would break all the laws. “You read perfectly,” he said. “You are my daughter. Nobody tells my daughter what she can and cannot do.” I fumbled around the flowery hand-copied scroll to start recognizing words. And I read, and read, smiling and he lifted me and hugged me. “My daughter can do anything.” and he said this before God, and in the most sacred of places.
I told this story at his funeral. I said then as I say now: to give this strength to a child — well, this was perhaps the single most powerful moment of my life before I met my husband. This, this, is how one empowers a child, especially a daughter to succeed. I have struggled spiritually with my own paternalistic faith, wondering why God had seen fit to have me born female, why I got Daddy’s X chromosome instead of the Y. I wondered how I had become “functionally male,” having decided very young the working world of men was more seductive than the home-world of women. I only learned later, it was to love my husband. Whatever else my parents did or did not do, Daddy of blessed memory, did this perfectly.