My Black Jewishness Makes Me the Father that I Am
This Father’s Day, like every day, I work to be the model my sons need.
Praxis is the act of turning ideas into practice and living out our ideas. For me, Black Jewishness is praxis.
Black Jewishness is more a way of life and responsibility than just piety or being religious. The praxis is applying the customs, rituals, and weekly Torah portions to my life in 2022. I instill values in my children through the life I live. Jewish life is not forced upon them, but my Jewish life is displayed for them to observe. How I eat, treat others, and live a routine (daily, weekly, yearly) centering my life around Shabbat and prioritizing Judaism gives them a template of how to be Jewish.
My life also embodies my responsibility to promote Blackness. Like Jewishness, the home is their safe space to be proud and explore without fear of racism and antisemitism in a White Christian normative society. I tell them about our family history and instill pride in who they are as Black people. I also try to be open and available to answer any questions or concerns about who they are or where they come from. As their dad, I speak to what I know or at least try to point them in directions for personal discovery, as well.
As a father raising Black Jewish children, I try to connect the current Black and Jewish struggles while also tying them to the struggles of our ancestors, historically and biblically. One day we will be free. In the meantime, I explain to my sons that we are actively practicing Tikkun Olam just by living in a pluralist society where there is dignity and worth in being a Black Jew.
The beauty of Judaism is the tribal history and culture. My children are essentially my tribe, but we are also a part of a larger tribe connected by Sh’ma Israel. In Judaism, we are all one and connected to the other. I instill in my children a sense of safety in the tribe. They can always return home and have a spiritual, religious, and communal home in our local Jewish community.
I think of raising my 5 Black boys as creating a tribe and legacy. Everything that I try to do on this earth and everything that I aspire to be will vicariously live on through my children’s actions. Observing holy days and surrounding them in Judaica is an attempt to show them the way as best as I can. I also enjoy fellowship with fellow Jews in my Southern Indiana community. We take each other’s children to Hebrew School and meet for religious observances. I instill the importance of those connections in defining their Jewishness.
My oldest sons, Gregory and Izach, are secular. They have very little to nothing to do with organized religion. They still have a sense of right and wrong in their decision-making but are also aware of Jewish customs and practices within the household. By virtue of growing up in the Peppars household, they are aware that Fridays are family time to spend together at home over pizza. They also know that we do no chores on Saturdays.
My middle son, Elijah, is my most religious child. He aspires to be a rabbi and is the most active family member in Jewish life in our community. He asks questions that I do not always have the answers. Most of his religious questions are answered through his study or by working as an assistant to the rabbi in Hebrew School. He has a firm sense of Jewishness and how to apply it in his own life. My youngest two are still babies, 3 and 2; their stories are yet to be written.
A big part of Judaism is community. I have tried to present to my children the variations of community within Judaism. Daily, there is our family, but we also have members of our synagogue with whose members we also spend time. I also try to make a broader connection with the Jewish diaspora at large by highlighting customs and holy days that we have in common. The goal is for my children to have a connection to the tribe when they enter the world as adults. I know it will be a challenge being Black and Jewish. That is where my role as their father is important in instilling pride as Black Jews.
A big part of parenting is to teach my children commandments. Some of the mitzvot they observe in daily life are kashrut and observance of Shabbat. There is a weekly routine of Shabbat services. Allowing them to light the candles as we say a blessing and time with the family. The V’havta blessing reminds me to teach them the ways and praxis of Judaism.
My road to Judaism is not something I ever expected. I was introduced to the idea, ironically by my son, Elijah. The idea of organized religion in general, I found to be repulsive. My default position is that it stands for more harm than good. As I attended services, I found the message comforting but also the lifestyle was not a stretch from the life I aspired to have. Order, discipline, empathy for others. As a father raising dignified children and having a connection to the ancestors, Judaism was right on time! Conversion was not difficult for me. If anything, it is something I have embraced and tried to apply as fully as I can. It has also been somewhat of a blueprint to raise my children with dignity and a sense of self. Black Jewishness has become praxis.