We live in a neighborhood with a lot of observant Jewish families who are connected to a yeshiva a few blocks away. We like this even though our family is only half-Jewish, well, one Jewish person and a Jewish sympathizer, if there is such a thing.
The presence of Jewish families makes for a religious and ethnic richness that makes us feel comfortable and at ease. My husband, not observant but deeply Jewish in his own way, regularly greets passers-by on Friday and Saturday by saying “Good Shabbos,” and they look at him like he has spoken the secret password. He is one of them even if he isn’t one of them. Blood is thicker than observance.
About two years ago, a new family moved in across the street. As it happens, they moved into a house that had been occupied for decades by a sour, threatening man named Charlie who would yell at our kids if their soccer ball accidentally landed in his yard and who stood glaring at college students trying to squeeze into a parking space in front of his house.
The new family was another observant Jewish family, the dad a rabbi and the mom a mom of many children. During the pandemic, the children, ranging in age from early teens to toddlers with a babe in arms as well, are confined to the driveway and the yard. They play there, skateboard up and down the driveway, pitch tennis balls against the chimney, play tag, ride bikes, and talk to their friends who stand ten feet away on the sidewalk. There is shrieking and laughing. Sometimes I look out the window of my office and see a toddler toddling toward the street and prepare to jump up to yell just as a big brother swoops in for a rescue.
Now and then, we sit on our front porch and listened to the sounds of the family across the street. Missing from all the noise and bouncing and wheels spinning is a harsh word. There is never a harsh word. There is no admonishment, no correction, there is just life unrestrained, loud sometimes but gentle still. It is a tender din those kids make.
A few days ago as we were loading up the dogs for yet another excursion to the dog park, my husband rounded the back of our truck and shouted out to the rabbi and his wife who were sitting on their porch with their kids scattered in the yard, “We voted you the most joyful family on the block!”
I didn’t hear all of their response. I just heard their laughter, their joyfulness, filling the air around us.