“Oh it’s ‘Romemu!’” exclaimed a very enthusiastic Mommy to her son in synagogue recently. The cantor had barely strummed his first cord when Mommy and Son got that jolt of familiarity most people experience with the Beach Boys or the Beatles. They jumped up and down.
“Romemu Adonai Eloheinu vehishtachavu lehar kodsho,” they chimed in together.
Zev looked at them. Then he looked at me. Then he looked back at them. He tapped his foot in time with the music and tried to match their glee, but it was clear: This was not a song he knew well. And it was all my fault.
Most of the other Mommies in my life have had kid-friendly Hebrew song discs permanently embedded in their car CD players since their children were in preschool. They schlep between swim school, soccer practice and ballet recitals while listening to “Adon Olam.”
I bought those discs, too. And I dust them off during the holidays, but I love music too much to sacrifice it on the altar of parentdom. I spend “vacations” at places that boast diaper vending machines. I favor restaurants with booths and free crayons. I am in the market for a minivan. But I will not give up my eclectic music collection.
As a result, Zev knows all the words to Ted Leo and the Pharmacists’ “Even Heroes Have to Die,” but “Hashkiveinu?” Not so much.
His aural diet is about more than my own Wiggles-intolerance. Even before Zev was born, I knew I only had a few years in which to brainwash, er, instill a love of deeply poetic, complicated music in his precious head before Disney snaked its tentacles through his closing fontanel, snatched out his brain and turned it into undiscerning mush.
Velvet Underground, Modest Mouse, Bruce Springsteen, the Beatles, Dylan, Sigur Ros, Phoenix, Ani DiFranco (I just hum over the naughty bits), and Bus Driver (ditto). My son’s playlist looks way more like a college radio station’s than a kindergartener’s.
Not that we’ve been totally able to avoid Miley Cyrus. But “Party in the USA” aside, the kid’s got pretty great taste. Sitting in one of those supermarket shopping cart kid-seat-thingies earlier this summer, Zev started belting out one of his favorite tunes: “In December drinking horchata, I’d look psychotic in a balaclava…”
A man in the juice aisle stared. Hard.
“Is he singing ‘Vampire Weekend?’”
“Wow,” he said. “That is one cool kid.”
I beamed. Yep. He’s undeniably, unquestionably, unassailably cool. And it’s all my doing. At least, that’s what I was telling myself this summer.
Watching Zev struggle along with the “Romemu” family made me question whether I am setting my son up to be, literally, too cool for school. Now that he’s starting kindergarten at a Jewish day school, is it time to rework Zev’s playlist, sprinkle “Barchu” in with Beck?
It’s a question I thought about on the drive home from services (during which we listened to Animal Collective). But soon it dawned on me: Sure, Zev’s head is filled with songs none of his peers knows, but what’s more Jewish than that?
Let’s face it, after 5,771 years, our songs are still as indie and obscure as they get: When non-Jews hear us singing “Daieynu” during Passover they must wonder what that Eynu fella did to incur our obvious wrath.
We’re outsiders by definition. For all the success Jews have had in the music industry, did we turn the world on to “L’Cha Dodi?” No. We gave the planet “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and called it a (silent) night. So, I’m not going to stress about Zev’s place in the social order of Jewish day school.
And if I get a call from the principal some day, complaining that Zev is a little punk, I’ll smile and say, “Yeah. He is. And he’s a little folk, and a little rock’n’roll, too.”